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Posts from the ‘Liz’s Peace Corps Application Process’ Category

Peace Corps update: SOUTH AFRICA HERE I COME!!!

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Hold fast to dreams and they will come true!

It took a whole week for my invitation to travel across country, but it finally came! I didn’t get to actually open it myself because I went to Las Vegas this weekend with the Markham team to celebrate the end of the year (which was amazing — love my team so, so much!) One of my roommates got it and opened it for me. I couldn’t wait any longer and would have been talking about it all weekend if I didn’t know what was inside that beautiful blue packet.

After a seven month application process, I was invited to serve as a school teacher in South Africa! I will be working in a primary school (ages 6-15) as part of the Schools and Community Resource Project. This has been an ongoing Peace Corps project since 1997 — currently there are 106 volunteers in nearly 250 schools in over 100 communities. I leave on July 10, train from July 12 – September 13 and my service ends on September 13, 2014.

My primary duties are:

  • providing direct instruction to learners
  • supporting initiatives by the government and NGOs that promote HIV-AIDS awareness and education in schools and communities as well as developing strategies for handling the subject in schools
  • initiating, supporting and strengthening programmes in the community that empower out of school youth
  • conducting basic computer literacy training to the educators, learners and community members
  • The hardest part about this assignment, according to my invitation kit, is the use of corporal punishment in schools. Eeek…

    I will be living in either the Mpumalanga or the Kwa-Zulu Natal Provinces of South Africa. I will live in a family structure in the village I serve in, meaning I’ll have my own room in a family’s house (which could be anything from a tin-roofed house or a modern brick house). I likely won’t have running water, but it seems like I might have electricity.

    What am I most excited about? The fact that I get to visit City Year South Africa and connect back to my roots (joking, but not really…)

    I have a lot of research to do about South African culture, education system, etc.

    South Africa here I come! In exactly 52 days. Life is crazy.

    Peace Corps update: invitation is in the mail!

    After I talked to placement last week, I kept biologically waking up around 2 a.m. every morning to check my phone for an e-mail that said “Peace Corps application status update” (talk about anxiety). I had a gut feeling I would receive the e-mail on Friday morning because I knew if placement wanted to send me to a program mid-July they would have to notify me by next week. And I was right! I woke up at 2 a.m. this morning to an e-mail from the Peace Corps.

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    I ran to the computer as my fingers clumsily typed on the keyboard and my heart pounded to find that beautiful “Congrats! An invitation has been sent!” in front of my eyes. I will know by next week where I’m going (somewhere in Africa if my placement specialist didn’t change her mind) and when I’m officially leaving! I’ll be able to keep my mind off of my invitation because I went home to the Bay Area this weekend to enjoy the company of my childhood best friends and celebrate one of their birthdays up in Sonoma County. We’re BBQing, going wine tasting and laying by the pool — the perfect relaxation and remedy to escape from my anxious reality of these past two weeks.

    Exactly a year ago today I graduated from USC. Exactly a year later my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps was sent. I am proud of my choice to serve after graduation and to continue serving after City Year. I couldn’t have found a better way to spend my early 20s and it just keeps getting better. I can honestly say I haven’t been as happy as I have been this year; I laugh every day (and often!) If you’re passionate about the work you do, then you’ll be happy.

    EXACTLY a year ago today! My childhood best friend Mary and I at my graduation. Thank you to everyone who has supported me through this process and has always been there for me (and will continue to be even when I move abroad for two years!)

    The adventure is just beginning,

    Liz

    Peace Corps update: Africa? Hopefully!

    Around a year ago, I started the Peace Corps application process. Now that that year-long gap is finally closing, I’m closer each and every day to receiving an invitation to serve.

    I was never worried about it not happening (a fortune teller told me I’d be living abroad for a while…she was right!), but I did have an idea of where I wanted to serve. I loved the idea of serving in Eastern Europe or South America.

    Eastern Europe was appealing to me because I wanted to live in a post-Cold War city or village (straight out of the Soviet Union – the same Soviet apartments, trains, etc). It’s a weird dream of mine, but I’m so fascinated by the Cold War – it’s my favorite historical period for studying international relations. I took a lot of foreign policy classes for my international relations minor at USC and most of them focused on Cold War foreign policy and a bipolar world (I miss being intellectually challenged by such classes…)

    My dad’s family is from Hungary, so I have a good amount of Eastern European blood in me. I thought it would be special to serve in a geographic that I had some connection to.

    I wanted to serve in South America because I wanted to learn Spanish. I’ve tried to learn Spanish, but it’s so hard to if you’re not immersed in the culture and have to speak it daily. I thought it would be a helpful skill when I return to America, considering I live in a city that is practically half Spanish speakers.

    However, after I received my worldwide nomination for secondary English teaching, I realized that this process became even more exciting because I could be going anywhere!

    On Thursday, I talked with my placement specialist who is the last person to review my file and make a final decision on where to send me. She said that she is currently considering me for an English teaching program in Africa that departs mid-July. She asked me if I would be okay with serving as a primary education volunteer, even though my nomination is for secondary English teaching. I said yes because through City Year I’ve experienced working with elementary school students and and I’ve definitely loved those few experiences I’ve had. It would be an exciting and interesting change of pace because I’m so used to working with middle or high school students! According to Volunteers who have already received their invitations, the countries it could be are: South Africa, Zambia or Togo!!! I’ll know if I’m leaving in mid-July within the next two weeks and if I’m not it means placement is considering me for another program.

    My placement specialist said that such online information from other applicants may not be correct. So, I’m trying not to speculate too much and just wait it out until I receive my invitation!

    I’ve put all geographic preferences aside and am so thrilled that I may be serving in Africa. I have talked to two people who studied in abroad in West Africa, my partner English teacher at Markham who visited East Africa and another program manager at City Year who taught in Kenya. All of these sources had absolutely nothing bad to say about Africa and loved every second they were there. All of them told me I won’t want to leave.

    I was talking to one of my teammates about the possibility of serving in Africa and we discussed how amazing the culture will be. People will be so welcoming and caring, which is a trait that not all Americans have. In America, people keep to themselves and are very individualistic. In Africa, everyone watches out for each other and genuinely care about each other. I hope I get to experience that type of culture!

    More to come when I find out where I’m actually going,

    Liz

    Peace Corps update: finally medically cleared!

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    Best morning news ever!

    I have been waiting to hear some news about my medical review for a couple of days now. Last week I sent in some requested medical information (proof of an adult polio booster shot). I was getting worried that I wasn’t medically cleared right after my nurse received my fax, but as already discussed multiple times in this blog, anything Peace Corps takes a lot of patience.

    I had a feeling that the Office of Medical Services would contact me this morning. I get an email from the Peace Corps at 2 a.m. every time my application status is updated online (weird thing that happens to all nominees). I kept falling in and out of sleep and checking my phone for the email last night. I slept with my phone. I even dreamt about it. Low and behold, at 2 a.m. exactly, I got that email. My heart was pounding as I was anxiously waiting to find that check by my medical review (if there’s a check by your medical review that means your medically cleared!) Although I was relieved, I couldn’t sleep much after because this process has been moving so fast for me. I’m getting so incredibly anxious and excited!

    My placement assessment specialist asked me about a week ago if I would be willing to leave at the end of June. However, the Peace Corps requires that all nominees receive their invitation to serve at least eight weeks prior to leaving. If placement wants me to leave at the end of June, they would have to let me know by the end of this week to make the eight week mark. In other words, I’m probably not leaving that soon. I’m speaking with another placement and assessment specialist this week to discuss my application (I’m hoping this is the last thing I have to do before I receive an invitation!)

    It’s really happening! And quicker than I thought!

    Yours in service,
    -Ms. warden, the soon to be secondary English teacher

    Peace Corps update: making moves with placement!

    I’m moving along with the Peace Corps placement and medical process! I’m not medically cleared yet because I had to get a polio shot and send in proof of it, but the placement specialist that has been in contact with me said both my medical and placement reviews will be happening at the same time. Usually nominees don’t hear from placement until a couple of months after they are medically cleared, but it looks like they’re trying to speed up the process for me so I can leave as soon as possible!

    My placement specialist asked me to fill out an English teaching questionnaire that is detailed below. Writing these answers really helped me reflect on my year working at Markham Middle School and how much it has prepared me for the Peace Corps. I’m not sure if I would have been ready to go right after college, but now I know I am!

    Part of preparing for Peace Corps service is developing realistic expectations of what life is like as a Volunteer, with specific attention to the common challenges Volunteers are likely to face. From what sources and/or experiences have you learned about the realities of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV)? If your sources include past or currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers, please indicate so.

    After graduating college, I joined City Year, a non-profit AmeriCorps program that places 17-24-year-olds in high need public schools. Corps members serve as tutors and mentors who live on a modest stipend. I made it clear to the City Year staff before we were placed in schools that I wanted a challenge and indeed, I got one. I am currently serving at Markham Middle School in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. I serve in a sixth grade English as a Second Language classroom at Markham Middle School. Markham is one of the hardest and arguably one of the most dangerous schools to work at in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The two miles that span across Watts – a neighborhood that is three quarters Latino and one quarter black – have a high rate of poverty and gang violence. Markham Middle School inherently lacks structure and is underserved. This year is the first time in nine years a principal has returned for a second year; long term substitutes, student violence, and suspensions are a norm; there is a continual lack of resources like paper and ink; teachers are forced to teach to standardized tests; many teachers and administrators reprimand students by screaming at them; and family issues such as incarceration, alcoholism, drug abuse, abuse, and the foster care system are prevalent among our students.

    Working in this neighborhood and school has opened my eyes to what it’s like to serve in a low-income area. I see on a daily basis all the problems that can potentially arise from poverty, which has also given me a taste of the reality I might be living in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in a developing country. I have prepared in other ways by reading the work of Peace Corps Volunteers and Returned Peace Corps Volunteers like the Unofficial Peace Corps Volunteer Handbook and following a recent PCV University of Southern California graduate’s blog who is serving in the business sector in Cameroon. Although she is not teaching English, out of all the Peace Corps blogs I could have followed, I decided to follow hers because I love hearing from someone who went to the same college I went to. She also knows other volunteers I had classes with in college who are serving in Cameroon but do not have blogs. I have also connected with a RPCV through City Year who taught secondary English in the Ukraine. I had the chance to get lunch with her and ask her all the questions I had about Peace Corps service. All of these sources have given me different, yet insightful perspectives about serving with the Peace Corps.

    What are the key lessons you have learned from these sources that will help you succeed as a PCV?

    After almost completing an academic year serving at Markham Middle School in Watts, the best lesson I have learned is to be patient. Instead of questioning a situation and getting frustrated, I strive to find solutions. I understand that I have no influence on any of the decisions the school administration makes, but I do have some control over the students I am directly working with. I may not be able to change what is happening at home – whether they are being put into foster care or are grieving a lost one – but I can at least change the outcome of their day by being an ear to listen and someone to talk to who cares about them.

    My students struggle with academics; almost all of them are at a third grade reading level in the sixth grade and have trouble spelling and writing. I cannot bring them up three grade levels in one year, as I am only one person with many students. Moreover, because my students are so behind in school, they often refuse to do any work because they get frustrated with the sixth grade content. Getting my students to do their classwork takes a lot of patience and time.

    Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds. Through my City Year experience, I have also learned that service-oriented work is a slow process and outcomes aren’t always evident. All the work I have done with my students inside and outside of class may not show until years from now, which I am at ease with because I know I have put all the effort I can into my English classroom this year. These lessons have prepared me to become a PCV because I know that other countries operate differently than America: Governments might make decisions that surprise me, there may be a lack of urgency in the population and students that I will teach, there may be a lack of resources in the school I will teach in, students may be just as behind as my students, and student progress may not show during my service. Regardless of any of these challenges I may face as a PCV, I know how much building relationships with students and community members is important to at least ensure happiness and to show the community the importance of education. All of these challenges I have faced in America seem similar to some I’ve read about in the Cameroon volunteer blog I’ve been following as well as experiences the RPCV TEFL woman I met through City Year had.

    I understand that serving as a Peace Corps volunteer will be different because I will actually be immersed in the community instead of only working there, but I believe my City Year experience is like a stepping stone to the larger challenges that await me with the Peace Corps. There are many outside forces in the world that I know I will not be able to control and that may affect my volunteer work, but what matters is that I will look at anything thrown my way as just another swerve in the road to success like I do at Markham Middle School.

    Working in Watts as a Caucasian female has also exposed me to what it’s like to work in a culture that’s different from my own. I get stared at frequently, but I have become accustomed to it. I still feel like I am part of the community because I spend around 60 hours a week in Watts. I know that it may be challenging for me as a white American in some countries because people will believe I am a rich American, which is the feeling I get sometimes when I am walking around Watts. The lesson I have learned from this is that I cannot change the perceptions about me from people I don’t know, but I can change such perceptions with people I do know. If I am getting all the work done that needs to be done, I at least know that I am doing the right thing for the community I am serving. Eventually, I believe that my volunteer work will snowball into changing people’s perceptions about me who may not have interacted with me.

    Moreover, as a City Year corps member, we are not only required to create academic lesson plans for our students, but also school-wide events and activities for our after-school, morning and lunch programs. We spend a lot of time working on these activities and have learned the art of multitasking and teamwork. These skills I have honed from City Year will help me succeed as a PCV because I have experience juggling many things as a team player. I will know how to prioritize and use time management toward my teaching and secondary volunteer project to ensure that I will complete both volunteer positions to the best of my ability. Because of the environment I’ve been in for the past year, I’ve grown a lot and have been prepared for the Peace Corps in a way others may have not.

    Since you first told your friends and family of your plans to apply for Peace Corps, has their level of support for your decision changed? As the time for a possible departure gets closer, how are they feeling about it? How have you helped them better prepare for the prospect of you going away to Peace Corps?

    My friends and family are very supportive of the decision and proud of me. I have wanted to join the Peace Corps since my junior year in college, so my family has had time to adapt to the idea. As time has gone by and I could be potentially leaving soon, they are getting even more excited for me and are spending time with me while they can. I do not worry about such relationships being strained for two years because they are strong and I will always have my family and my childhood friends no matter what.

    I have helped my family prepare by showing them the Peace Corps Website to familiarize them with the geographic regions the Peace Corps serve in as well as the FAQs section. We have also connected with people who have traveled throughout places like Africa, the Middle East and Europe to learn about traveling in such regions. I have prepared my friends by making a blog that they can follow if I have access to the Internet. If not, they understand that I may only have access to the Internet once in a while, so they are aware that they won’t be able to talk to me that often.

    What are your strengths as an educator?

    My strengths as an educator involve seeing my students as people rather than just students there to absorb information, my cheerful and fun personality and my creativity with lesson plans and activities for my students. From tutoring ESL students with City Year for nearly an academic year, I have learned the tricks about working with middle school aged students who speak English as a second language. The students are still at a time in their lives where they are figuring out who they are and still need to be assured their teacher cares about them as young adults and students.

    My current sixth grade students know that they can come to me anything. I will always be there to help them and will not give up until I find a solution because I know I am their advocate in a low-performing school like Markham Middle School. I make a point to learn details about my students — their home lives, their friends and their hobbies so I can connect with them. Learning about my students shows them that I really am investing my time in them, so they respect me and are willing to work with me and learn from me. Likewise, I enjoy tailoring lectures and activities to subjects my students are interested in so learning is more fun for them. An example of this would be when I made a memory card game with phonetics and a game where students had to throw a paper airplane and estimate how far it would go then multiply the number by what I told them.

    Working in a classroom everyday has shown me how hard it is to implement an effective classroom management system and have the students still respect you as an authority figure. I currently work for two drastically different teachers – one with a very laid-back behavior management plan and one with a strict behavior management plan. I have seen how being nice all the time may not ensure a productive classroom environment because students may take advantage of it. However, the teacher I work for who has a strict behavior management is very effective with her students because she balances strictness with fun and laughter in the classroom. After reprimanding a disrespectful student, she bounces back by making the students laugh through her sense of humor. She demonstrates through her actions that she cares about the students and their education, and in turn they recognize that she is only being strict because she wants them to do well in school. I plan to use my experience as a shadow in her classroom to help me create my classroom management plan and also build the trust of my students. From what I’ve experienced this year, I know students enjoy being around me because I always have a smile on my face, which I plan to continue when I am teaching.

    I am also an experienced public speaker and can pronounce my words loudly, effectively and in different tones while teaching. My students do not get bored when I tutor them because I actively engage them in the material by asking questions during lectures or while reading literature and giving them real life examples that relate to what subject they’re studying.

    List the top 3 challenges that you expect to encounter as a PCV and discuss how you plan to deal with each.

    1. Working in an underserved school.

    I understand that working as a TEFL Volunteer may require me to work in a school with inadequate resources – whether that means the school doesn’t have enough classrooms, desks, textbooks or other school supplies. Although one may think that a decent education requires a sustainable and abundance of materials, I can get around not having everything I need by using my creativity. At City Year and Markham Middle School, I was given few resources for tutoring ESL students because City Year trains corps members for regular middle school English classes. Thus, I had to come up with ways to teach phonetics, reading comprehension and spelling to students with a lack of materials. I have created fun games for my students as well as worksheets that addressed what they were having trouble with. If during Peace Corps service I am faced with a similar challenge, I will find a way to teach my students through interactive activities and games, which will get their minds running. If my school needs resources, I will also create a donation project that will hopefully bring extra funding to the school. PCVs are placed in underserved schools for a reason: Because they are passionate and will do what it takes so their students receive a decent education. I will find solutions to the problems I face at my school instead of worry about the problems like I already have done at Markham.

    2. Not having access to electronic communication.

    I strongly believe in the power of storytelling and take pride in sharing what I’ve seen through my service work with others. As a former journalism student, I value social media and use it everyday; I have a blog that I update weekly on my experience working with City Year and plan to keep updating it during my service with the Peace Corps. However, I know that I may not have access to the Internet – let alone electricity – and have already thought of alternative ways to deal with such a situation. I will write down daily interactions, experiences and stories about people I meet in a notebook that I will keep writing in until I can publish the stories online. If I cannot publish during my service, I plan to write a memoir about my years of service. I also communicate with friends and family daily on social media and get updates on their lives even if I am not always in contact with them. I know it is highly unlikely I will be able to keep this going during my service, so my friends and I are both aware that I may only get to read e-mails every once in a while when I’m either at the main Peace Corps office in my country of service or if I travel to an area with Internet cafes. As a young adult who is so connected to technology like much of my generation, I am actually very excited to experience what it’s like to not have Internet and cell phone service my fingertips because I believe it’s something many of my peers and I take for granted.

    3. Assimilating into a different culture and community.

    Although I am very easily adaptable to new places and people, I know that is not the same feeling for everyone, especially residents of the community I will serve in. I am open to accepting the different ideas, people and cultures around me, but it may take a while for community members to trust me. I serve with a hard head and soft heart, so after interacting with me and getting used to me I think community members will see this in me and understand that I am there to really help make a difference in the community and care about its members. I believe the success of a PCV requires support from the community, which stems first from building trust. It may be a rough start until I build this trust and support, so I plan to showcase my personality for those around me — kind, caring, passionate, creative and thoughtful — through my daily interactions and actions to allow the community to warm up to me. I have read that PCVs at the beginning of their service may feel isolated for this very reason. However, I think logically about every situation I am in and if I feel this way I will understand that it just takes time and that I am there for a reason. Also, as I’ve mentioned earlier, many countries run a lot differently than America. In America, there’s always a sense of urgency and time sensitivity is a large part of our culture. From reading various PCV blogs, I see that it can be very laid back in other countries and the infrastructure to getting things done varies — the bus won’t leave until it fills up, appointment times aren’t upheld, students do their homework and class work when they get around to it, etc. To deal with any cultural norms about time, I will just have to be patient because if I am not, I will not fit into the community. I have learned a lot about patience through City Year and the Peace Corps application process and now see things in a different light: If it doesn’t happen quickly, it will happen eventually and I just have to keep calm and never doubt it.

    What do you contemplate about Peace Corps service? What are you most looking to the most?

    City Year requires all of its corps members to write a leadership statement and mine reads: “As a leader, I will learn something new from every single person I meet, tell their stories and experience a culture different from my own. I will use these experiences and my creativity to do something meaningful in the future.” Thus, I am most looking forward to meeting people from another culture and experiencing their lives. I honestly want to learn something from everyone I meet during my Peace Corps service – even if it’s just a simple virtue like being kind.

    Hearing about people’s life stories and cultures makes me so happy; I have a passion to tell their stories. I believe every person on this planet has a life story worth hearing and sharing, so I cannot wait to share my experiences and about the people I meet to people back in America. I am also looking forward to teaching English because it is a career choice I have been contemplating for some time.

    My students at Markham Middle School are people I will never forget; I cannot wait to meet a new class of students that I know will have the same immense impact on me that my Markham students have had. I anticipate that my experience at Markham and my experience teaching abroad with the Peace Corps will give me enough ideas for a quality secondary volunteer project and service projects after I complete service with the Peace Corps. I am anxiously awaiting the time when I can put together all these puzzle pieces from my service years and use the experiences to somehow address social issues in America and/or abroad through more service projects or working for a non-profit.

    In other words, I’m ready to go!!!

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    I did leave out one thing in the answer to the family and friend’s question…

    Peace Corps update: possibly leaving at the end of June?!

    As I was casually making dinner, I received an email from a Peace Corps placement specialist. I saw “Peace Corps” in the subject headline on my BlackBerry and jumped up and down. I’ve been waiting to hear something from headquarters — something, just anything! My application status online still says that the Office of Medical Services received my medical paperwork, but the status hasn’t changed to say that my medical documents are “currently being reviewed.” Usually, a nominee hears from placement after they have been medically cleared.

    The placement specialist wanted to know if I could change my availability date from July 2012 to the end of June:

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    My reply? Of course!!! We graduate from City Year on June 8th. I said the earliest I could leave was June 15th to at least have a week to prepare. I’m in disbelief that I might only have a week to say goodbyes, pack and move out of my house in Los Angeles (the pure art of being flexible!)

    As a former journalist, I know some good Internet stalking techniques. A lot of Peace Corps applicants, nominees and volunteers use the Peace Corps Wiki Website to post about anything and everything Peace Corps. The Website has a list of previous invitation departure dates and 2012 departure dates that nominees have already been invited to.

    The only two at the end of June I qualify for as a secondary English teacher are in West Africa: The Gambia and Benin. I’ll be honest, I know next to nothing about these countries, but The Gambia is close to Senegal. I wrote one of my Peace Corps application essays on a family from Senegal I reported and wrote about during college; it was one of my favorite college journalism stories I reported! One of the programs leaves on my 23rd birthday, June 26th, and the other one leaves the day after. Fate? Maybe so, because it seems like this whole process has been fate!

    Disclaimer: I still have to get medically cleared before I move onto this placement process. I know nothing is wrong with me medically, but there’s a chance I could have made a mistake when filling out the documents (although I looked over it at least 10 times before sending it).

    Soooo… Will West Africa be my new home? Maybe, maybe not. The information I found online about programs departing in late June doesn’t mean those are the only programs that I could be considered for.

    I cannot wait to find out where I will be! I hope the end is near!

    -Ms. Warden, the soon to be secondary English teacher

    I found this on a Facebook future Peace Corps volunteer group and think it’s spot on. Oddly enough, it got me even more excited to face this two year challenge.

    Waid's World

    I feel as though I have done somewhat of a disservice throughout this blog, painting a picture that is not precisely accurate. I am an emotional person, romantic, optimistic to a fault. I like extremes and superlatives, exaggerating in an attempt to draw my audience in, and to make sense of things that I can’t make sense of.

    I romanticize this experience as a function of my personality but also as a coping mechanism. Simply put, life in the Peace Corps is hard.

    I want to write about the real Ethiopia, and the real Peace Corps experience. It is a defensive approach, protection for when a future volunteer reads about my experiences. Hopefully as a result, he or she will understand what to expect, and will not mock me for only showing pictures of sunsets and kids holding hands.

    So what should you expect?

    Nothing is the best answer. Expect nothing and you…

    View original post 1,441 more words

    Peace Corps update: medical forms ready to be sent!

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    I am finally done with the medical process for the Peace Corps, which is the step applicants have to take after they are nominated by a recruiter. There’s about 30 or so pages of paperwork and lab results, but the more paper in the envelope, the more at ease I can be.

    I’ll send this bulk of papers to headquarters in DC tomorrow then check my e-mail every 30 minutes and wait for the confirmation e-mail stating that I’ve been medically cleared. It usually takes headquarters 2-4 weeks to receive and process medical paperwork. I’m hoping, hoping, hoping it will be a short wait! Although the medical process is long, grueling and stressful, it’s better that potential PC volunteers are safe now than sorry later when they placed in a country with inadequate healthcare, ya heard?

    After I’m medically cleared, I’ll be contacted by the Placement Office for a final placement interview. My Placement Officer will assess my skills and suitability for different regions of the world. Then, I’ll receive my invitation for a country and exact leave date!

    As time is quickly sneaking up on me and summer is soon (when I’m supposed to leave), I can’t help but be anxious because I am so excited to find out where I’ll be serving! Lately, I’ve been getting really comfortable with the idea that I might be serving in Tunisia because that’s where the Peace Corps recently opened a new English teaching program. I was nominated for a “new English teaching program”, so it makes a little sense (although I know the Peace Corps is creating other English teaching positions all over because it received more funding to do so).

    I’ve got to stay calm and collected, even though I daydream about the Peace Corps every single day!

    -Ms. Warden, the soon-to-be secondary English teacher

    Week 19: data struggles and fighting on for next year’s CYLA corps

    The sixth graders at Markham Middle School received their common assessment scores for math and English this week. After our teachers shared the data with us, I could sense frustration across the board. From what I’ve heard, not many student’s scores went up significantly; some had minimal gains (a few of my students did). Sadly, my co-teammate (who works with the same teachers as me, just different periods) compared her student’s math scores with the first assessment they took and the students either went down or stayed the same. I haven’t seen my student’s math scores yet, which makes me nervous. I have a feeling they’ll be very similar to my teammate Chariya’s students.

    However, I was happy to see that some of my English students scored 4-6 out of 6 on the written portion of the assessment. The written portion of the assessment asked them to write a factual assertion and then provide one direct quote from the text that supports the assertion and a paraphrased detail that supports the assertion. My English teacher and I tried to drill this concept into our students for about two months. About a week before the exam, most students still could not explain what an assertion was. Yet, they pulled through! I think the written portion is more reflective of my students skills because they rush through multiple choice tests and guess because they’re too hyperactive. One of my top English students scored significantly lower than the teacher and I know he is capable of. I’m assuming it’s because he rushed through it.

    I could go off on a tangent about how much I hate standardized tests and don’t think they reflect intelligence at all (especially because I attempted to start studying for the GRE this weekend; shoot me in the face), but I’ll save that for my mind that questions everything.

    These scores don’t reflect the amazingly-well-taught English lessons my teacher has given the students or the one-on-one time I’ve spent with students in-class and out of class. I think a lot of it has to do with student motivation. Also, the students do not listen in math class. I lack a lot on the behavior management spectrum because my kids tend to boss me around and see me more as a friend than an authority figure, which is my fault (but I can’t say I don’t enjoy gossiping with my students/making fun of them!) They don’t have the passion to listen, regardless of how many times you try to drive home the point that education is important.

    The weight LAUSD puts on standardized tests really makes me wonder. These scores are used in a value-added model the district and LA Times has used to evaluate teachers. Is that really fair? I’m in my English teacher’s classroom everyday and everyday see how great of a teacher she is. So, because all of her students scored far below basic, below basic or basic, does that say she’s a bad teacher? I’d hope not! Education reform is interesting and there’s a lot I don’t agree with, but it’s so hard to find other alternatives that will work. It’s seriously like a 1,000 piece puzzle, which is why it’s so riveting to discuss and think about. I just signed up to attend an event on Wednesday, Feb.15 hosted by Michelle Rhee’s organization StudentsFirst and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. I’ll get to hear all about education reform in Los Angeles. Oh so exciting.

    Last semester at SC, I got to approve and edit comments for the LATimes value-added teacher evaluation project. Therefore, I got to read most of the teacher comments before they were published and also sent e-mails to teachers that allowed them to look at the data and respond to it before the Times published it. Most of the comments mentioned how the data did not measure behavioral problems in class, a student’s home life, the student’s other teachers beforehand, etc. I couldn’t argue against these comments or argue for them; I could only sit there perplexed to what in the hell are the solutions to education reform.

    I could discuss for hours and hours the struggles of the public education system, but instead I’ll just still be a small solution to a bigger problem. I have finally hashed out a better schedule for student interventions. My higher students are going to start reading Esperanza Rising with me popcorn style and then I’ll throw in reading compression techniques as we go. Other than that, my students will also be working on grammar worksheets (especially verb tenses!) My other students that need more help in reading and spelling will continue doing my team leader Lauren’s English language intervention system and a phonetics reading system my team just got ahold of called Great Leaps.

    Point blank: I hate data. I’m scared the Markham team isn’t going to produce high student data for City Year and the school administration, which could influence if City Year comes back to Markham next year. We’re definitely having an impact on this school, but it might not show with student scores. It’s just a whole other world at Markham, which should also be taken into consideration when our end of the year student data is released. I can’t help but worry; our students need City Year. Data, data, data, blah, blah, blah…

    This week, my team also had to sit through a speed-dating type of team intervention called feedback 360. Every team member had to meet face-to-face for about three minutes and discuss the negatives and positives about each other’s behaviors and tips on how we can improve ourselves to make our team stronger. Apparently our program director was a little worried about having the Markham team go through this because we already have a very, very strong dynamic, but we killed it, took into consideration everything everyone said to us, and acted exactly as we always act with each other right after. Our team just keeps getting better and better! Guess what everyone told me? Stop stressing out, stop being hard on yourself, give yourself more credit and that they appreciate all the blog work I do for our team (that one made me pretty happy because honestly I didn’t even think my teammates read my GOOD articles). I’ll stop stressing out for my team, I promise!

    On Friday, City Year hosted a “recruitment blitz day”, which means our corps members were deployed to UCLA, Cal State LA and USC. All alumni went to their former colleges, so I got to spend the day at USC with other alumni and most of my team! I enjoyed getting to show some of my teammates the campus and getting to share college stories.

    The communications team shot a CY/USC promo video with alumni to encourage current students to apply to CY for next year’s corps (2012). I wasn’t in the video, but watched the production side of it (thank God. Me on camera = awkward mess).

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    Alumna Angelica Juarez, corps member at Stevenson Middle School in Boyle Heights, fights on for the camera

    I answered a Q and A bio for the flyers CY put in envelopes for the sororities and fraternities. I never saw the final product of it, but I’m sure it was funny…

    I’m starting to get all my medical work done for the Peace Corps this week so I can turn it in as soon as possible! I am also going to run every night now to get in shape because I might have to bike three or more miles to work (or perform other physical extremes) in the Peace Corps.

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    My students just finished their Ancient Egypt projects. This student used green Jell-O and blue tissue paper, pretty creative, huh?

    From the porch of Woodcraft Manor,

    Liz

    Peace Corps update: Nominated as a secondary English teacher!

    Yesterday was a strange day because everything changed literally in the timespan of two hours. I figured that the Peace Corps process for me would be stalled because I was so unsure of when I would receive my nomination. I started to look at other opportunities for next year, including another City Year in New York. The NY site kept the external relations position I wanted to apply for in Los Angeles. The NY site has an awesome blog and invests a lot in social media, so I was really excited for that potential opportunity (and a year in NYC? Finally a new city to live in!)

    The senior communications brand manager at CYLA, Phil, introduced me to the communications manager in NY. I chatted with him yesterday for an hour or so about the position, what he’s looking for in an applicant for the position, etc. The conversation went really well and the job description sounded like a great fit for me; I would be allowed to focus on social media and even report for the blog (the closest I’ll get to journalism. Sigh). This put me in a great mood and I was ready to start working on my senior corps application all weekend.

    Then, literally two hours later, I got a random call from my Peace Corps recruiter. She said she nominated me for a secondary English teaching assignment. Apparently, a new program opened up for summer leave dates. According to my nomination, I will be leaving anywhere between THIS July – THIS September. A Peace Corps nomination usually tells an applicant what geographic region of the world he or she will serve in. My nomination did not. Instead, it said that I could be in anywhere of eight regions. I probably won’t find out what region I’m in until two-three months before I leave, which is when I most likely will receive my invitation and exact country and volunteer project. It’s crazy to think that I could be ANYWHERE this summer. I’m okay with this, but I wish I knew if it was South America because then I could try picking up some Spanish with Rosetta Stone.

    What’s even crazier? I’m going to be a middle or high school teacher. Little Liz, a teacher? Huh? It would be so refreshing if I was placed in a country that really values education and the students are obedient and do their work because I’m so used to my students at Markham whining and complaining. There’s no point to wonder because I really won’t know where I’ll be until probably June.

    As excited as I was about the opportunity to apply to CYNY for external relations, I have to accept my nomination and go on with the Peace Corps. It’s what I’ve wanted from junior year in college and on, so now is the time to make it happen!

    This all happened SO QUICKLY. It’s kind of eerie; is fate real? Think about it: I was about to apply for another position and then tell my recruiter to change my availability date until summer 2013. I was considering telling her in March. But on the same day I randomly got the nomination email!

    Am I ready to go, especially right after ending City Year? I asked myself yesterday. I think I am. City Year has definitely prepared me, but I told my teammate the one thing that’s going to be hard to leave is all the new friendships I’ve made this year and all my friends back home. I will have to do quick goodbyes and not see them for two years. All the new relationships I’ve made might not grow because I’ll be gone. But you know what my teammate told me? None of that matters. The ones that will stick around and be there for me the same way they were before I left and be able to pick up exactly where we left off are the ones that count. They are my true friends. It’s true. A year of domestic service has even showed me who my true friends are, so the Peace Corps will provide me with even more personal growth. I’m a people person anyways, just put me around people and I’ll make friends easily (or I’ll just ask questions cause I’m usually genuinely interested in who people are), so I know the transition will be easy.

    Next Peace Corps step? A huge medical packet and legal clearance.

    Now that I’m going to be a teacher, do I go by Ms. Warden? That just sounds weird.

    -Ms. Warden