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Posts from the ‘Liz’s City Year in Los Angeles’ Category

An end to my first year of service: a reflection to never forget

My worst nightmare has come true. Our last day at Markham Middle School was on Wednesday (actually, one of my students said his “worst nightmare would start on Thursday” because City Year would no longer be on campus).

I can barely write a blog post because so many emotions have been going through my mind this week — I’m anxious that I’m leaving the country in 33 days, depressed that I am leaving my students for good, excited for the future, but not ready to say bye to everyone I’ve met this year.

This year has truly been amazing. I have learned so much from my school, my students and my teammates. At the beginning of the year, I really didn’t have expectations. I didn’t know if this year would be bad, so-so, or great. It exceeded greatness. Why? Well maybe because I learned so much:

  • Markham Middle School and Watts showed me a reality so many others aren’t aware exists.
    I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to experience an urban and struggling school like Markham, as well as a community like Watts. I saw the issues facing our public education system upfront. To name a few, students violently fighting about anything and everything (gangs, gossip, family issues, community issues) before school, during school and after-school. Obviously that affects any learning environment for students — being surrounded by violence at school of outside of school. For example, just the other day when my class was coming back from a field trip on the metro, a rider was walking up and down the train yelling with a gun in his pocket, and then just five minutes later a group of men trying to fight each other at the metro station by Markham. The day after I watched my teammates break up a crazy fight between a boy and a girl before school that was related to outside family/gang retaliation. Scenes like that in the neighborhood and at school I know would make me frustrated and mad, so I’m sure students feel that way.

    I saw how the public education system has failed so many students: so many are behind grade level and unmotivated to keep trying because the work is too hard for them to complete. I witnessed prostitution and alcohol and drug abuse in the community — every morning driving or walking to school. The litter, graffiti and homeless camps throughout the streets with boarded up buildings are a familiar sight. I learned that my student’s parents sometimes work three jobs to support them and traveled as far as 50 miles one-way on public transportation to get to the jobs. I faced the hard reality that some students I knew were foster children due to substance abuse in the family.

    The neighborhood of Watts is also just a bunch of houses, housing projects and convenient stores, soooo, where are the jobs for the struggling families and the kids turning to gangs and violence? The area is forgotten because so many in Los Angeles don’t really realize the extent of the problems here and that it’s a reality for many people. Now that I’ve worked in this reality for ten months, I will never work a day in my life that isn’t dedicated to a cause that will help change this stark reality so many people face in poverty-stricken areas of major cities. Granted I’m not sure if I’ll come back to Los Angeles, but every city has its Watts and that’s exactly where I belong.

  • My students showed me that I have empathy and compassion I didn’t think I had.
    Due to various situations I’ve dealt with with my family, I thought I lost all sense of being empathetic. I usually just think, “Well, that’s your fault for the way you are and you can change if you want to” or I refuse to deal with someone I know won’t change. But that’s not the case in all situations. I found even the worst behaving students in my class to hold a special place in my heart because I saw them outside of their behavior problems and caught them in their squishy moments — i.e. one student always talking about how much he loved his baby brother. That one always got me: “You want to be a role model for your brother, right? Start behaving in class! He’s depending on you.” My students gave me the hope that people do change and will change; now I can believe.
  • It’s chance that my students were born into or moved into Watts and went to school there.
    They have dreams too, just like any other Los Angeles kid. However, it’s going to be much harder for them to succeed based on their reality. Life may never be fair for minority students and students of such communities, but at least we can work to bring some justice to these communities through work like City Year or just teaching in these schools.
  • My team was so incredibly diverse and I tried my hardest to not have first assumptions about people, but let’s be honest, everyone has first impressions of people.
    Everyone is amazing in their own way and every person on earth has an interesting life story. Give people a chance and they’ll surprise you. My team ended up being the most hilarious, intelligent, inspiring and caring group of people I’ve ever met all at once. I vow to not make any assumptions about everyone I will cross in South Africa, whether that be another Peace Corps Volunteer or someone from my village.
  • Time apart shows you who your real friends are.
    This year has been so crazy busy that I lost contact with many people. The best part about losing contact with people is when you see them again and it’s not awkward you know it’s a real friendship.
  • Keep calm and never doubt.
    There were countless times this year that I wanted to give up. I was working toward improving issues that are bigger than myself. I realized that the only way any work would get done at school is if I was calm about it and never doubted the situation. I still doubt a lot of things, but I added a couple of points higher on my positivity scale (special thanks to the teammates and roomies Marissa and Daniel for teaching me this).
  • Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds.
    Change doesn’t come overnight. Any work I did with my students may show in a couple of months or years or maybe even never. You come into City Year thinking you are going to change your student’s academic abilities so much, but you don’t understand how patient you have to be with this process. Maybe I didn’t change my student’s academic levels, but I know I made a difference because students looked up to me and the rest of City Year as friends, mentors and role models.
  • I now know what I stand for.
    I stand for the voiceless of the world. I am here to be a voice for the voiceless through my writing and volunteer work. Whether it’s a neighborhood like Watts or a rural South African village, I will be that voice that forgotten communities lack.

I’ll never forget this year and the students I got to work with; I’ll carry the memory of Markham Middle School with me wherever I go in life and it’ll definitely be a factor in choosing my final career path. Everything I learned will serve me well in South Africa and this year has prepared me more than ever for my Peace Corps adventure.

It still hasn’t really hit me that I won’t see my students next week. I think it’s going to take at least two weeks for it set in that this year is actually over.

One of our students wrote a letter to us and read it aloud after-school when all the corps members and students were saying goodbye (yes, many tears were shed):

Dear City Year,

I hope you guys visit us and I hope you guys find a good job. I will always remember you guys, you guys are like my big family. I hope you guys have fun in your new job and I hope you guys have fun in your life.

Thank you Markham Middle School for changing my life. Next year’s Markham team really has to uphold everything we created this year. My team built the foundation for next year’s team to succeed because City Year wasn’t at Markham last year and it seemed like the school was apprehensive about having us back, but now they can see it worth it and that we really made an impact. The students trust us and love us — next year’s team needs to carry over our love, passion, dedication and care. I have faith they will.

Sadly, we graduate City Year tomorrow, but it’s not goodbye, it’s a new beginning. Three more weeks in Los Angeles. Seriously? Gotta make the best of it.

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Keeping the USC spirit alive. I wrote all of my students letters and gave them a Fight On pin so they hopefully remember to never give up on their dreams.

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One of my students begged my teammate and I for our yellow bomber jacket. My teammate Chariya is giving him one of her yellow jackets. I hope he’ll look at the jacket and always remember what we taught him.

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Got my kids to sign my boots because I’m bringing them to South Africa with me. “I’m gonna miss you bitch” oooohhh Markham; words like this mean the kids really do love you.

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My team leader made pictures of all of us and put them on the wall in the City Year room for students to sign. Once again, to show love, one student wrote “you ugly” on everyone’s, but mine was even more special. “don’t know you, but you still ugly.” Oooohhh Markham.

What will I miss about Markham the most you ask? Based on the pictures above, I’ll miss the hilarity.

Although I’m graduating tomorrow, I’ll still be “yours in service” (South Africa in a month),

Liz

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Summer blast off event at Markham: it’s summatime!

Today City Year at Markham Middle School hosted a school-wide event for students and parents to play games, win prizes and most importantly, find things to do during the summer! My teammates Daniel and Becky worked extremely hard putting the event together and invited a lot of community based organizations in South Los Angeles and Watts like the local library, gang reduction programs, UCLA’s summer UniCamp, among others. City Year put together four booths with different themes — literacy over the summer, summer games, academic games for over the summer and fun and free things to do in Los Angeles.

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We made handouts that showed students why summer reading is so important — research shows student who don’t keep up with reading over the summer will fall behind grade level. The handout also included calendars to make a summer reading schedule as well as crossword puzzles and games. We raffled off a bucket of school supplies and a dictionary to look up words they might not know while reading.

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The students also got to play two games at our booth — one that made them separate fiction and nonfiction books and another that had them spell out as many words as they could with the letters given. If they played they got a free snack or book.

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All the community organizations that showed up before students visited the booths.

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Students racing at the “Summer Games” booth.

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Some light refreshments at the lemonade stand.

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Students learning about fun and free things to do in LA this summer with a pamphlet and map my teammates made.

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An academic twist on a water gun carnival game.

Next week is our last week at Markham. I don’t even know what to think and cannot believe I will be writing my year summary blog post soon. This year went by way too fast…stay tuned for my final City Year post and a South African bake day/presentation for my students next week to teach them about where I’m moving to!

Happy Summer!
Liz

Week 33-34: Celebrating completing the CST!

All Markham students have been testing for the past two weeks. Four days out of these past two weeks school ended at 12:50. Our after-school program runs until 5 p.m., so we had to come up with some fun things for the students to do for that four hour stretch. Thanks to my teammates Charlotte and Melanie who are in charge of our after-school program there were some pretty darn cool activities:

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We played an Olympic-type of game where students split into teams and competed for a prize. The first challenge was to assemble a puzzle of the United States

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My team – One Krew – prepping for the challenges at Ted Watkins park in Watts with my teammates Daniel and Ricky

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One of the challenges was to get a hula hoop down the line without using hands

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My teammate Tessa’s mom is an actress and was the lead role in Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. The students watched the movie and then got a surprise visit from a celebrity in the movie! They had a Q and A session with her and were really interested in what she had to say.

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We made silly putty! (which I had no idea was so easy to make)

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“Around the World in Four Hours” — students made foods from different cultures, presented them to the rest of the group and got to eat everything while watching a movie about Africa. My group made Alfajores, which is a caramel cookie made in Spain.

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Made in China

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Field trip to the California Science Center! Checking out infrared light

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Looking at the exhibits

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Just for clarification — he wasn’t looking at the fish, he was yelling at them to scare them

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Oh — and we made piñatas that the kids will break open next week

A picture to sum up my first year of service

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A picture of me taking picture of a teammate fake posing with a student. I’m trying my hardest to not take a picture of the student’s face because he doesn’t have a LAUSD media waiver form signed.

Story of my life this year: writing about my teammates, making my teammates and our students pose for fake pictures and sneaking around the LAUSD student + media rules. Yes, that would be my first year of service summed up. I’m not complaining – it was a good transition from journalism school to the real world; I’ll always love reporting!

The former student journalist,

Liz

Finding beauty in Watts: Cinco de Mayo

A majority of the population in Watts now is Latino. Therefore, Cinco de Mayo is widely celebrated among our students. On Saturday, I ventured out to Markham with a couple of other teammates for an event a couple of teachers hosted at our school. The turnout was decent and the decorations were so vibrant. Students and families could play games and win tickets for Mexican food and drinks. There was also a student dance and singing performance. I had a great day and so did my teammates! I love experiencing a culture different from my own (hi, Peace Corps!)

20120508-123046.jpgMarkham students before they perform a traditional dance

20120509-120821.jpgBringing families together to celebrate

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Markham students celebrate the end of the carnival by dancing on stage together

Week 32: CYLA’s Spring Break 2012: Destination Education

Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles for nearly four years, I don’t care much for the entertainment industry or celebrity sightings. However, working for a nonprofit in Los Angeles has its perks: You can fundraise through the entertainment industry!

On Saturday night, City Year Los Angeles hosted its second annual City Year Spring Break: Destination Education at Sony Studios (corps members refer to this event as The Gala). Haley Reinhart from American Idol and Robin Thicke performed. There was a ton of food, booths hosted by different corporations and television channels and plenty of drinks for the guests.

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Setting up for the event

Celebrities such as Quinn from Glee and cast members from the Hunger Games attended, among a few others. My favorite celebrity spotting was Alex, the middle sister, from my favorite television show Modern Family! Luke, the youngest sibling, was there too, but unfortunately I couldn’t find him.

Two of my roommates who are returning to City Year as senior corps members next year got to take pictures with the guests as they walked in. The rest of us performed physical training for the audience and asked them to join in. After we ran out for physical training and surprised the audience we got to wander, mingle and see all the booths. Some included Microsoft, E! News, Sephora, People magazine, Food Network, NFL, etc. We also got to hear one of our own corps members deliver a speech, Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy speak in favor of City Year and watch the musical performers.

The development and communications staff members of City Year Los Angeles have been planning this event nearly all year. It was a great success thanks to them and all the generous help they received from companies involved with funding of the event.

CYLA’s goal was to raise 1.2 million dollars for next year’s 2012 corps year. We met our goal! That’s right CYLA!

Here’s some media coverage and more photos of the event.

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I snatched a photo with Andrian at The Gala; he is a new and upcoming celebrity!

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Some of my roommates Molly, Marissa, Lauren, Mercedes and I pose for a photo on the way out

On the school front, students are starting California Standardized Testing (CST) testing this week, which is the moment we’ve all been waiting for. I may not have been able to drastically help them change their scores, but I know I tried and I’m content with the work I’ve done. I’m not in the classroom while they’re taking the test (if I was they’d be constantly saying, “Ms. Liz! I NEED HELP! And of course I can’t help them), but after they took the first portion of this test this morning they ran up to me and hugged me in good spirits! They seemed confident they did well, so I’m proud of them.

Best of luck my kiddies! I care about you and believe in you!

-Ms. Liz

Not tomorrow, but today. Let’s rebuild South LA

Here’s a glimpse of the community members that we’re at the South LA Community Coalition event I attended on Sunday. Very powerful indeed. Go South LA! We’re trying to help rebuild you now at Markham!