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Week 24: SPONSORED!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Good night,
Liz

Finding the beauty in Watts: community matters

One of my co-workers, who works at the feeder elementary school to Markham, has a 3rd grade student in her class who recently lost her 22-year-old brother. The student’s brother, Arturo, was shot by sheriffs eight times in the back. The LA Times hasn’t reported much, which isn’t surprising because South LA, especially Watts, is neglected in mainstream media.

On Sunday, my teammate Charlotte and I ventured out to Watts to meet one of my students at his dad’s street carnitas cart (if you are wondering what carnitas are, they’re pig stomach. And yes, I ate it; I’m preparing myself for all the odd things I will have to eat in the Peace Corps).

My student gave us a tour around his part of the neighborhood and his elementary school, which brought us to stumble upon a car wash and a quesadilla sale for Arturo’s family. We got my car washed and talked to Arturo’s family (and even saw some Markham students!)

I talked to his cousin for a little, giving my condolences and expressing my frustration with the situation too. Even if Arturo may have possessed a gun (as mentioned in the LAT article) and ran from the sheriffs, but if he didn’t aim it at them, does that really call for being shot in the back multiple times until he drops dead? Does anyone deserve that? Isn’t authority only supposed to shoot only if a suspect aims at them? The weird part about this whole story too is that Watts is under Los Angeles Police Department jurisdiction, not the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department. I hate how unjust society can be. I don’t even care if he was part of a gang or not; we’re all humans.

With that said, what gets to me the most about any community violence like this is that a City Year student – whether he or she attends one of the two elementary schools in the area or Markham – is always affected by it. My co-worker’s 3rd grade student lost her big brother. Can you even imagine dealing with something like this at that age?

“We can’t get sad about this kind of stuff. We have to just celebrate the time he was part of our lives.” -Arturo’s cousin

This community sees incidents like this on the regular. Although sometimes it does ignite more gang violence and revenge, most of the time there are humble people like this family. They are still proud of who they are and who they’ve known in their family – dead or alive. They come together for a common purpose. And that’s the beauty of Watts.

I’ve found out that Arturo was an uncle of one of the 8th grade Markham students we know. He said they raised A LOT of money selling quesadillas and washing cars Friday-Sunday for the memorial service. Not only did Arturo have a 3rd grade baby sister, but he also had a two month old son. The student said the Sheriffs Department has to pay for half of the funeral and the family plans to sue for justice.

“No amount of money will bring him back.” -Markham student

Breaks my heart.

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20120311-211206.jpg The Lizana Banana getting so fresh ‘n so clean by the Jordan Downs Housing Projects

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