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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


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!

“Why I Serve” Series: Daniel Pierson, Markham Middle School

Liz Warden, Corps Member

One 45-minute bus ride got Daniel Pierson’s mind rolling about how he can help others and be an advocate for those he know can succeed. During their sophomore year of high school, Pierson was heading over to a Mariners baseball game with a friend, Michael, who shared a common interest of sports. The small-talk on the bus wasn’t just about whom they thought would win the game, but lead into the troubles Michael was having at school and home.

His father had passed when he was younger and since he was 13-years-old he had been living on his own and started to follow the path of some at-risk dropouts: abusing drugs and disregarding school.”I started helping him with his homework a lot and trying to get him to do well in school,” Pierson said.”I kind of realized that not everyone has such supportive parents and so many people advocating for them like I did.”

The next three years Pierson was Michael’s advocate. He later graduated high school alongside him. Today, he serves as an AmeriCorps member with City Year and says he’s an advocate for his 6th grade English and math class and the rest of the students at Markham Middle School in Watts.

City Year focuses on getting to know the student on a personal and academic level, inside and outside of the classroom, which Pierson was able to do with Michael.

“We’re in a unique position because we get to see different aspects of the kid’s lives” he said.

Pierson hails from Seattle, Washington and recently graduated from Western Washington University. He joined City Year after he talked to a recruiter at a job fair on his college campus. He had a “gut feeling” that City Year was the right program for him.”I hadn’t had felt that instant connection to anything before. It was a call to action in a sense that I was needed in LA,” he said. Pierson attended public schools in north Seattle throughout his childhood. He believes in the power of the public school system and that all students – regardless of where they live – can succeed if they are motivated. Or, as Pierson and the Markham Middle School team would chant, based on the school’s mascot, the eagle, “soaring, so high!”

He’s challenging himself this year to give his students similar stability that his parents gave him when he was in middle school.”For students who are inherently motivated, it doesn’t matter what school they attend, they’ll succeed anyways,” Pierson said.”Maybe for those kids who don’t have a support system … it may be really hard for [them] to be self-motivated.”

Pierson knows that he will stay within the education sector after his City Year to still advocate and be a positive role model for all those students that he wasn’t able to meet and impact during his year of service. Although he doesn’t have specific plans, he’ll know when the time is right to act on his next move in education because he’ll get the same gut feeling he got when he applied to City Year.

“It’s about laying perfect bricks,” he said. “Obviously we’re not going to create monumental change in a day, week, or even a month, but what I try to do through every interaction I have with the kids or the community members I meet is bring positive energy.”

Who’s who?

The kids often mix up Ms. Charlotte and I and Mr. Daniel and Mr. Dylan. They think Charlotte and I are sisters and Daniel and Dylan are brothers. Charlotte prints out Hello Kitty and DragonBallZ coloring sheets for the kids and gives them out at lunch. I can’t count how many times kids have come up to me asking for coloring sheets. We always tell the kids that “Ms. Charlotte wears glasses and Ms. Liz doesn’t” as a way to tell us apart.

So… we decided to play a little game.

Can you guess who’s who?

Have a good night!
Yours truly,

Ms. Charlotte

Week seven: if it bleeds, should it lead?

Today, my first post for was published. The theme of it was the conflict-driven education story told in the mainstream media and my transition from that to actually working in a classroom first-hand. I’ll be writing monthly for My stories will be due the 1st of every month. A CYNY corps member will have a deadline on the 15th of every month. The series is called “A City Education” – so definitely check it out!

The theme of this post made me think of the other concept we’re taught so often in j-school, aside from the several news values: If it bleeds, it leads. Broadcast is caught in this trap more than print, but if a story features an intense crime, it automatically attracts the human interest value of a news story and will be placed at the top of the news hour or on the front page. Humans are social beings. They gossip – especially when it’s about something so atrocious that “they can’t believe that happened.”

Naturally, I gossiped with my friends back home about how crazy this week was because we had our fourth lockdown (we’ve decided to keep tally of lockdowns). This time the lockdown lasted for 2 1/2 hours. My friends responses ranged from, “The worst thing that happened in middle school for us was like two of our friends stealing from a gift shop on Main Street” (gotta love small town problems). Another said, “Wow, you’re on the frontlines of reality.”

After we heard a helicopter flying over our campus over and over again last Wednesday, we knew it was going to be serious. Luckily, most of the corps members that work in sixth grade were on break and got to just relax in the CY room instead of trying to control restless students that sometimes try to leave the classroom during a lockdown.

After they had announced that “THE TITLE ONE OFFICE IS NOW CLOSED,” one of our teammates, Chariya, was lagging. She was walking back from a fast food restaurant close by and came back to the CY room after they had announced the lockdown. She told us that she saw 20 or so cop cars by our school and a SWAT team.

A few minutes later we saw a couple of cops casually walk by the CY room. Oh, I forgot to add: They were carrying what looked like 8-inch guns.

The story behind this intense lockdown was that a suspect that shot or murdered someone close by fled to our campus. He jumped the fence to hide his gun. Then, he ran from the police on campus again and they found him in a house a couple of blocks over from our campus. A SWAT team bordered the house and forced him out. The police and police dogs found the gun and our campus was back to being good ol’ Markham after that. The lockdown went past school hours, so each teacher had to escort the students to the front of the school and the ones that usually walk or bus home had to wait in the library for someone to come get them. We still got in about 30 minutes of our after-school program. We played some fun and interactive games to get the kid’s minds off of what had just happened.


I found myself focusing more on the crime in this story by telling my friends about it, but understanding that it’s not just about the human-interest theme in a story like this. It’s what these students have dealt with their whole lives. Therefore, we have to understand that even if a student won’t do work or listen in class, there are millions of other things running through his or her mind that can even relate to incidents like this or last week’s gang shooting. Anyways, shouldn’t that be the real story? Not the quick and easy crime story?

The team debrief after the lockdown summed up to this: This is just another STRONG reason why we’re needed at Markham.

On Monday, there was a sub in my English class who proceeded to send both of my trouble students to the counseling office. The first student hit another student in class because the student “told the whole class that he had a girlfriend when he told him not to tell anyone.” The sub told him she was writing him up, so he decided to cuss, throw his book to the front of the room and storm out of the classroom.

I found him in the principal’s office and couldn’t help but laugh after he told me it was over students talking about how he had a girlfriend. Wait for it: This little 6th graders girlfriend is in the 7th grade. That killed me. I just said, “Why are you embarrassed that you got a girl? You should be showin’ that off! AND she’s in the 7th grade?!”

Instead of sending him to the counselor, the principal just made him hang out with him the rest of the day, which I think was a very good response to what had happened. This student doesn’t need more people yelling at him, just someone who’s there to listen and have a LOGICAL conversation where adults aren’t raising their voice when dealing with him. The principal knows this student and treats him like an equal and respects him. The student responds well to this and gets himself together when people talk WITH him and not DOWN to him.

The next day he gave me a hug in first period and said, “Thanks for supporting me yesterday.” He doesn’t have much of a soft-spot, so this really got to me. He sees that I do care about him and like him still – no matter how much trouble he can cause. I’m coming up with an accountability/discipline plan for him tonight that will have incentives. I will get through to this kid if it’s the last thing I do because I KNOW he’s smart and could do something if he tried and didn’t ditch class (side note: we were cracking up about this the other day, what is there even to do when you ditch class in middle school? Chill behind a wall? C’mon kids…)

Onto the tutoring portion of the week, I’m putting my feelers out for how to work with one of my students who has a really, really hard time spelling. He comes up with great ideas, has awesome reading comprehension, but when it comes to spelling… it’s another world. He can speak sentences that construct a coherent paragraph, but can’t correlate that down into writing.

What I’ve decided to do with him is have him speak aloud what he wants to write. Then I’ll type it in my blackberry and then I’ll tell him what to write exactly based on what he said. We’ll construct a paragraph together, but I won’t tell him how to spell anything. Then, I’ll go over the paragraph, sound out words for him (Os, Us, Is and Es are death to sounding out the English language – they’re so similar!)

After that, I’ll make a list of the words he got wrong and next week I’ll give him a spelling test on those words. We’ll continue doing this every week. This student really wants to learn, but I’m not sure if he has a learning disability because he can’t connect his spoken word to written word ever. He also has a really strong vocabulary, but just can’t spell a lot of the words he knows. I hope we can really improve his spelling this year. If we can, I know for a fact he’ll be a really good writer in the years to come.

It’s our team leader Brittany’s birthday tomorrow. We had a surprise potluck for her on Thursday during our meeting period because she’s taking the day off on her actual birthday. We decorated the room and all wore black headbands to mimic her every day hairstyle: A black headband with a high bun. Although Brit was sick and had to leave mid-surprise party, it’s still the thought that counts. We wanted to appreciate her for all the work she does for us and for being honestly the best TL out there (and Lauren!) We’ll have to be creative to think of the next surprise for our other TL – Lauren’s – birthday and our PM D-man.

To end off the longest post yet, we had a service day at Markham on Saturday with the Boys and Girls Club. We helped build a community garden for the students! It was great to see some other corps members who don’t serve at Markham, but still came to support.

Oh, is anybody willing to donate to the “Liz Needs a New Laptop Fund?” Living on a ~$1,000 a month stipend is rough.

My laptop, Bumper, who has been through everything with me from freshman year on is on his last life. I’ve dropped him too many times during my frantic moments that his screen now won’t stand-up straight. Now, he’s a little tablet. It’ll cost more money to fix my computer than buy a new one, so I either settle for ANOTHER PC, or use my Apple credit card to buy an iPad. I might as well buy an iPad since I’m already working on a tablet.

How am I expected to keep writing this year if little Bumper won’t even cooperate with me? RIP Bumper, I’ll always love you.

Technology hates me.

Tonight some of the roommates and I are going to carve pumpkins. Well, that is if our food stamps cover buying pumpkins…

Bryan Brown (BTWICE), one of my roommates and our creative house chef, is making Sunday night dinner tonight for the 13 person house. He started prepping at noon. I can smell it from upstairs. Yum, can’t wait!


The Markham team summed up in three videos: that’s what’s up

Finally, some multimedia on this blog! Without having the Annenberg j-school digital lab at my fingertips any day of the week, I am having a hard time editing video and photographs for this blog. I’ve been making do with my PC, but I need a Mac to edit. Shout out to my lovely roommate Bryan who let me use his Mac to edit some video tonight!

I’ve been documenting the Markham team for about a month now with my flip cam and plan to edit together a video of the whole year for the team to watch on graduation night. That being said, with only 15 minutes of footage, I found three 30-ish second video clips that sum up the Markham team in full: Our energy, passion and humor.

The first video is a montage of clips from our first day at our after-school program with our students. It’s an “emergency dance party” where we randomly start playing music, bust some moves and get the kids to dance with us. Today was a rough day for some teammates, so my teammate Melanie decided it was time to have our second emergency dance party to get them team going.

Note: I know the shots are cut off. For some reason, the clips are full and I can see all the teammates heads. However, when I uploaded the files to iMovie it cut off part of the clip. This is reason #9234209842 why broadcast journalism technology and I do not get along. I was also trying to film this with kids trying to grab my camera…

This second video is our call-back. Whenever we are with all of City Year (all 210 corps members) on Fridays, we’ll do our call-back in the morning. Likewise, we do this call-back when the bell rings in the morning to remind the kids to get to class.

Last but not least, another team call-back, which is more focused on an inside joke within our team. One of the teammates Tessa always brings yummy snacks (who can resist Trader Joes?) We call it Tessa’s edible treats.

There you have it: You can finally see the Markham team in all its glory – LOUD and proud – without me having to explain the way we act in written words. As much as I hate broadcast, I’ve got to give it credit. Video does complement any story. That’s what up, as Damien would say.

Good night! It’s an hour past my bedtime (it’s 10 p.m. now – yes, I go to bed at 9 p.m. every night).


The Golden Eagle of Appreciation: What it Means to be a Team

There is no “I” in teamwork. Sure, we’ve all heard that before. It’s cliché. Even my 6th graders – who are learning about clichés and idioms – could tell me that. But, let’s look a little closer: There is a “me.” Isn’t that a little contradictory?

Not at Markham Middle School. The Markham team interprets the “I,” as the individual that appreciates the “me” – me or any other teammate that deserves to be highlighted.

Every day after final circle and announcements, one teammate presents the Golden Eagle, which is Markham’s mascot, to someone else. It starts off with a drum roll, then someone yells, “Now it’s time for the Golden Eagle.” The team members turn their left hand to the palm of their right hand, cross their thumbs and raise their arms to mimic an eagle flying. With a high-pitched yell and always some laughs, everyone chimes in after, “SHINING!”

The teammate that inherits the Golden Eagle from the previous day is the one to pass it onto the next teammate. He or she will give a short presentation about why the next teammate deserves the Golden Eagle and then that teammate passes it along the next day, and so on.

The Golden Eagle to the Markham team represents teamwork, appreciation, encouragement and support. It’s a daily reminder that regardless of how busy, stressful or hard our day has been, our team is behind us every step of the way.

Golden Eagle dedications can be for the smallest action, like a corps member bringing a smile to another’s face from just being energetic in the morning. Or, the hardest, like a corps member having a heart-to-heart discussion with another about the struggles of the day, whether their student got in trouble or just won’t do their work.

The Golden Eagle may have been someone else’s trash – as a corps member found it in a sea of knick-knacks at a swamp meet – but it’s a treasure to the Markham team.

It signifies a team effort because the “I” notices the smallest things the “me” does. The Golden Eagle dedication shows each of us, as an individual, makes up what the Markham team is.
Without the unique gestures or actions a team member does to attract the Golden Eagle, our team wouldn’t be what it is.

Each of us make up a different part of the team – with our strong personalities, strengths and weaknesses – that all come together for the common purpose of giving our students the best school year yet. And that’s why there’s “we” in teamwork at Markham Middle School.

Week six: reality hit hard, some of it’s surreal

A different kind of air was felt this week at Markham Middle School for students, teachers, staff and the corps members.

Earlier this week, in the morning, some classrooms that are close to the gate that borders the street and Metro blue line heard gun shots. The teachers closest to this area dismissed it. Later, the administration found out that it was gunshots related to gang retaliation from a killing that had happened a week before.

One man was buying tamales when a car rolled up and shot him to death. The man who was shot had two children at Markham – both in the 7th grade. He also had a brother. The other man, I believe, had a nephew at Markham (excuse me if I’m getting the story mixed up, but this is what I’ve pieced together). The gang-related incident was racial (black v. Latino) and we’ve heard the gangs are still in retaliation-mode. The vice principal personally drove home the children of the man who died as soon as it happened. All the students that were affected by this personally are in 7th grade City Year classrooms. These kids are some of my teammate’s students. That very day we had our third lockdown after school – a man was bordering the same area with an AK-47.

Tensions were high this week at Markham. The administration told us that before school, during breaks, lunch and after school we should drop our clubs and other activities and instead just patrol the campus for students acting out. On the way to my 6th period break on Wednesday, I caught two students clobbering each other. No administration was around. I squeezed my body in between the two kids and stood there like a wall. Although they still tried to hit each other, they finally realized they had to stop because they could potentially hit me; I was standing face-to-face with one of them. I got lucky in that situation. Some corps members haven’t had the same experience and have actually been hit when trying to break up fights.

You could just feel a different kind of atmosphere – some students were timid, some students were depressed, others acting up and others questioning why instances like this had to happen. Why can’t we all just get along? One student wrote in a poem she was working on with me.

The day after the shooting, many of the teachers discussed it in class with their students. The one class that had the two students in it made a bunch of cards and a big poster for the students. That was so hard to look at and read. After my English teacher talked about it with my students, some started raising their hand and saying, “A similar thing happened to my cousin.” When my teacher asked them why incidents like this happen in their community, my little project (my 24/7 misbehaving student) raised his hand and said, “ignorance.” How eloquent, right? From things he’s said previously, I think that he’s lost family members due to gang violence. That made me happy to hear that he was able to understand the root of the problem and not talk about retaliation. After this incident, reality set in for me: These students deal with stuff like this on a daily basis. It’s hard to believe and relate to. They’re only in middle school!

One of my students after school was a crying wreck. I took her away from our after-school program and talked to her. She opened up to me and told me things she says she hasn’t told anyone. The shooting reminded her of losing her grandfather – who had a heart attack right in front of her. She recapped stories about her time with him; I just let her talk. Her grandfather pushed her to be a writer. She has a little journal that she writes fiction stories in. Her next one is about an armadillo. I kid you not, I wrote a story about an armadillo at her age. She reminds me so much of myself in middle school because she just writes random fiction stories. She said she’s nervous about having other people read her work, but I just kept telling her I’m going to make her a writer this year. We’re going to do it for her grandfather.

Her and her grandfather used to sit under a tree and just read together back in Mexico. We made a deal that we’re going to plant a tree around Markham and watch it grow. Although she has to be patient, I told her that ten years from now, when she’s 22, she’ll be a college graduate. That tree – that will be grown by then – will be a symbol of her grandfather and he’ll see her as a college graduate. I’ll find a way to make this happen and plant this tree if it’s the last thing I do.

One student is scaring me a little about mental health issues. The student was telling me all these intricate stories that were obviously made up, but the student really believed they were real and had happened from what it seemed. It reminds me of somebody in my immediate family that suffers from a similar issue, which I believe is a personality disorder: She doesn’t live in reality, but rather he own reality. What she thinks is happening her head is “actually” happening in reality. She believes it so much that it becomes the truth.

I still have to spend more time with this student to really get in the student’s mind, but just from having experience with someone who thinks like that, it scares me just a little bit.

What gets any of us at Markham through a tough week is our team. Our team is seriously a family. We laugh, love and even cry with each other. We’ve got each other’s backs through thick and thin. Every single person on that team I’ve already learned from. Likewise, every single person on that team I already consider a close friend (or should I say brother or sister?!)

Things are different at Markham than other schools CY works at. I’m definitely not saying it’s harder than other schools, but there are just other factors (like the gang incident, fights this week) that come into play more often. CYLA could not have put together a better or stronger team to get through this year. We’re all in it together. I could go on forever about how much I love my team…yet again.

Our program director, Andrian, came to Markham during one of our break periods this week to just debrief with us and get us back on track after everything that had happened. He told us a story about a time when he was teaching in West Oakland and this one particular student. He couldn’t stand this student; this student was the reason why he quit teaching.

After school one day, the student was going to be beaten up by some gang members. He was crying and shaking and begged to get in Andrian’s car. He let him in. Another student, I believe a friend of his, was killed. After that day, I believe he got his life together. Just recently, after Internet-stalking Andrian in every possible manner, he sent him an e-mail saying he’s headed to UCSB. He thanked him for being one of the only teachers that believed in him and that got him to where he is today. He wrote about that day as his personal statement for college.

As corny as the Markham team was, it got most of us teary-eyed. It got us pumped up again that that’s why we’re here. We might not see progress in our students – just like he didn’t – and they might frustrate the living hell out of us at times, but in the end, we are getting to them. Whether it’s a little moment, like this week when I got my problem child to sit down and do ALL the math problems right with me, or a bigger moment like Andrian’s, in the end it relates to the bigger picture.

On a happier note, yesterday I had my Peace Corps interview. I was nominated on the spot! I usually get very nervous for interviews, but I was so laid back at this one. My recruiter, Lindsay, and I talked for about 2 1/2 hours just about her Peace Corps experience and why I’d make a good volunteer. I had gone over some of the questions the whole week with my Unofficial Peace Corps Handbook and Jamey, my roommate who had already passed the interview process. I think this interview was so easy for me because I whole-heartedly believe that this is exactly what I need to be doing with my life and I am so passionate about it. Luckily, my recruiter must have seen that in me.

I was nominated for either a youth development or English teaching position. I need six months of working with at-risk youth before becoming qualified for youth development; I’ll hit that mark in January with City Year. However, because I am part of AmeriCorps and City Year, my recruiter said she is going to try to petition me into a youth development opening for this summer so I wouldn’t have to wait until January. Although it’s likely the spots for that will fill up quickly, it would be youth development in South America. That’s my roommate Jamey’s assignment. It could be possible that I could be doing a similar project or close in geographic proximity to him if I made it into that batch of youth development positions.

However, it’s more likely that I’ll get my assignment after the December 1st positions open up. Those are mostly for English teaching positions. That means I’d be leaving sometime next fall.

The Peace Corps is all about being flexible. So, I have to be flexible if my recruiter were to push my leave date back to the spring of 2013. The Obama Administration expanded the Peace Corps budget, but with the current government financial crisis, the funding was cut down again. Thus, the Peace Corps made more positions because the organization was supposed to expand, but because the expansion didn’t really happen, it nominated more volunteers than it has positions for now. Some of these volunteers are still willing to go, so their spots have to be filled before spots like mine – who just applied – are filled.

The next step of the application process is to get an actual letter and e-mail from my recruiter about being nominated. I believe they usually send this 3-4 weeks after the interview to tell you if you were nominated or not. I don’t have to wait anxiously for this though because nominated me at the interview! The nomination letter will give me an idea of the project I’ll be working on and geographic region I’ll be in. I know the project I’ll be doing, but geographic region is still a question mark. English teaching positions are predominately in Central Asia and Eastern Europe.

Then I’ll get a HUGE packet of medical and dental work I’ll need to get done (x-rays, samples and all that). THEN, if I pass medical and legal, I’ll get my actual invitation – exact country, community and project and leave date.

I set aside this whole year after City Year for my Peace Corps leave date, so I’ll just have to be as patient as I can be. I plan to move home and work at a restaurant, save money, then go when they tell me to go. If I have to wait until next spring, I’ll live.

I had a little break down on Friday at work. It’s so surreal that I could be living in a whole new country as quickly as nine months from now. Another way to put it: I was OVERWHELMED. I refuse to leave this country without some of my closest friends not being a part of my life.

I told my recruiter that I know for a fact my relationship with my friends from home won’t change during the 2 1/2 years I’m gone and that’ll be a motivation for my service abroad. I know we’ll pick up exactly where we left off. Just one promise you guys: NO WEDDINGS WHILE I’M GONE. SERIOUSLY. WAIT FOR ME!

That’s all for now. This might have been my longest post yet… sorry!



Here’s me at the Peace Corps Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The dream has become a reality!

Opening day at Los Angeles City Hall

All 210 Corps Members by cityyear
All 210 Corps Members, a photo by cityyear on Flickr.

Here’s a picture of all 210 corps members serving this year in middle and elementary schools in Watts, South Los Angeles (NEVER NEVER DOUBT), Pico-Union and Boyle Heights. Mayor Villaraigosa and LAUSD Supt. John Deasy spoke. It was great to hear Dr. Deasy’s remarks about our service and how appreciative he is that we are serving in the toughest LAUSD schools. Since this is Dr. Deasy’s first City Year as superintendent, CYLA gave him a yellow jacket to wear proud and in honor of all the corps members who have served previously, currently and will in the future.

All the corps members had to stand the whole time, so needless to say, my feet are tired from my timbz.

When the MCs introduced the teams at the ceremony, the teams had to shout a call-back. Ours, of course, is the loudest (and probably obnoxious one). Who’s lookin’ fly, who’s lookin’ fly? MARKHAM’S LOOKIN’ SO FLY! Who’s soaring high, who’s soaring high? EAGLES SOARIN’ SO HIGH! One-two-three CY!

My team is amazing and we have bonded so well that we’ve come to realize we are THAT team. THAT obnoxious team that’s always shouting, laughing or goofing around. It’s a good and bad thing. This blog won’t even give me justice to describe how much I love my team, team leaders and program manager. So, I’ll shut up and try not to be THAT corps member getting all sappy because we’re already THAT team.

A week five post will be published this weekend.

It’s the WEEKEND!

Yours truly,

Liz, a proud, Oh SO proud, Markham corps member.