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Giving thanks 2012

I’m thankful for a lot of things, but mostly, I’m thankful for the education I received in America. Point blank.

I went to a decent public school in a middle class area. I dreamed to attend journalism school at USC as a young elementary child and did it, but I didn’t do it alone. I did it with the help of my parents and every educator who helped me develop my writing. I had parents who were involved in my education and spent countless nights with me in high school grueling through math problems or English essays. Enough said.

Education is so important to success and not repeating the cycle of poverty seen in my service communities. Without similar parental support that I received during my school years, the kids in my service communities may not  understand this and are sometimes robbed of a decent education before they can really take responsibility for their own education. Yet, even when they get older, like some of my 6th graders from last year, they still might not get the hint until it’s too late.

What about that little grade 7 learner who stole my heart when he dressed up as a news reporter and performed a skit as a journalist in front of the whole school the other day? Will he ever make that dream come true and get to report for the camera like I did?

His odds are sure far lower than mine were, especially considering his English fluency. However, there’s still hope for kids that attend struggling schools — and that’s one reason why I serve — so that students can understand how important education is, take ownership of their education and receive the education they need to achieve those childhood dreams like I could.

One day, like myself, I hope the students I work with and those who work with my City Year and PCV buddies will look back during the holidays on their childhood and be thankful for the education that helped them get back on track.  Education is everything. Don’t forget to be thankful for yours this holiday season.

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 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

Dreams are for everyone

This video was made by a USC student for campaign that USC students are running called EdMonth. Watching this video not only makes me proud to be a USC alum, but also reminds me of every single student City Year works with. My generation, including these USC students, is dedicated to fighting the civil rights issue of our time – education. I have hope that my generation’s leaders will find solutions (and fight on!) to close the achievement gap.

Week 22: people who give a damn

All of my students have desktop computers now! On Saturday, Computers for Youth, a nonprofit organization, handed out desktop computers – fully equipped with Microsoft Office, education games and are Internet-ready – to all 6th grade students. All the students had to do was come with an adult to a 4.5 hour workshop and then take home the free computer. This is great news for our students because there’s a lack of technology in the classrooms at Markham; there’s only a set of computers in the library and a set of mini PC notebooks. My students type letter-per-letter and could really use the typing game all the computers have installed. If their families agree to buy an Internet service, they can even use the computer for research (and Facebook and YouTube… we ARE talking about middle school students here).

On Friday, I shadowed the eduction editor at good.is for a “Leadership After City Year” shadow day. good.is a social innovation website that highlights people, businesses and nonprofits doing “good” things and “moving the world forward.” We discussed technology in the classrooms because she had gone to a panel earlier that day that suggested giving students access to technology – like iPads – will solve some of the problems in education because it will encourage students to learn by giving them a more interactive way of learning. Does that really solve the root of the problem, though? Will giving a kid an iPad or computer teach them to read? It might help them, but in all honesty, they need one-on-one support from educators to motivate them. I’m still happy that my students received free computers, but the odds of them using it for education than social uses are slim to none.

My visit to good.is was amazing! The education editor, Liz, gave a tour to the City Year external relations project leader and myself. We got to meet at least one person from every department and learn about what all the departments do. Not surprisingly, most of the content that is not written by the editors comes from freelancers who freelance consecutively or once in a while with the website. The education section of the site is what I read on the regular (and write for once a month!)

People came to the company from literally everywhere, which gave me hope for my future career. Everyone was so welcoming and I absolutely loved the work environment (an office that’s dog friendly and the office dog travels from desk to desk to get pets and sits on a chair during a meeting? Now that’s my kind of workplace!) The company’s slogan, “for people who give a damn” says it all. I could really see myself working at a place like this later in life. I’m still deciding if I want to go into international diplomacy (public diplomacy), work for a social change company or work for the communications dept. of a nonprofit. I still have years to figure it out, but this service year has helped me figure out one thing: I need to be around people who feel the same about social issues and are actively trying to fight them.

I feel absolutely disconnected with the world outside of social activism. I feel that I can no longer connect with those who aren’t doing similar work that I’m doing (or at least understand it). I need to be around people who are passionate about social issues; people who get it. People who know exactly how I feel and the types of things I think about and see on a daily basis. People who want to see change.

I’ve also realized that even if social injustices like poverty, hunger and the civil right to an equal education aren’t ever going to go away, I at least want to be with the communities who are facing these challenges. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere else now. It’s hard to explain.

For example, the other day I went to USC to pick up my health record from the health center and I didn’t feel nostalgic, but rather depressed. Yet, I wasn’t depressed because I’m no longer a college student. I was depressed because I was surrounded by wealthy people, people who have nice designer things and likely walked down an easy road to get to USC (and yes, I understand this is a HUGE generalization, so I apologize in advance). I just couldn’t stop thinking about my kids. Why is it going to be so much harder for them in life? Just because they’re from Watts and are minorities? I see so much of middle school self in my students; my students do the same things my friends and I used to do, except they are far behind grade level and we weren’t. So why did it have to be so easy for my friends and I to go off to college and get a good education leading up to college? We went to a California public school, too! Why was I so privileged enough to live the USC dream and not worry about a damn thing but my grades, social life, my tan, haircut and what cute outfit I’d wear to class the next day? For the first time ever, as much as I love that school, I felt like I didn’t belong at USC.

The future for me holds a lot of options. I’m slowly figuring out myself and I think what I felt at USC the other day is a pivotal point in my life. It showed me that I won’t be happy in life if I’m not around other people who think like I do and are trying to make a difference; it at least gives me hope for the world.

People don’t change; they just get a clearer understanding of who they are. So far this year had given me just that.

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I used to make these star-shaped bracelets all the time back in the day. I finally found the same beads and was so stoked to share them with the kiddies at lunch! Everyone made bracelets and keychains.

-Ms. Lizard

Week 21: hey 6th graders, what do ya think love means?

I remember during my middle and high school days my fellow peers would flaunt everything they got on Valentine’s Day as if they were the most important person that day. This in no way is supposed to sound bitter – because I really didn’t care and still don’t care for Valentine’s Day – but I couldn’t help but think of my secondary school days on Tuesday because it was the same exact scene at Markham Middle School.

Valentine’s Day at a middle school is by far the most hilarious day of the year. Students carry around all the knick-knacks they get – teddy bears, flowers, roses, chocolates, etc. – to show off just how much they got. Moreover, classmates sneak Valentine presents to each other (like how one of my boys gave one of my girls a really neat necklace!)

I couldn’t help but bug my kids about their crushes all day, but that doesn’t mean they don’t pick on me as well! Rumor has it that I’m dating every one of the four guys on my team. Every time they call me out for “dating” someone on the Markham team, I start cracking up. If I laugh, it makes them think that I’m “blushing” and “giggling” because I am “dating” that person. Really, though, I’m cracking up because the thought of dating that person is one of the funniest things to run through my head that day (Disclaimer: my team is like a family, just think of dating a brother. No, no, thank you).

The materialistic nature of Valentine’s Day brought forth a good discussion in my English class – “What is love?” Is it defined by how much gifts you get on Valentine’s Day? What OTHER kinds of love can you have? Family? Friends? Love for yourself?

My students came up with some creative answers, including this:

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Some of them were a bit shy talking about the subject, but my English teacher made sure everybody understood that love could mean so many things. The take away message of the lecture was that love starts with having love for yourself before you can love other people and things. Amen to that.

My teammate Angela put together a Valentine’s Day celebration for the kids during our after-school program. The after-school students made candy Valentines for their family members and then we played a game called, “Baby I Love You.” The rules of this game are to place all players in a circle and one person is in the middle. The person in the middle has to go up to anyone in the circle – face-to-face – and say, “baby I love you.” If the person in the circle laughs, then he or she has to go inside the circle and do it all over again. The students (and City Year members!) got a kick out of this; we all couldn’t stop laughing.

Some of my teammates then put on a “Dating Show” skit for the students. Three of my teammates played contestants, one played the host and the other played the man-on-the-market.

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Dylan and Melanie – the two “nerds” from the “Dating Show” – running for each other after the students made the final vote.

As much as “love” (or should I say middle school lust?) spawned across our campus, it’s hard to not note the new security personnel on campus. Last Friday, a series of fights broke out between racial groups. This called for extra security from other schools to be brought to our school and even the discussion that possibly some of our extra funding will be used to hire more security, although Markham cut its security personnel in half from last year due to budget cuts.

My students have been a little more on edge lately, and my English teacher can usually tell when something’s going on in the neighborhood. There’s been a lot of fighting between gangs due to a disagreement and the tension is felt on school grounds.

Ironically, my latest GOOD article is about two of my teammates: Ricky, a Latino man, and Aaron, a black man. Ricky and Aaron’s friendship on campus demonstrates racial unity for these students, which the students rarely see. This story is by far my favorite to come from Markham this year and I’m very happy it was published!

Despite everything going on in Watts, my students got off campus on Thursday for a field trip to the Pan-African film festival in Baldwin Hills to celebrate Black History month! My teammates Chariya, Jeanny and Becky’s classes joined. All of our students attended a free screening of a documentary about an African-American man going back to Ghana to find his identity. The film featured a group of African-American men who traveled up and down the Ghana coast to revisit their ancestor’s footsteps before they were shipped off in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

The director of the documentary, who was also a main character in the film, was there for a Q and A session after. I wish I was able to watch more of the documentary (it looked very interesting!), but I had my hands full. I spent the whole time escorting students to the restroom and telling my girls to “be quiet and listen to the movie” every 10 seconds.

My students will have to write a paragraph about the film this coming week, but when the ask me for help I’m just going to laugh and say, “I was telling you all to be quiet the whole time I didn’t get to listen to the movie!” Sucks to be them.

Afterwards, we split up into groups of ten students per chaperone to wander the Baldwin Hills mall, check out some African artwork on display and eat lunch. This was the first time I had to chaperone a large group of students in a public space. After my students each ate 20 chicken McNuggets at McDonalds (gross), my girls pestered me back and forth to go to different stores in the mall. Thankfully, I was really proud of them because they stayed in a group and stuck with me the whole time…until the last five minutes. One of my girls left one of the boys in a store. We found him five minutes later, but he was all shaken up because “we left him.” This student is known to be a drama queen, so even though my students called me a “bad mom,” I didn’t let it get to me. Hey, I don’t want kids anyways! Regardless of the five minute disaster, it was great to spend time with my students outside of school.

I’m prepping for next week because now it’s cracking down to three-five paragraph essays in English. The journalism unit is over. It was fun and exhilarating, but now it’s back to the reality of the LAUSD curriculum. Dear five paragraph common assessment, my English teacher and I are ready to put up a good fight. Sincerely, Room 48.

Peace Corps update: I flew back to the Bay Area on Thursday to get my wisdom teeth out on Friday. Luckily, I feel no pain at all and I am free rollin’. My lab tests are back at the doctors office and I NEED the results/forms signed from my physician so I can send it into the Peace Corps and move onto the placement process ASAP! My goal for this week: Call the doctor’s office everyday until they look over my lab reports and sign my forms. Sorry for being the annoying patient, but this is extremely time sensitive! Oh, and I was legally-cleared on Saturday morning. Hooray! One step closer.

Onto a new week with no wisdom teeth,

Liz

Week 20: time to play musical classrooms

The second semester started last Monday. Usually, that just means students switch elective classes. However, just like everything else is at Markham, it’s a whole different story.

I still don’t really understand why this happens other than to balance class sizes, but a lot of students from every grade level get switched to new academic classes. The first time this happened a couple of weeks into the first semester was due to placing students in classes based on skill level. Now, I think it has to do with academic level and behavior. I know a new sixth grade teacher was added to the staff, which opened up another class for teachers to request students to move into. Some of my students, who are the misbehaving angels, were candidates for this class, but weren’t switched. Instead, three of my focus list students were switched out of my math class and into my teammate Charlotte’s math class. It’s pretty much like the kids playing musical classrooms, not musical chairs, every couple of months.

Many of my teammate’s students were also switched. Some of us got lucky and another teammate inherited our students, but others, not so much. Some of the students my teammates have been working with are out of City Year classrooms for good. Now what? All I know is everyone’s focus list (the list of ten students we work with and track our time with) have to change.

Yet, things could be worse. My students that got switched are still in my English class (where I do the most work with them) and at least one of them admitted to “actually having to do work” in her new math class. But that’s not always the case; I wish there was more consistency at this school because when these kids are switched it gives them more of a reason to not do anything in school because the new class might be ahead or behind their old class in subject matter.

Last week’s post discussed my hatred toward data and my student’s common assessment scores. I finally got to see my student’s math scores and I was pleased with them; the scores stayed constant, but at least they didn’t go down (and one student who only speaks Spanish scored basic! Pretty good if ya ask me).

Now that the last common assessment is out of the way, my English teacher wanted to do about a month-long journalism unit. YES, A JOURNALISM UNIT. Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, oh my gosh. MY LIFE IS COMPLETE. As awesome as that sounded, my teacher and I spoke too soon. The district and school threw a new challenge at her: The next periodic assessment for 6th grade English is in three weeks. Although she knows what the topics of every assessment will be, it’s up to the school to decide when the test will be administered. Painfully, the journalism unit has to be condensed into a week and we have to move quickly onto writing five paragraph essays. When my students still don’t write paragraphs with topic sentences or complete sentences (even though they blatantly know how to), I wonder how it’s going to be to get them to write five paragraphs. I honestly don’t even want to think about it right now. I still have my complete sentence challenge going on in the class and students get mad when I don’t give them a point. Hmm? I wonder why. Because a sentence is like this. And sentences are started like this. Sentences with no subject. Is not good. Alright, time to stop thinking about that looming challenge and time to reward myself by being in journalism bliss for the next week or so.

On Tuesday, my English teacher introduced the journalism unit to the students and I was given the opportunity to lead a discussion. I brought a copy of USC’s student newspaper the Daily Trojan, which I reported for back in the good ol’ days. To kick off the discussion, we asked the students what the difference between broadcast and print journalism was. Most of the students I called on said newspaper is “boring” and broadcast is “exciting” and that newspapers are “for old people.” The comment that threw me back the most was when one student said that “print journalism doesn’t tell you the details and doesn’t give as much information as broadcast.” I had to swallow my print journalism pride at this comment, because any print journalist knows that we are allowed to do so much more with a story than broadcast is (length-wise and detail-wise). I found this cute excerpt from a 3rd grade textbook on stuffjournalistslike.com and got my teacher and the class to read it popcorn style.

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My teacher explained to the students that this is what I went to college for, so I got to do a short Q and A with the kids. I thought not many would ask questions, but they were genuinely interested in what I did – even though they think journalism is boring – because it makes a topic so much more interesting when you can associate a human face with it, especially their Ms. Liz! They were asking adorable questions like, “so all your classes were about this? How hard is it? Isn’t it boring? Who do you interview? Why are you here if you did that in college?”

20120212-230343.jpgA mess of a desk after a newspaper scavenger hunt

I told them about all about the different people I’ve interviewed, how hard it can be to make deadline and how I would stay in the newsroom from 6pm-11pm every night for the brief time I was an editor. The best question, however, was when a student asked how I still enjoy journalism. I told him it’s a passion of mine I found in middle school and sooner or later all of them will find passions of their own. I hope one day my students will find something in their lives that makes them feel as good as I do after I finish an article or the euphoric feeling I get after completing a bomb interview or finding a good story.

Due the classroom changes and the next periodic assessment surprising us from under our teacher’s desks, the CY academic data is still hard to produce at a school like Markham. But, that doesn’t mean we’re not making a difference. It was overheard at the therapist’s office that Markham students who attend therapy are mentioning CY, which snows we really are having an impact. That’s what’s up!

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One of my students always makes these paper puppets in class. I stole it from him and went around math class and attacked my students who weren’t doing work with it.

My students gave me the “are you serious” death stare, but all I said back was “sorry I embarrass you; sorry I’m not sorry you’re stuck with me everyday.” I’ve come accustomed to embarrass my students and make fun of them (as they do with me). Now that one of my boys and one of my girls got into a scuffle last week in class the resulted in a slap on the face and the girl crying, I call out the boys and girls who are fighting by saying “ewww stop flirting.” Although they come back at me with the, “well your dating so and so from City Year!” it affects them way more than it affects me (obviously because I’m not dating anyone from my team, contrary to student rumors about all of my teammates).

Peace Corps update: Medical process is whooping my butt. So many forms to get signed, so many appointments and so many needles. Next step: Lab work is returned and my wisdom teeth will be yanked out this coming Friday.

Soon-to-be chipmunk cheeks,

Liz