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Posts tagged ‘los angeles unified school district’

Just another day at Markham: battle of the team leaders

Who is the better TL? Britt or Lauren? I’d say it’s a tie.

The student’s reactions to the mention of the CST in this video is priceless.

From our students to you: Adventures of a Disappearing City Year

Here’s a story that my teammate Tessa’s 7th grade student wrote about my teammates. It’s hilarious, creative and well-written! Props to Mr. Aaron for saving the day.

Adventures of a Disappearing City Year

On a dark and spooky night Tessa and I woke up to total darkness and we searched the school. And we look and looked, but we couldn’t find anything or anyone but the only person we did find was a blood hound. And we could not find the rest of City Year but we know that Mr. Aaron is somewhere in the school. And he would know was had happened. He knows everything. Once we go on this quest there is no turning back. So I ask if they wanted to quit and Ms. Tessa held her head up high and said no. The dog barked and I took that for a no.

So we continue on our mission. So we check all the rooms for Mr. Aaron and he was chilling out like nothing happened and I speak out, “Ay! Do you now what happened to all of City Year?” and he laughed and he said “They’re all dead!” and Ms. Tessa said “No they’re not!” and she looked sad like she was really worried so I walk out. I know they were not dead. So we had to continue. I do not care what he said but I’m still on it for all of City Year.

So we check from room to room and we all spit up with walkie talkies so if anything happened we can talk to each other and we search the rooms and Ms. Tessa calls me and she said “Come now!” and she was crying. So I rush over there as fast as I can. When I get there she is on the floor crying and she points to the wall and first there nothing there then I see it like a hologram but it is a dead person on the wall like their spirit never left that corner. But that was new blood and it like some one dragged the body out of the room.

And Ms. Tessa and I followed the bloody trail and it took us back to Mr. Aaron’s room and he was not there. And there were we found Carlos was getting boiled in his own juices me and Ms. Tessa almost threw up. But we turned around and walked out but we knew what ever did this was not friendly but we have to face it and we might have to hide to get some sleep. But we continue our mission the next night.

So during the day we did what we had to do go to school, and work at City Year alone. Everyone is trying to find the rest of City Year but we said they’re at home today so that made everyone leave so that following night we went to look for them and that same night we founded Ms. Lauren and she was in a closet with a blanket over her head. So we had to convince her to come with us but after a couple of times she said no but after telling her about our quest to defeat whatever was in the school and she came with us. So we search the school once more like last night but we had a new person. Ms. Lauren heard a noise coming from the closet so she opened it and found the rest of City Year so we got them out of the chains and braces. And I saw it.

​It was big, huge and hungry so we all grabbed the chain and anything that hurts and went to war. We were winning when he slapped us off of him and we fell before the monster and then Mr. Aaron jumped out of nowhere with a big sword and chopped the monster’s head off and he said “Anybody order a chop monster head?” well I thought we were goners for a minute. Well the next day they had to close the school down for some time so they can clean up the body. well to believe it we really had a good time.

The End

Week 25: the bus ride

Whenever the song “Show Goes On” by Lupe Fiasco comes on the radio when we’re in the car, my teammates/roommates and I always say it reminds us of our students.

Alright, already, the show goes on
All night ’til the morning, we dream so long
Anybody ever wonder when they would see the sun go
Just remember when you come up, the show goes on

So no matter what you been through, no matter what you into
No matter what you see when you look outside your window
Brown grass or green grass, picket fence or barbed wire
Never ever put them down, you just lift your arms higher

Raise ’em ’til your arms tired let ’em know you here
That you struggling, survivin’, that you gon’ persevere
Yeah, ain’t nobody leavin’, nobody goin’ home
Even if they turn the lights out, the show is goin’ on

I listened to this song over and over again and just stared out the window of the school bus on Friday and did some introspective thinking. We had just left The Getty Museum, which is an art museum located in West Los Angeles. I was coming down from a “feel good” high because my students thoroughly enjoyed the field trip and being out of Watts for the day, which of course boosted my mood because I’m happy when others around me are happy. My favorite moment of the day was when my students were overlooking the coastline and were so amazed and happy to see the beach.


“Ms. Liz, look!!! It’s the ocean!”

They live in California, but that doesn’t mean they get to see the beauties of the Golden State everyday. Getting out of Watts for a day doesn’t mean they’ll get out forever and get to see the nature they saw at The Getty on a daily basis.

So no matter what you been through, no matter what you into; no matter what you see when you look outside your window, just lift your arms higher. But do they have the motivation to get out? Do they believe they can? One reason why this year has been so hard is because if most Markham students had the perseverance that is detailed in this song to “get out of the ghetto”, they would when they get older. There’s so much we can’t control in this environment — gangs, fights, bullying, classroom behavior, etc., but a student CAN control his or her life by having faith that they will get somewhere in life and take those right steps. Education is key to getting out.

As the bus passed Westwood, I thought about my teammate Ricky’s story. Ricky is a first-generation American-Latino and the only person in his immediate family that has graduated from college. His parents only speak Spanish, but from what he’s told me his family has a strong bond, which helped get him to where he is today.

Ricky’s a lot like these students (he even talks like them). He was born and raised in Boyle Heights, which is another community City Year serves in Los Angeles. From there, he made it to UCLA. Just last week, he received some great news: he was accepted to UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, which is a top-ranked program in the US. His story gives me hope for my Latino students. That you struggling, survivin’, that you gon’ persevere.

On Sunday, I completed a bucket list item: Go to the Museum of Tolerance.

The one exhibit that really got to me was one called “Para Todos Los Niños”. The exhibit was about segregated schools in the West and Southwest; Latinos (although they were all called Mexicans even if they weren’t) had to go to Mexican School. A historic court case centered in Orange County, Mendez vs. Westminster, ruled this was unlawful in 1946, which paved the way for the Brown v. Board of Education decision. What astonished me about this exhibit is not that this happened (people suck), but that I never really learned about this in school. We’re taught so much about black civil rights, but other minority groups suffered too. Seems like I was ignorant about my own state’s history.

Anyways, the exhibit said this:

“The wonderful legacy of the Mendez case is diminished if we don’t confront the injustices we see today. Latinos are now the most segregated group in our public school system. Less than half of all Latino students receive the support necessary to graduate from high school. Only ten percent graduate from college. What can we do to fight these inequalities? What will be the impact – on our society, our economy, and our democracy – if we don’t.”
-Dr. Raymond Rast, Asst. Professor of History at California State University at Fullerton

I realized that City Year corps members are honoring the legacy of such a historic case because we provide the support that’s necessary to graduate from high school. Now that I’ve learned about it, I’m even more proud of the work my team does with our students and the work City Year teams will do for years to come.

Next year’s City Year senior corps members were selected on Friday (also known as team leaders). Seven out of 14 of my roommates applied and ALL of them were accepted. Pretty damn impressive! Likewise, three people from the Markham were accepted, so at least one of the three will be back at Markham next year. I can keep up with the school and my students next year through whoever becomes Markham’s next team leaders. Congrats to everyone who was accepted!

20120318-223032.jpgMy students viewing work by Vincent Van Gogh at The Getty

20120318-225706.jpgA memorable Markham moment: I’ve overcome my math anxiety and every Wednesday one of my students comes to our after-school program to take notes and get a hour and a half lecture about what math concept we’re working on class. My teammate was so proud of me that I was actually teaching math, he took a picture!

Another week tomorrow,



I’ll rush into the best news that my team has heard in a while: City Year at Markham Middle School has been sponsored by OneWest Bank for THREE YEARS! Likewise, OneWest, a Southern California based bank, is sponsoring the other programs at Markham. After we get “OneWest Bank” embroidered on our bomber jackets, we will officially be the OneWest team at Markham Middle School! The sponsorship entails $100,000 a year for Markham.

City Year Los Angeles’ Development Director, Erin Ross, personally told us the good news on Friday. This is the first sponsorship that City Year has taken part in since the economic downturn and also one of the longest commitments. Erin told us that OneWest asked her what the highest need school was in all of the schools CYLA serves in, which is Markham, hands down.

I’m not trying to boast about how hard my school is or any of that nonsense, but the reality is we have NO resources at our school: no whiteboard markers, no sports equipment, no printers, minimal computers, no bandaids, etc. There isn’t even enough ink and paper for teachers to make copies. The only abundance of any supplies our school has is butcher paper, no joke. Granted, I’m not sure what it’s like at other schools, but I can say we (and everyone who works at the school) definitely struggle at Markham.

Erin said that this action taken by OneWest is straight-up philanthropy and none of that social corporate responsibility junk. The company is investing in Markham to truly see changes in Los Angeles, not to just be able to write on pamphlets and mention that it donates to inner-city children.

Our reactions to the news were priceless. I really wish I caught it on camera or video, but I was in the same state of shock as the rest of my team. We are so stoked and will take ANY help we can get for Markham. All of our mouthes were literally wide open in disbelief that what Erin was telling us was really real.

I’m not positive if we will even be affected by the sponsorship since we only have three months left at Markham, but we’ve come this far with limited resources so we can keep going. My team and I discussed this at happy hour on Friday (of course we had to celebrate!) and we see ourselves a just the foundational team at Markham. We may have not been able to do everything other CY schools do, but we struggled through this year and paved the road for next year’s team. We started the Markham legacy. Our team unity, love and perseverance to keep going at this school even after the hardest days shows next year’s team they can do everything we did and do even more.

My teammates and I have had conversations lately about whether or not City Year will be invited back to Markham next year because our student’s test scores are unlikely to go up due to a multitude of factors. However, because CYLA decided that this sponsorship should go to Markham indicates that at least CYLA believes we’ll be back next year. If so, this three year sponsorship means that my students will have City Year on campus until they are in 8th grade. And honestly, I don’t even care about academics at this point, especially with my girls. Even if a CY isn’t in their classrooms next year, if they remember the relationship they had with me, then I know they will at least befriend the next City Years. They still need a mentor to talk to and someone, like me, who will give them a blunt reality check when needed.

I had to give my girl students their first reality check about drugs and alcohol this week. I told them I know the they’re going to run into it sooner than later and they likely WILL try it, but they have to be smart about it (ex: don’t be stupid and do anything on campus like other students may do). That’s better than telling them that they should never ever do it and it’s a horrible thing to do; when people hear things like that it makes them rebel even more.

This talk I had with my students seriously wanted to make me cry. In the beginning of the year, they were these shy, innocent, cute girls. Now all they do is cuss each other out and talk back to everyone without a care in the world. I was talking to my dad about this and how much I think the school atmosphere has corrupted my students, but then my dad gave ME a reality check. He told me that I was swearing by the 6th grade and doing everything my students are doing. Now that I think about it, I did get sent to the office multiple times in middle school and I remember flipping off a teacher in 7th grade…

So, I guess that’s just a part of growing up. You could go to Markham or Cunha, my small town middle school, and still exhibit similar behaviors. Right now, I’m giving myself a reality check: although I’ve seen my students change so much since the beginning of the year, I still love them as much as when I met them. They still crack me up and make every day worth going back to Markham. I also have to be grateful that although my students are sassy, none of them have fought this year and I hope it stays that way.

It was Markham’s turn to host pueblo Friday, which means we cooked breakfast for the rest of the South Los Angeles schools and performed an interactive skit that embraced all City Year values.


Setting up for Friday breakfast hosted by our team; theme: Markham in Vegas

The Markham team performing a “Markham in Vegas” skit during community Friday

It’s late and I have to be up at 5:30 tomorrow.

Good night,

Week 23: blank walls, bricks and metal gates

Happy Birthday Justin Bieber! In any other world, I would have had absolutely no idea that it was Justin Bieber’s birthday. However, my students now call me Ms. Bieber, JB, Bieber, Liz Bieber and even gave me a couple of birthday shout-outs.

This didn’t come out of nowhere. I recently got a new “wannabe hipster” haircut, which is asymmetrical. Everyone I know likes the new hair-do, but any drastic hairstyle doesn’t resonate well with middle school students. I can’t begin to count how many times students came up to me and said, “Why did you cut your hair?” or “I liked your old haircut!” At least with this drastic hair change they won’t confuse my teammate Charlotte and I.


I’ve got Bieber Fever

Last week, my teammate Daniel introduced a new initiative at Markham, “Make Your Mark on Markham”. Daniel has been working really hard to invite all of City Year Los Angeles to a service day at Markham. Our school is pretty bland – there’s not much that’s appealing to the eye besides the couple of random palm and pine trees and the three murals. Oh, but wait! The only three murals that were at this school – one that said “Watts”, another that said “Markham”, and another that depicted Florence Griffith Joyner, an Olympic track runner who graduated from Markham – were painted over last week. Our school has been under a painting project for a long while now, but I still don’t understand why they had to paint over the murals; none of the murals were defaced! There’s no explanation, except that it’s just another day at Markham Middle School.

It’s alright, though, because Daniel’s initiative allows students to submit their drawings and ideas for murals of the three themes: anything they can think if, college success and peace in Watts. The winner will have he or she’s mural painted during spring break by City Year! A lot of my students are interested in submitting to the contest. I really hope this project brings a whole new atmosphere to Markham. If students see motivational quotes (I’m pushing for the “Hold Fast to Dreams” poem by Langston Hughes to be painted; this poem is a tattoo on my wrist and it reminds me daily to never give up on my dreams) it will make them happier to be at school. Right now, all I see at Markham is bricks, blank walls and metal gates. I know it sometimes depresses me to be here, so I can only imagine how the students feel about their school atmosphere. That’s all about to change!

My students are still prepping for their next common assessment on five paragraph essays. My teacher taught them how to organize the introduction, thesis, body paragraphs and conclusion by color-coding the different topics. This helped them a lot with organization and I was really pleased with some of the final drafts. One of my students worked on the essay at home with his older sister and told me they had to stay up late and wake up early to get it done. The teacher and I were really impressed and proud of how much work he put into it and I made sure we praised him. You could tell he was proud of himself. It’s little moments like that that remind me again why I serve.

Time is shortly running out and thinking about where my students will be in ten years is always on my mind. My math teacher presented a disheartening article from the United Teacher Los Angeles union’s newspaper. The article focused on Latino students, who are half of California’s student population, getting to college. The statistics said that only 13 percent of Latino CA students earn a college diploma. My students are working on probability and percents, so my teacher made these statistics into a math problem: If only 13 percent will go to college, how many out of a class of 25 will go to college? Only three. Yes, three. Such a sobering fact. Once again, I remember why I serve: to prove these statistics wrong. Maybe not all of my students will go to college, but more than three will. I thought it was a great topic to discuss with the students because it can motivate them to fight the statistics and take control of their lives and education.

On Monday and Tuesday, my English teacher was sick. A substitute for two days = living hell. The kids morph into creatures, no sarcasm or exaggeration intended. A substitute can holler at my students all day long, but it’s just going to frustrate them and make them talk back even more. I can try and talk all the sense I can into them by telling them it’s not worth it to get sent to the office for talking back (or even bringing in City Year male authority), but they think they can get away with anything when the teacher isn’t there. They’d rather hang out with me than listen to me and see me as an authority figure.

Substitute days scare me. I’m going to be a teacher next year and I can’t imagine trying to control a class like mine on substitute days. I would NOT have been prepared to have been a teacher right out of college. This year has given me a good understanding of classroom management and teaching styles that I will definitely use next year.

Peace Corps update: I sent all my medical and dental forms last week, but the USPS never confirmed that the documents were delivered. The online tracking says the packages are still “processing in DC”. I freaked out and thought all of my medical forms were lost, but other PC applicants on Facebook reassured me that it takes up to four weeks to process the forms because any mail going to a federal building must be screened for anthrax, etc. Let’s just say I’m relieved.


On Tuesday, Markham hosted a Black History Month event. Students participated in a talent show, arts and crafts and a raffle.

On Thursday, my team went out to dinner after work to celebrate our teammate Angela’s birthday. This is one of my favorite pictures of the year; our students are always watching out for us! Adorable. Sometimes it’s nice to not be in uniform.

Reporting from Watts,


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:


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.


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,


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 and got my teacher and the class to read it popcorn style.


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!


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,


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


Ms. Chariya and Mr. Ricky’s math booth


Time to pie Dylan!


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

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

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

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

Back to skewl tomorrow,


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.


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.


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,


“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.”