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Posts tagged ‘education’

Week 16: budget cuts are toying with my future plans

Slowly but surely, we got through our first week back at Markham after a month. The week dragged on because none of us were really ready to go back, but we have to get back in the motion of things because we’re not getting a break anytime soon.

My students weren’t ready to be back at Markham either. When I asked them how their breaks were, all of them said, “boring.” I asked them what they did, all of them said, “nothing.” That’s still better than being in school though, right?

The LAUSD common assessment is coming up for my students in their English class, so all week we worked on writing assertions. My English teacher merged her history lesson on ancient Egypt and writing assertions into one lecture (ancient Egypt is pretty darn interesting). My teacher and I are trying our hardest to get the students to understand that an assertion can be a really, really simple sentence like: “The ancient Egyptians believed in the after-life.” Instead, the students tend to write just a sentence about anything that has to do with Egypt. They also write sentences that are too detailed to be an assertion and then have trouble finding two details from their textbooks to prove the assertion. No matter how many times I tell them (or my teacher lectures) that the assertion is the main idea and to treat it like a topic sentence, I sometimes think they just don’t listen. Let’s hope the hours of work my teacher and I have put into going over assertions with them (we’ve been discussing this topic for about a month now) will translate into our student’s scoring “proficient” on the common assessment.

My math teacher decided to group students after the break based on skill; the higher performing students sit together and vice versa. I’m very happy with this decision because a lot of the students screw around in this class and don’t listen, which affects the students who do want to listen and learn. This seating arrangement also makes it easier for me to provide whole-class support (which is what I’ve been doing all year) because the kids who need my help the most all sit in close proximity. Now I won’t hear students scream, “MS. LIZ COME HELP ME” from across the room, but instead, it’ll be right in my ear.

This week I plan to go over complete and complex sentences with my students. I’ve decided I’m going to start a “complete sentences” chart and give points to students who have written all their English work in complete sentences. I’ll probably give candy as a prize (or even hot Cheetos…). Hopefully this will get them in the habit of writing complete sentences every time they write. I know they know how to write a complete sentence, but they just rush through their work and write gibberish.

My teammates and I really got the “welcome back” we were waiting for during sixth grade lunch on Wednesday. A total of six fights broke out (one of my sassy students claims it was seven. I don’t believe him). The fights involved boys and girls, some were in the bathrooms, others smack dab in the lunch area.

Fights don’t even phase me anymore. However, what was hard to watch was that every time a fight broke out, literally all the sixth graders would stampede over to watch it, over and over again. I tried to stop some of my students from watching the fights, but there’s only so much sense you can knock into a sixth grader, especially when watching is “the cool thing to do.” Even if my teacher or I tell the students it’s stupid to sit on the sidelines of these fights because they could get hurt, ultimately they’ll still watch. And no, I’m not just talking they could get punched. I’m talking they could get shot by a stray bullet. You never know if weapons could be involved.

One of my favorite girls was all pumped up after that lunch period and said how cool it was and she will fight someone eventually. This is my little student who wears bows in her hair and is such a caring girl! My response to her after she said that? “Don’t you dare even say that…not under my watch will you!” it just sucks that this is the school environment that these students are in and that it affects them regardless of how adorable, fun and loving they are. I hope my student was kidding.

There were also “rumbles” at lunch and during passing period, which means that the “village boys” (students who are in a gang) beat up random students. Hearing about the rumbles and witnessing the sixth grade fights has encouraged me even more to start working on a “Peace in Watts” week-long event with my middle school and two of the feeder elementary schools. The event will be promoting art as a way of expressing pride and peace in Watts instead of violence. The event is spearheaded by Miss Jadine, a co-worker who serves at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary and put on this peaceful event last week. More details to come, but we’re planning to host the event in April.

Remember how I mentioned in my Peace Corps update post that I was looking into applying for a second year at City Year Los Angeles as an external relations project leader?

Well, that’s no longer happening. I just found out this week that that position was cut because of AmeriCorps funding cuts. I’m pretty bummed; I was stoked to potentially start working with media again outside of this blog.

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So, now what’s my LACY (Leadership After City Year) plan? I have absolutely no idea. It’s looking like I’ll just have to move home (gag me), work at a restaurant and save money until I leave for the Peace Corps. Hey, I’ll still be “Liz in Service” serving tables (sarcasm alert)!

Just last week I was emailing my Peace Corps recruiter about how I was considering a second year at City Year and to potentially move my availability date back to summer 2013 instead of as soon as possible. She said she could, but I told her that I’d make the final decision in March to move my availability date or not because by then I’d know if I was offered the external relations position.

Instead, I had to send her this email today:

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What’s ironic about all of this is that the reason why I haven’t got my actual Peace Corps nomination yet is because of funding, which is why I looked into serving with City Year for another year. I never thought my future would be directly influenced by government budget cuts, but hello, now it has.

However, I can still try to make a difference by getting my word out there on the National Peace Corps Association’s 2012 Day of Action and contact my Capitol Hill reps.

I can also look into other AmeriCorps programs, but I don’t want to have to leave City Year just yet. I love the work atmosphere at this organization and see how much potential it has to grow (I had ideas, too!) My roommate asked me at dinner tonight if I was “mourning” the loss of the office position. Yeah, she was right. I’m mourning. I just wish I had a definite nomination for the Peace Corps right now so I didn’t have to frantically look for alternatives.

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King’s birthday. Our students and other Americans get this day off, but it’s a “day on” for all of us at City Year because we are celebrating MLK’s legacy and ideals. MLK called for all Americans to act together in peace, which is what we will be doing tomorrow at our largest service day (with ~1,000 people) at a middle school in South LA, Los Angeles Academy. I’m writing the post about it for CYLA’s blog. Blog post and pictures of the murals we paint will be posted tomorrow!

Good night and good luck,
Ms. Lizard

Week 11: changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds

In my “unofficial” Peace Corps handbook, there’s a timeline that describes month-by-month how you will feel during your service. At the 11-month mark the book describes that you will feel useless and doubt yourself, the government and the program. It describes that you will feel like you just aren’t going to make a difference and the issues in your community are way beyond your control.

Although I’m still in the US and live five blocks where I spent my college days, I feel like I’m disconnected from the world, disillusioned and dealing with my own Peace Corps emotional timeline. We were warned during City Year training we’d have our extreme ups-and-downs. From what I’ve heard, March is the worst month. It’s the time when you expect to see your students meeting their goals and improving, but that doesn’t always mean it’ll happen. But, right about now is the first time I’ve really lost perspective about my service. Changing the world isn’t as easy as it sounds (first said by my roommate and teammate Marissa and couldn’t be more true and timely).

On Wednesday, I took a half-day from work and stayed home to get some work done. I took the time to really start planning my interventions by looking through student work and the California public education state standards by grade level. I was taken aback after I read through the 3rd grade-6th grade standards.

By now, students are supposed to be able to identify the difference between themes in a story (like good v. evil), summarize and compare and contrast reading activities, have knowledge of letter-sound correspondence, be able to introduce a topic, write multiple paragraphs, write an argument, write a paragraph with textual evidence as support, know how to use punctuation such as a comma and quotation marks, and so the list goes on.

I know most of my students are at a 3rd grade reading level, but they also don’t fulfill any of these standards. Only a few of my students can write a flowing paragraph with a topic sentence then details. When I try to explain to them how to write a complete sentence and well-structured paragraph, they often revert back to their old ways. Only a few even know how to use quotation marks. Spelling words phonetically usually creates confusion. Comparing and contrasting – even if it’s reading straight from a textbook – is still a challenge.

I’m not trying to be cynical or even doubt my students, but reading those standards was a slap in the face because they show just how much I need to accomplish with my student by the end of the year. And to top it all off, it seems like time is running short. It’s almost winter break and we live on City Year time (time flies without you even realizing it).

I’m just getting scared that I’m not really going to progress with my students as much as I want to. I chatted with my English teacher about this and she basically told me that I shouldn’t even think about the standards because then I’ll lose perspective. I just have to take baby steps to improving their writing and reading, just like she does. I know they have the right attitude about improving (well, most of them), but six months isn’t that much time.

I understand these students have various outside factors contributing to their success in school like their families, poverty, Watts, gangs and crime, but not ALL students face the same challenges others deal with. So then why are ALL these students so far behind? They all came from different elementary schools, is it because they had ONE bad teacher, multiple, or none of them put that much effort into school?

What confuses me the most about all of this is that I know a majority of my student’s families encourage them to do well in school and have high expectations that they will do so. So maybe is a lack of performance because the students could never receive homework help at home, considering many of their parents didn’t graduate from high school?

This all goes back to the central issue of equality of education for all under the California state constitution. If some of my students were placed in schools in West Los Angeles for elementary school, would they be doing better? Probably. I can’t even use the ESL component of their education as an argument as to why they are behind. One of my teammates, Chariya, immigrated to LA from Cambodia when she was 10. She had to learn English quickly because everyone around her at her school spoke English. She immersed herself in, did well in school and graduated from UCLA. So, what’s the deal? Is it because all of my students were placed with other Spanish speaking students from day one of their educational journey and they placed more importance on speaking their native language than learning English? Who knows.

It’s all a mystery to me. But once again, that’s why I’m serving and am in their classroom every day.

I’m starting with phonetics with my students to help the understand the different sounds of the English language because they often spell based on how the letter sounds in Spanish and not in English (ex: major for mayor, informachion for information). Likewise, se and ce, z and c, e and I, e and a, u and I (basically every vowel sound) confuses them. I made phonetic flash cards of the most common mistakes with the letters and sounds they make. My goal for the students is that by the end of understanding the differences between the letter sounds they often mix up, they will be able to sound out spelling words phonetically (and maybe even bigger words that they don’t understand but can still spell!)

I’ll incorporate writing and reading into this intervention by making them write sentences with words they have to spell phonetically as well as pronounce words they read phonetically.

The reason why I’m starting with this topic is because it will be fundamental of building upon their reading and writing. They will finally be able to use the vocabulary they know because they can spell it.

Other than feeling a little worthless, the week was pretty easy. These past two weeks at Markham have been pretty calm. I’m scared that’s just a build-up for a hell week soon.

20111119-231820.jpg On Saturday, Enrich LA, a nonprofit that plants community gardens in schools throughout Los Angeles, hosted a community service event at Markham. I dug up some dirt (in an outfit that my TL Lauren describes as “going to Hollywood,” although I was just wearing boots!), hung out with my teammates and some of my students and got some work done for America. The community garden will be a great asset to our school.

20111119-231903.jpg I hope this time around the school lets the students use it. From what I’ve heard they had to shut down the community garden last time it was up and running because kids were hiding things in there and smuggling items under the gate.

Next week will be a short week. We have full school days Monday and Tuesday then a minimum day on Wednesday; we have Thursday and Friday off! Apparently we’re hosting someone from the White House on Wednesday, which means I will have to give the person the tour of Markham because that’s part of my position as an outreach coordinator. 20111119-231847.jpg

I’ll have the CYLA director and others from CYLA during the tour so it won’t be too intimidating. It should be a lot of fun and I’m happy to see that the federal government is paying some attention to what we do.

Next weekend is the USC v. UCLA game. I’m going to make a bet with my teammate Ricky (UCLA alum) that USC will win. We pick on each other too much about the rivalry, but it never gets old. It’s all fun and games. Any suggestions on what the bet reward should be? Make it good, because you know I’ll win.

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One of my students made this UCLA sign for the garden. Alright, I can’t hate UCLA that much since that’s some of my student’s dream and all… I don’t care where they go to college. The important thing is that they will go to college.

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I think I’m back in the game and I’m ready to motivated and FIRED UP to come up with some bomb interventions for these students without thinking about lofty end of the year goals. It’s time to just focus on the present and deal with the future when it comes.

A proud (and at times annoying) Trojan,

Liz

“Why I Serve” Series: Min “MJ” Kim

By Liz Warden

From as far back as elementary school, MJ Kim was on his own to take complete ownership of his education.

Coming from a family that immigrated from South Korea, his parents stressed hard work and education, but weren’t able to be much of an influence on his school work.

His mother dropped out of high school. It was a challenge for him to get help on his homework because his parents didn’t know beyond the multiplication table.

Many of his students are facing similar difficulties.

“There’s this one student said to me, ‘mister, I don’t feel like doing [school work] anymore,” MJ said, recalling what one of his students recently told him.

“‘I tried to do it at home, but my parents can’t help me because they never graduated from high school.”

MJ, who now is an AmeriCorps member with City Year at Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in a 6th grade classroom, serves because he doesn’t want this particular student or others to feel restricted like he did growing up. He wants to be there to help them with whatever they need academically, whether that’s homework or pushing them to the next level.

When they know they have somewhere to go for academic help, they will be of top of their schoolwork. The presence of City Year members at MJ’s school, he reasoned, will also help boost the student’s confidence.

“If they need guidance or consistency, if it’s not me, its the fact that City Year is there. That’s a very powerful message,” he said.

As a first generation American and college graduate from the University of California at San Diego, MJ is able to make connections with students that others may not be able to. That’s because a majority of students at his school, Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools in MJ’s home neighborhood Koreatown, come from immigrant families.

“Los Angeles is a city of immigrants. I’m sure [many] parents came from different countries don’t speak English,” he said.

“It’s just really hard growing up.”

But when he has someone to share difficulties with, the life of a first-generation American middle school student gets a little easier.

A major role model in MJ’s educational quest wasn’t a teacher, a parent, or even an adult. It was his best friend, John Kim, who also came from a South Korean immigrant family and also serves at RFK Community Schools. John showed MJ, peer-to-peer, why school was important because he was engaged in his school work. MJ then realized that middle school wasn’t just about hanging out with friends.

MJ believes that if he can have an effect on one student, that student will be a positive role model for he or she’s peers for years to come like John Kim was to him.

“If I can turn one student into caring about their life and their future…maybe that kid can influence others around him,” he said.

What MJ appreciates about City Year is that he won’t be attacking this educational goal alone like he was most of his life. Now MJ is working with a team of 18 corps members to get the job done and help middle school – especially those from immigrant families – to take ownership of their education.

“You can give a year and change the world,” he said.

“But you never have to do it alone.”

Week ten: “Ms. Liz, I scored proficient!”

It is finally light when we leave our house in the morning because of daylight savings! Now we don’t feel like we’re leaving the house at the crack of dawn (6:10am, to be exact).

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This week was a pretty easy week (probably the easiest yet). I didn’t have to deal with too much. Well, except one of my students punched a wall, but that blew over quickly.

Our team is in the early process of planning academic interventions for our students.

We have a huge book of different approaches to dealing with difficulties our students have. For example, some include: composes incomplete sentences or thoughts when writing, does not use appropriate subject-verb agreement when writing, fails to form letters correctly when writing, etc.

When I was looking through the book to find a starting point for my students, I realized most of the problems listed in this book my students have. Let’s face it: all of my 6th graders are at a 3rd grade reading level. Regardless of how much I want to bring my students up to grade level, is that really going to be possible?

Therefore, when I sat down with my students and created yearly goals with them I tried to make them realistic. Although I can’t say they will progress to a 6th grade reading level, I can say that by the end of this year they will read a full chapter book they enjoy and actually comprehend it. Another goal I made with one of my students is that he will be able to write down exactly what he is thinking. My students are all very articulate and have a large vocabulary, but just can’t spell the larger words they know. They’re excited to work with me because they know they have the potential. They want to be able to do all their homework (a reason why many of my students don’t do their homework is else they don’t understand it).

What’s really scaring me is how I am going to be able to effectively tutor my students in math when I don’t even understand the math they are learning. If I can’t explain it to myself, how can I dumb it down even more to explain to sixth graders? This is especially hard for me because the math teacher I am working with encourages peer learning, so I am in the same boat as my students. This is his teaching style because he believes as students get older they tend to become more social and want to work with each other (and trust me, they’re already pretty social). He places one proficient or advanced student at every table so the other students can get help from that student. My students are the kings and queens of bickering, so a lot of the time they refuse to ask for help from each other and then come to me. I wish I could just be in two English classes.

I think I am going to break the days up based on subjects for the students. Monday will be reading, Tuesday will spelling and grammar, Wednesdays will be writing and Thursdays math. My students need a lot of help in math, but I will be way more effective if I work on English with them more often.

All of my students are “basic” (a term used that refers to their California state test scores). I would love go push them up one level to proficient. One of my little girls scored proficient for the first time on her English periodic exam. She ran up to me beaming and said, “Ms. Liz, I scored proficient!! I was one of the four who did! I’m so proud of myself, I’ve never scored this high before! My grandpa is going to be so proud!”

She’s one of my focus list students so I told her that that’s just one more reason why she’s working with me this year because I know she can be pushed to the next level and I know she wants to be.

I tried to tutor all four of my students together at on Thursday, but that didn’t work because the boys and girls were picking on each other. I think one of my girls has crush on one of the boys she will be working with (awwwww). However, she asked if next time I can take the girls and guys out separately because they don’t work well together. I asked the girls if they thought it was because the boys were immature and they started giggling and said, “yessss.” My reply? “Ooohh, trust me. They don’t get any more mature, even at my age…”

Tomorrow I am presenting an idea to my team about starting a blog for Markham (similar to this blog). It would be either markhampride.com or markhameagles.com. It would be an online blog with different tabs (news, sports, opinion, entertainment, Markham student spotlight of week, Markham staff spotlight of the week, a ‘WATTS UP?’ section that highlights different City Year and community events and a ‘Markham Pride’ section that highlights student work that would allow teachers to submit student work for publication. Of course we’d have photos on this blog, too! This project would then be carried onto all the other City Year teams to serve at Markham in the future.

The 8th grade magnet program has a journalism class that I am going to start working with as well. I told the teacher that because he is already working on fundamental basics with the students, I would love to do workshops with his students based on different media themes (like new media convergence, ethics, social media, etc.) I WILL find a way to get my journalism dosage in 🙂

I’m hoping that this week was as chill as the last. A week and a half until Thanksgiving break! I may not be going home, but it’ll good to get some relaxing in.

Reporting live from Woodcraft Manor,

Liz

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Here’s a cool project some of the students in our after school space have been working on with Ms. Charlotte. They’re making an ancient pyramid!

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My roommate Daniel was really sick for two days, but came back to this card his students made me. How adorable.

Ms. Liz, do you have any coloring sheets?

Ms. Charlotte is known around Markham for handing out coloring sheets at lunch. I’d say she’s a local celeb.

The coloring sheet phenomenon has officially taken over 6th grade lunch.

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She even has an order request form for her coloring sheets (which made me die of laughter today when I saw it for the first time).

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One of my students requests for coloring sheets included: Michael Jackson and wait for it…the Facebook logo (TOO good).

Today, Marissa got this lovely drawing from one of her students.

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We couldn’t stop laughing at this drawing because the student meant to say Ms. Jackson is the nicest City Year after Ms. Charlotte. How did we figure this out?

1) The kids confuse Charlotte and me
2)I don’t even know this student
3) Charlotte is a celebrity at Markham

And this is why I pledge to wear a bow in my hair for the rest of the year.

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-Ms. Liz

Yes, my blogging is getting somewhere

Here’s a comment I got randomly in my Facebook inbox responding to my last article on good.is. This comment definitely gave me the chills and is not just directed to me, but everyone who works at City Year across the country.

Liz-
I am an avid Good.is reader and when I read your article something told me I had to contact you. I couldn’t find your email address on the website (probably to keep people like me away!) so, I did the only rational thing someone our age does now, Facebook creep.

In all seriousness though, I want to thank you for what you are doing not only for the kids at the school you’re placed at, but for what you’re doing for the education system in general.

I am unfortunately part of the system of conflict you wrote about. I work for Michelle Rhee, yes that Michelle. I have, at times, become disillusioned by the incredible divisiveness that education reform now brings about. What I do, what individuals on either “side” do doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as what people like you and the teachers you work next to everyday do.

I wholeheartedly believe quality education is the answer to many of the problems plaguing America. Change in quality will not come from any policy made, any speech given, or any strike line walked. The change in quality will come from the passionate, caring, and incredible people like you. People like you who wake up every day with a smile on your face ready to take on any challenge thrown your way in hopes that you will help even one student achieve.

Thank you for what you are doing for the education system. Please always remember the incredible and life-altering impact you will have on the students you work with, their school, and the community that surrounds it.

I read this to my team during first circle last week and hope to share it with the rest of y’all at CY. Always remember that we are the change many of the schools we work at need.

Week nine: reporting from the trenches

Sure, I’ve heard it before: teachers in urban schools have it rough. They deal with so many more obstacles to overcome to effectively teach because students are facing a lot of issues outside the classroom. I don’t know what it is with my students, but their classroom behavior is unbelievable. No idea if it is because school is the place for them to let lose and not think about issues at home or that they’ve always been students who misbehave. I also attribute this issue to the inconsistency of behavior management they have with their teachers: a laid back teacher who doesn’t yell in the morning and then a stern teacher in the afternoon.

Anyways, on Monday my math teacher had to leave the classroom second period to meet with the principal and the family of one of my students. Another teacher came in to watch over the class. My teacher told me that if he wasn’t back by third period another teacher would come in and take over. I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

Third period is meeting time with my team. But, because we are always prepared for the unexpected at Markham, I stayed with my class until I thought another teacher would be sent over.

Boy was I wrong. No teachers were sent over and my students literally were acting like animals in a zoo. They were jumping on desks, raiding the teacher’s desk, running full force around the classroom, fighting each other, screaming at each other, hitting each other with the broom, running inside and outside of the two doors and jumping all over me.

I have to admit, I thought it was pretty funny at first. My students crack me up. When one student yelled at the class, “SHUT THE HELL UP!!!” I nearly died. Her response? “You know you wanted to say that, but you can’t.”

Truth.

After there was no way to settle them down and listen to me even after I screamed at the top of my lungs, I called for World War III backup. My boss and two of my other teammates rushed over, screamed at the kids and finally got them to be quiet. Once two of my girl students saw me in near tears, they calmed down and realized what they had done to me. With an apologetic face on they asked, “Ms. Liz… Are you okay?”

My boss gave them the whole “respect” talk and that they need to treat me like they would treat a teacher (which is questionable; they definitely walk all over some teachers). I asked one of my girl students why they wouldn’t listen to me but the moment Chariya, Charlotte and Damien came in, they listened to them. She said it is because, “I’m like their friend and they like hanging out with me.”

Well, that means I dug myself in a while that will be hard to climb out of.

We’re supposed to create a stern, yet playful relationship with our students. A relationship where they are scared of us, but love us at the same time. I’m not too good at that 1) because I’m a caring individual (I give too much to please others) 2) because the students know I’m sarcastic 3) I joke around with the students a little too much. The relationships I’ve built with my students work, however, because they love doing work with me and will actually focus when I tutor them. I didn’t have to focus that much on behavior management in the beginning of the year because my English teacher puts them in place.

After I told her about what happened that morning, she was appalled and also gave them the “respect” talk (the whole “people don’t have to teach here, but we come because we care about you all receiving the best education you can, but you’re damn right other schools aren’t like this” talk). The students were really timid for the rest of the day and the students that usually sit next to me during class were too scared to.

“I don’t think you understand how much more this morning made me appreciate urban teachers. You need more credit for the work you do…” I told my English teacher after the shenanigans.

“I joke and say the classroom is like the trenches. Consider this your first year working in them.” she responded.

What did I learn from this experience?

I do not want to be a teacher.
I do not want kids (which has been a rule of mine for a long while).
I need to start tallying Markham girl breakdowns (I think we’re up to around 8 so far this year).
I would not survive a day at war (hence the sarcasm here…)

Even a day after this mess, my students were happy to see me the next day (even the boy who slammed the door in my face the day before and ignored me all day… my middle school emotional roller coaster). I always come back down to earth even after the toughest of days and love my students more and more no matter how much they stress me out.

Aside from Halloween, we celebrated Dia de Los Muertos. Many of my students who have families from Mexico celebrate this holiday by decorating a shrine of the loved one they lost with marigold flowers, creating a cross outside the door of the house in marigold flowers, sharing memories and eating the loved one’s favorite food.

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Boo! Happy Halloween from Jigsaw.

This holiday is especially important to one of my girls who lost her mother last March. We didn’t get why she was so clingy to me until we found out that she lost her mother last year. She took a picture of her mother’s shrine and showed it to everyone in the class. She was opening to sharing memories and family traditions with the whole class, which is awesome because apparently last year she wouldn’t do any work in school because of the death.

The students had to write a short story about someone they know who has passed away and what they will do to honor them. I let my little buddy use my iPad to type up her story and I scanned a picture of her and her mom for her so she could always look at it hanging on the classroom wall.

“My mom’s personality was nice, helpful, generous and a wonderful mother. Another characteristic was that she was hardworking to feed us. My mom used to tell me, “Do you want to be unsuccessful in your life or do you want to succeed in your life?” I will honor her by succeeding in school like she told me to.”

She’s one of my focus list kids. Although she’s already a good student, pushing her to the next level means even more to me because she’s doing it to honor her mother.

Another one of my students has been dealing with extreme mental health issues that I can’t write about, but good lord, I’m not a psychologist! Schools like this need a psychologist and a psychiatrist at their beckoned call (in a fantasy world). In my perfect world, there would be three City Years in every classroom, a school nurse that’s on site every day and a school psychologist and psychiatrist. If only.

I’m starting to buckle down and work on intervention plans for my students. Today I plan on making folders for every single student in my class with lists of words they keep spelling wrong, verb tenses, homophones, etc. that are specific to each student. I will keep updating these folders as time goes on and make the students use them as a reference guide to not make the same mistakes. Hopefully I can administer a spelling test every week with words I list in my students individualized folders. They better use them or else they’re getting the silent treatment.

Here’s my joy of the week: one of my students who hasn’t seen his mom since he immigrated from the Philippines when he was five. He calls all of the CY girls his mom. I’m his second mom. Chariya is his first (although he changes the ordering of his mothers quite frequently). On Thursday, he left all of us little notes in our mailboxes. Awwww, my heart melts.

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Here’s a photo of our set up at open house on Tuesday night. Potential corps members for next year came to the office and learned more about what CY does. I got to talk a few college seniors!

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“Why I Serve” Series: Deisy Ramirez, Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School

Liz Warden, Corps Member

Deisy Ramirez was an honors student all throughout middle school. It only makes sense that she was placed in an honors-level English class her freshman year of high school.

But, there was a minor issue: She only spoke Spanish.

“My friend was trying to translate everything as fast as she [could] so I [could] keep up,” Deisy said, thinking back on her first day of class.

Deisy enrolled two weeks late at Fremont High in South Los Angeles; the only open classes were all honors.

After learning about Ramirez’s language barrier, her English teacher – Ms. Bessler – never doubted her ability to succeed.

“She said ‘don’t worry about it, you’re going to be okay,” Deisy recalls.20111105-151043.jpg

“They never made it seem like an impossible thing…[they would say] just do it!”

Ms. Bessler set time aside every morning at 6 a.m. to read Dr. Seuss books with her. Mistakes to Deisy and Ms. Bessler just meant they had to work harder and practice more by repeating words and reading aloud.

“Every month I would change books, but for the first month I had eight books I would read over and over again,” she said.

Because her teachers believed in her and surrounded her with positive reinforcement, she quickly learned English and stayed on the honors and Advanced Placement track for the rest of high school.

Five years later, she is now a proud graduate of the University of California at Berkeley.

To prepare for a career in teaching and give back to the community she grew up in, she currently serves with as an AmeriCorps member with City Year in a 3rd grade classroom at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School in Watts.

Some of her students are at a Kindergarden-first grade reading level. Others remind her of herself when she transitioned from Spanish to English.

She has been using the same techniques her high school English teachers use with her to help her students with their English and reading comprehension. She makes her students repeat and repeat until they enunciate or spell a word right.

Deisy hopes to be as inspirational and motivational as her teachers at Fremont High during her year of service with City Year and continue to be in the future as a teacher. If she could make it through, she knows her students can, too. Her teachers told her over and over again to, “just do it.”

“I tell my students now, ‘but why are you asking questions? Just do it. Once you finish you realize you can do it,” she said.

“It’s such an overused phrase, but it has so much meaning.”

This year, Deisy wants to expand on what she learned in college as an education minor and what she observed as a former teaching assistant at a Los Angeles elementary school.

After spending two months at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School, she knows her passion lies in the students of the community she grew up in. After facing the challenges she overcame, it’s time for her to reciprocate through City Year and give a similar classroom experience that her high school teachers gave her.

“I am living proof that if you have at least one person pushing you, you can accomplish anything,” she said

“It doesn’t matter if you have an army behind you pushing you or one person. It can get better…[the students] can do it.”

Tagged as: AmeriCorps, Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary School, Why I Serve

After-school is over: It’s time to clean up kids

Just another day at Markham Middle School.

Week eight: we’re all in this together

On Friday, it was our turn to serve breakfast for all the teams in the South Los Angeles Never Doubt pueblo. We made pancakes, bacon and eggs “family style” because at Markham, we are like a family.

We accidentally introduced the breakfast theme as “Markham in Bed,” which got a good laugh going.

My roommate and teammate Marissa came up with the idea and put it all together, so props to her!

During team time on Friday we had had an open discussion about the past two rough, rough weeks at Markham. This Wednesday, five fights broke out at 7th grade lunch. The cops had to break it up, handcuff some students and escort them out. I wasn’t at the lunch because I attend 6th grade lunch, but apparently it was like a mini-riot. We can’t say that what we’ve gone through in the past weeks is the worst because instances like this will keep happening. It’s only the beginning. We’re all in this together. A teammate said that each one of us reminds him of someone from his family. Coming from a not very family-oriented background (divorced parents, no siblings and minimal contact with other family members), I can say that I get the family feel I’ve longed for from my team. It was the same feeling for me with my summer camp team (miss you guys). I find family in my teams and friends. They give me that cohesive unit I lack with my blood relatives. Family helps you get through the worst of times and that’s exactly what the Markham team will do for each other. Our program manager told us we’re all at Markham for a reason (like personal strengths), but not because we would have all got along well. It just came together like that, which makes this team as strong as it needs to be for this particular school.

And although we can’t control what happens outside of the school or the gang presence at our school, we CAN control what our students do in the classroom.

A lot of the work we have been doing with our students so far is just homework and in-class work help, which helps the students at the moment, but does not get to the root cause of why they are having trouble with the work. Most of the time it is because students do not have the fundamenal blocks to build on, like knowing alphabet sounds or the multiplication table.

The Markham team is going to focus on individualized intervention plans for our students that pin-point exactly what fundamentals the students are struggling with. For example, one of my students has an extremely hard time spelling so I need to have lesson plans that teach the sounds of the English language.

We got our first five students from our focus list on Friday. These are the first five students we will be planning interventions for and spending a lot of time with them this year. I agree with most of the students City Year put on my focus list, but they left one out that I’ve been working with a lot. I petitioned to put him on my list because I know he wants my help and can benefit greatly from it (he is the student I’ve recently mentioned that has a very hard time with spelling). Moreover, one of my “little buddies” is on my list. I call her my “little buddy” because she comes to the front of English class every day and always has to sit with me. She’s a very motivated student and a lot of fun to hang out with, but once again, she needs help with her English writing.

What is frustrating me the most about this process is that I also have to focus on math with my students. This isn’t because I hate math (or feel like crying in frustration when I can’t understand how to list fractions on a number line), but because there are other students in my English teachers other class that NEED my help in English. This ESL class could really benefit from having two City Year corps members in the classroom. However, I’m probably going to be stuck in my math class. Most of my students are good at math and the ones that are scoring poorly on tests are doing so because they rush through their work or are lazy and just circle multiple choice answers. I know this for a fact because this is what my students have told me. For the students that really are having a hard time with math, I honestly think it’s because math isn’t their thing. Math for me was always challenging, no matter how many different ways my dad tried to help me with it. So, why focus on math when it might not help them when I KNOW focusing on English WILL help them?!?!

Now that I have a little less on my plate, I’m using the time to start reaching out to staff at Markham about getting a student newspaper started. I talked with one of the teachers, Ms. Webster (who is also an Annenberg j-school alum, rep it!) and she gave me the idea of making a digital newspaper that teachers can print out and post in the classroom. Moreover, they can also pass the newspapers out in class. I would host the club every Tuesday after-school for any student that wants to join. The first step, which I will be completing on Monday, is putting a letter in all the teacher’s mailboxes about the club.

My students are starting their expository writing unit next week. I’m super stoked for that because it’s my kind of writing!

Another club I’ve been working on with two of my other teammates is an environmental club. Right now, we’re decorating boxes with students before school that we will later distribute to classrooms for recycling. We want to then collect and cash-in cans. We’ll use he funds to host an environmental awareness day or week next semester.

Another initiative I hope to work on soon is addressing gang violence. A corps member at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary, the elementary school down the street from our middle school, brought in an intern from the Gang Reduction and Youth Development program to her school. He had the students discuss how they felt about the recent gang violence in the neighborhood. One of the students at her school was a sibling of our seventh grade students that lost their father two weeks ago. A lot of them said they are tired of the killings.

I want to work with her and create a gang awareness day or week at her school, Markham and the other elementary school, Compton Avenue Elementary, that is across the street from Markham. I would love to get a former gang member, probably someone from Homeboy Industries, that went to Markham Middle School. I can assure you there must be at least one homeboy or homegirl that did.

Next week is the time to really buckle down and start planning interventions for our students. Apparently there’s a huge manual that has specific issues students have (for example, confusing Es, As, and Us) and different interactive lessons that can be used with the students.

I’m in a really weird funk this weekend. It’s not that I’m discouraged, but just have been thinking about a lot. I was taking with one of my roommates this morning (yes, at the crack of dawn, I can’t sleep in anymore) about these past few weeks. We’re both serving in ESL classrooms. Most of our students have high expectations and want to attend college. They know that they have to do well because their parents want to give them the life they didn’t have (most of my student’s parents work two jobs and did not graduate high school). But even if these students have their mind in the right place, it doesn’t mean that they have the skills to attend UCLA or USC (the two schools everyone wants to go to). Point blank: they’re behind. One student out of two of my English teacher’s classes is at a sixth grade reading level. The rest are in the third-fourth grade range. College is getting even more competitive, especially public California schools because of funding. Will these students make it over all the competition? The competition of all the Los Angeles students that can afford private schools and don’t live smack-dab in the projects?

This is America. Aren’t we supposed to be a leading nation in education? Equal rights? Equal access to education? We thrive off of these ideals, but they were really true, then why would I even be thinking about this? I guess it gives me just one more reason about why I’m at Markham. I want to give these kids the skills they need to succeed in the future how they want to.

On a side note, I started reading “That Used to be Us” by Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum today. It’s about America’s declining role as a superpower in international politics.

One quote I got from it that I liked was said by US Sec. of Education Arne Duncan:

“We are like the 40-year-old who keeps talking about what a great high school player he was.”

I agree. America is arrogant. We boast about our educational system because it used to be top in the past, but look at it now. I see how it’s declined every single day.

My roommate told me my life just sounds sad when I describe all I do is, “eat, sleep, blog and sit on the couch.” It is pretty true. Therefore, I’ve made a list of personal goals for the year:

1. Read the LA Times and international section of the NY Times daily.
2. Read The Economist weekly.
3. Read one international-related book monthly or bi-monthly (hence my book choice I just mentioned).
4. Blog once a week (hahaha).
5. Try to run every week.
6. Text or call friends at least once a week.

I have to take some time to invest in the other things I’m interested instead of constantly thinking about my students and City Year.

I’m getting lunch with my best friend from college tomorrow, who I haven’t seen in ages, so that should be another good non-City Year event to help me get out of my funk.

I really should stop blogging, since that’s practically my life. It’s time to go enjoy some Los Angeles sunshine.

Here’s a few pictures from our Staff Appreciation Breakfast we hosted on Wednesday, which turned out to be a great success!

Picture LOL of the week: my boss Damien playing ultimate rock, paper, scissors at sixth grade lunch

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Oh, and to add to our lockdown tally. We’re now at five lockdowns. This Pueblo Friday, however, the lockdown was at Gompers Middle School. Gompers is the other middle school in Watts.

I just got an iPad to replace my broken computer, so I should probably also apologize for all typos in advance. A real keyboard > touch screen.

Happy Halloween!
Liz