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Posts tagged ‘service’

Remember “that one kid” I told ya about?

After I edited his stories, he rewrote them into a new notebook I gave him. He decorated the cover – how neat, right?! I wasn’t even expecting that.


I think that’s supposed to be both of us; I’m always doing library stuff on my computer when he comes to see me

The stories are the same, just with some grammar and punctuation changes from my editing.

Then I read this:

“Miss Mathebula this is for you now. Thanks to believe me about these stories, other people don’t believe me. Miss you’re the best person in my school. And you’re kind of like my mom. Give me a name that you like best.”

Awwwwwwwwwwwwww – awww, aww, aww. Once again, it’s the little things that show me why I’m here – even if it’s just editing a kid’s stories during my free time. May I add – I unexpectedly play the “mama role” again in my service work.

So, what English name did I decide to name him? I had to hold back from naming him after my favourite American author, J.D. Salinger or fictional character Holden Caulfield. Salinger is a recluse and a very strange man, but a brilliant writer. Then, there’s my favourite fictional character, Holden Caulfield of the Catcher in the Rye. Slight problem: probably shouldn’t name him after a love-or-hate controversial American writer or my dog, Holden the pug. Slash that thought.

After consulting with my English major and literature loving friend Lauren, we decided to go with Ralph. I wanted to name him after a famous and brilliant American author – something that he’ll remember throughout his school years. Ralph is related to two people: of course, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Ralph Ellison, the author of Invisible Man. I didn’t want to name him after just a white guy because he needs to know that there are famous black authors out there too.

When he gets older and can understand such literature, he can read Emerson and or Ellison’s work and see why they are such valued authors in America. The themes of the works – especially Invisible Man – may resonate with American culture, but this kid is smart and will be smart enough to relate it to his life, eventually. I plan to give him a book or excerpts of these author’s written work when I leave in a long year and a half from now.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz

Happy MLK Day from South Africa

“Everybody can be great…because anybody can serve. You don’t need a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – February 4, 1968

Everybody can serve, regardless of who you are and where you come from. Remember that service entails giving back to others, whether that is painting a mural at a school like my friends at City Year or something simple like picking up trash. It doesn’t have to be something as big as a two-year commitment with the Peace Corps. Service is anything that will help benefit humanity and bring equality and peace to this world. Thanks for the great words, Dr. King.

Although I may not be with City Year serving on MLK Day like last year, I did my part by teaching my 5th grade English class here in South Africa. It’s not a day off, but a day on!

What have you done to honor Dr. King’s legacy?

Week 22: people who give a damn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-Ms. Lizard

Week 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.”

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reporting live from Woodcraft Manor,



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


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

Ms. Liz, do you have any coloring sheets?

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

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


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



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

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


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

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

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


-Ms. Liz

Yes, my blogging is getting somewhere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Week nine: reporting from the trenches

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What did I learn from this experience?

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

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

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


Boo! Happy Halloween from Jigsaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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