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Week 17 & 18: engaging the Watts community in the New Year

I’ve been a bad blogger lately. Not only did I post a video a week later, but I also didn’t write last week. That’s because a number of things:

1) The Markham team was stressed out pulling together our event we hosted at school last Thursday (detailed at the bottom of this post)
2) I’ve been all over the place (literally and figuratively)
3) My blogging is suffering a little now because my beautiful iPhone that took amazing pictures and video was stolen…

First of all, I will not let my iPhone incident get in the way of producing a good blog. It’s going to be back to the flip camera and editing on USC computers (by sneaking my way on through a friend’s account since alumni don’t have access) and back to a digital camera (buying a cheap enough one). This blog and writing/reporting is the one thing I have confidence in. I may not be the most effective tutor or anything else, but I know what makes a good story! This is the one thing I can own this year, take pride in and genuinely feel good about it. Thus, my stupid (stupid x100) mistakes turn into perseverance to become better.

These past two weeks at Markham have kind of been one big blur. We restructured our after-school program, which has been going really well. We allow the kids to play games outside and listen to music while eating snack before they come into start their homework. It really gets their energy out so they calm down. We also restructured our after-school groups, so my teammate Jeanny and I were assigned together with new students. We really just have one student in our group that shows up consistently, but honestly, working with him is like having to work with five students. He’s a handful, to say the least. He’s a loud, energetic, sweet and stubborn 7th grader. He has a lot of trouble with writing English and is in an ESL class. The corps members who have been working with him are teaching him the similarities between English and Spanish.

Sometimes he really doesn’t listen, but he’s told my teammate Jeanny that he loves working with us because we really believe in him and we “are the best teachers he’s ever had.” That means a lot coming from a student who was failing his classes at the beginning of the year and has genuinely been trying to bring up his grades. He even introduced me to his family at our event and told me to tell him how well he has been doing in school. I was happy to tell them that he does work with us a lot, and even when he doesn’t want to be in class or gets kicked out, he’ll come to our room and still want tutoring help.

Another one of my after-school kids broke down crying the other day because she got jumped by a group of 8th grade girls on her way to 6th grade lunch. She says it’s because the cousin of one of the 8th graders (who is in the 6th grade) doesn’t like her. She said that depending on what happened the next day, she could get suspended. I told her to not do anything that she would regret and that this should give her more of a reason to do well in school and rise above all the nonsense and violence that goes on around her at school. We’re always there for her and all of City Year believes in her. Why give into something now (get in a fight) when she has so much potential to do something different than many students at Markham? I honestly think the other girls are jealous of her because they see her as a successful African-American girl who will go places, unlike others in the community. She’s a honors student, so I just hope she stays on that track for the rest of her school years. However, I can’t even imagine how hard that will be when stuff like this will keep going on around her/happening to her up until high school graduation.

What I love about City Year is that we are really able to support the kids and it boosts their confidence. This one 6th grade girl I’m talking about was awarded “Most Improved Student” at an award ceremony. I asked her if anyone from her family showed up, but instead she said, “No, but Ms. Lauren did!” It seems like she does trust us and take into consideration what we have to say (Happy National Mentorship Month!)

Another one of my teammates, Daniel, started using his planning period to help out a class of his former below basic kids. At the beginning of the year, the Markham administration switched up the classes based on skill level. He’s dedicating his lunches to helping these students because he knows they need the help. Read another story I wrote about my teammate Charlotte who also gave up her lunch to help students learn English who just immigrated here.

Other than that, we spent all of our time on our New Year Carnival. Every City Year team is required to host four events at school: a literacy event, student appreciation event, math event and family engagement event. This New Year carnival was our family engagement event: it was free for all students and families! We were expecting around 75 people, but 328 people attended. Is this real life?!

The theme was “New Year, New You.” Each teammate got paired up with another teammate and thought of and implemented their own booth idea. The booths included a carnival-like math game, a life-size game of life, healthy living in 2012, a carnival-like “fishing for facts” game and a pie booth called persevere, pie a City Year. I worked with my teammate Angela and both of us agreed to do a booth about New Years traditions around the world. I painted and traced a world map (yes, I’m very proud of it!) and then placed little blurbs about New Years traditions from some countries on the map.

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I wore my sequin shirt I wore this New Years to represent the American tradition of wearing something sparkly and kissing someone at midnight. The other activity I had the guests do was rip apart pictures of things students commonly do like: come unprepared to class, watch TV instead of do homework, cuss, eat junk food, talk in class, etc. This is because in Ecuador people rip apart pictures of things they did in the previous year that they don’t want to do in the New Year. Angela had the families toast apple cider, which is a New Years Eve tradition in the African-American culture. Likewise, she had guests eat grapes because in Central and South American countries people eat 12 grapes at midnight. She also served round fruit because in the Philippines everyone eats round fruit and wears polka-dots to hope for wealth in the New Year (roundness symbolizes coins). It was so incredibly busy that I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without my little helper (my 7th grade after-school student I mentioned earlier in this post). He translated for me, which was uh-mazing. Students care about us enough to help when they see we are stressed or could use an extra hand.

The event was a huge success and made me see once again how grateful I am to serve in the Watts community. I met a lot of caring parents and people who really did want to be there and use the event as an educational resource for their kids. I love that we can bring things like this event to this school and community!

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Ms. Jeanny and Ms. Marissa’s healthy living in 2012 booth

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Ms. Chariya and Mr. Ricky’s math booth

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Time to pie Dylan!

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Best part of the event? Some students were trying to pie corps members, but somehow we got all of our leadership pied (team leaders Lauren and Britt and program manager Damien).

Students even stayed after and helped us clean up (and tried to pie us, as seen above). Couldn’t have asked for a better night!

Photo credit to my teammate Chariya. Of course I had so much video and photos from the event… but it’s all forever gone. RIP.

Oh, and my latest article on GOOD’s “A City Education” Series was published today: The Domino Effect of Raising Students’ Self-Esteem

Back to skewl tomorrow,

Liz

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