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Posts tagged ‘peace corps nomination’

Peace Corps update: medical forms ready to be sent!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Week 13: tackling the English language

Lately, I’ve been wondering how I ever learned how to read and spell. I can’t remember what I was taught in elementary school, but I can say that it bewilders me how young children catch onto the English language. After sounding out words myself and trying to think of creative ways to teach my students the different sounds (and similar sounds) letters or letter pairings make, I now see just HOW difficult the English language is. A lot of the spelling rules don’t even make sense or are contradictory. I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to learn English as a second language.

As known, my students need spelling and reading work. I tried phonetic flash cards, but that led to be confusing for them. I tried taking all their misspelled words and writing them into sentences then having them correct and sound out misspelled words (Befor I go to school I have to mak a lunch because if I don’t I won’t have food to eat at lunch time. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are my favorit).

They were able to catch the mistakes, but still couldn’t spell them right. That’s when I saw my plan for interventions for these students really wasn’t going to work and whether I liked it or not, I had to take a step back and try teaching the sounds of English again. No amount of worksheets or me telling them how to spell words is not going to make any difference.

Yup, I’ve been completely overwhelmed. How am I going to teach these kids? I haven’t been trained to teach English (which will change during Peace Corps training). I haven’t taken any English teaching classes. I can’t even understand how I know how to spell.

What a daunting task…

That’s when I saw my team leader Lauren buried away in a bunch of envelopes at her desk on Wednesday. She started showing flash cards to another corps member. I curiously walked over and asked what they were doing. Oh my gosh, Ms. Lauren was showing Ms. Charlotte the system she used to teach one of her 2nd graders last year in Washington D.C. how to read! Christmas officially has come early.

20111203-135037.jpg This system is a year’s worth of work compiled into one box. Lauren read books about educational theory and saw that photonetics was a good starting point. Photonetics, in summary, is teaching phonetics with pictures. Students learn that just like how there can be many different pictures of flowers – or whatever – there can also be various sounds the same letters can make.

For example, the students will have to hear a word like “pat” then “cat” etc. then the sound will be changed to “pot”, “mop”, etc. They have to construct the words with letter pieces. This is called “auditory processing.” Then, students are given a longer word with the sounds in it that they learned and have to construct the word by looking at a picture of what the word is. When they’re ready, they’ll move from the basic sounds of the English language to words that blend the sounds of consonants. Then, they’ll learn two consonant sounds (th, ck, sh) and move onto words that have a mix of the consonant-constonant-vowel-consonant, vowel-consonant-consonant, consonant-vowel-consonant-constant. Then, they’ll be ready to name words after viewing flash cards of “almost every sound in the English language.”

In-between levels, I can play bingo with the students by reading out a sound then they’ll have to match a word on the board with the sound.

We call this system “You be Readin’ by Young Greenie”

(disclaimer: sorry, might have explained this wrong. I plan to work out kinks as I go and ask Lauren for advice)
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Lauren presenting this seriously took a weight off of my shoulders. I now have guidance on how to actually teach the language (side note: I’m grateful to have such amazing team leaders that can help me with stuff like this!) “They” (yes, I’m breaking every journalism rule by writing something that I can’t attribute…sorry about it) say that many children have a knack for reading by being surrounded by words everywhere they go. However, in places like Watts where there is not many words around the neighborhood, or if they are they are in Spanish on billboards and what not, which means our students may not have been exposed to English words so quickly as other young children).

Although it will take time, this year will prep me for English teaching in the Peace Corps!

Other than wrapping my mind around these interventions for my students, things have still been pretty calm at Markham. Sure, there’s been the occasional fights, but MY students have been pretty mild lately. That’s subject to change because my trouble student, who I’ve written previously about in this blog, was officially switched from my classes. Last week, he knocked on the door in the middle of instruction, stormed in class and told the teacher to “f off and she’s an f-ing liar” (trust me, when this happened my teacher and I gave each other the “Did that SERIOUSLY just happen?” look). He’s now in another City Year classroom with my roommate Daniel so I told him he’s not getting off easy and now has two City Years watching his behavior.

Just when I thought things would be easier now that this student isn’t in our class anymore, I was wrong. A girl version of this student switched into the classes I work in. I’m giving her time to warm up, but we’ll have to see where this switcharoo takes me.

We started a new program after-school for our City Year Scholars that we refer to as the “challenge packet.” Each student who doesn’t have homework after school receives a packet and a little eagle to decorate and put on a poster that has different levels they can move their eagle to (and soar to new heights…cliche). When they complete the packet, they’ll get a big prize, then they’ll start a new packet. The challenges are really creative. For example, students can: write a diary entry from the perspective of a historical figure, create a vacation advertisement for foreign country, etc. Most of the students are so far receptive to this, so yay for learning!

Lastly, my Life After City Year (LACY plan) has been sneaking up on me recently. On December 1st (last Thursday), Peace Corps volunteer spots opened up around the world. Every three months volunteer spots open up. The next step after the spots open up is for your recruiter to nominate you for that spot, then I’m assuming it’s somehow decided at headquarters in Washington D.C. what nominee gets the spot (question mark). I applied in time to be nominated for this opening pool, but my recruiter warned me that there’s still a lot of people ahead of me because of budget cuts, which means I could be pushed back to March 1st nominations. I emailed my recruiter this week and she said she’ll be in touch with me in December. I’m not sure what that means, but of course I’m hoping for the best and that I got a fall 2012 nomination. After getting a nomination I’ll be able onto the intense medical packet and will be one step closer to my new foreign home! Patience is the name of the game, so if I have to wait until spring, I’ll be okay. I’m still just living off the thought and excitement that I will be going eventually and will wait as long as I have to.

Speaking of the Peace Corps, last week I woke up to a comment on my blog from the author of the Unofficial Peace Corps Handbook (the book I read so religiously this summer). He left me some very motivational comments and said that the Peace Corps will be lucky to have me. Hearing something like that just makes me so happy and thrilled to be serving now and ready to serve later. I appreciate that others appreciate the work done by (and the work to be done in the future) those who dedicate years of their lives to service. Updates on the Peace Corps will be published on this blog as soon as they come.

Check my latest article on GOOD “A City Education” Series:

  • Bringing Together the Communities We Serve
  • Noteworthy pictures of the last two weeks: Markham and Woodcraft Manor Swag

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    My roommates Molly, Marissa and I at the USC v UCLA game last weekend, reppin’ USC in a sea of Bruins on our team…

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    A Trojan and Bruin living together under one roof… Wait, what? Rivalries commence! Another roommate Bret and I at the game.

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    Happy birthday to my teammate Charlotte!

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    Reporting from Central Illinois (I’m here for a wedding… No wind chill factor = loving the cold weather!)

    Liz

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

    Liz Warden, Corps Member

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Just another day at Markham Middle School.

    Week eight: we’re all in this together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Happy Halloween!
    Liz

    “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