Friday, May 24, 2013

meet the girls

I realized the other day that since this blog is private (you have to have the link to view it), I can upload pictures of the kiddos to it! I'm bummed I haven't been doing that all year, but oh well.  Meet the lovely ladies that I've been working with all year!

Amari decided to one day just take my phone and have a photo shoot....

Then Kayla joined in

and then they wanted me in there

I was trying to take a picture of this group during lunch but Artevious wasn't having it.

Then she got us all laughing

Artevious went from being camera shy to being the center of attention...

Erika and Kayla have won a huge part of my heart this year

Erika makes coming to school every day worth it

One of the coolest, most inspiring young ladies I've ever met

and this wild diva has me laughing every day.  Pure joy.

This is my life.  These girls keep me coming back for more every day.  I'm going to miss their crazy, sassy selves so much next year.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

the research project

Ever since FCAT finished, the students at Jackson have been working on this "cross-curricular" research project.  Every student is required to pick a controversial topic, research the topic, write a paper and present it in front of their classmates.  It didn't really end up being cross-curricular, except that they were allowed to work on it in all of their classes.  This might not seem like that big of a deal for most people, but these kids have never done anything close to it.  When it was rolled out to them, the reactions were priceless.  Papers were thrown everywhere, people were moaning like they were in physical pain, and the looks of disbelief were unreal.

Fast forward three weeks and times have changed.  Most students are extremely excited about their topics.  Since they got to choose their own topics, they've been really into composing their argument which is so fun to see.  One of my girls is doing a paper on whether natural or hospital birth is better for women.  A lot of the boys are doing whether or not college athletes should get paid. Their papers are definitely not the most articulate or scholarly, but it's been a really good experience for them.  If they do this paper every year, I'm hopeful that by the  time the freshmen graduate, they'll have some awesome research. Plus, they'll be able to really develop a strong argument, which is a definite struggle for them right now.

One of my students, Jazmin, has been a rockstar this week with her project.  Jazmin has a little bit of an attendance problem. And by a little, I mean, she missed 12 days in the third nine weeks, so not really that little.  It's only gotten worse after FCAT, so when she showed up this week, she didn't even have a topic chosen for her research project. I was freaking out for her, but she was cool as a cucumber.  She chose to write about how hip hop influences the black community. By Tuesday, she had found sources and done her note cards.  We worked for an hour in class on her outline and the finished it after school.  She wrote her rough draft today and gave it to me to edit.  When I gave it to her after school, she was like "I know what I'm doing right when I get home."  After working with her yesterday after school, I felt so good. She had worked for over two hours on just part of her outline and it was REALLY GOOD.  Better yet, she was really excited about her paper and the whole project. I'm really proud of her for not getting overwhelmed or frustrated by this project.  Most other students would have just given up, but she really tried and she's going to pull it off.  It's awesome.


City Year National Leadership Summit

I'm finally caught up on sleep from maybe the craziest, most action packed three days of this year. Joe, LaKeshia, Jay, Jeff (our new Executive Director) and I spent Monday through Wednesday in Washington, D.C. at City Year's National Leadership Summit.  The Summit brings together City Year champions, staff and corps members from across the country (and South Africa and the U.K.) for three days of programs centered around the dropout crisis and City Year's long term impact plan.  We had three of our board members with us, as well as our new Executive Director, our Start-Up Director, and LaKeshia, Joe and I.

LaKeshia picked us up at 8:00 on Monday morning and caught our flight at 10:00 in order to land in DC by noon.  The first part of the Summit started at four when Joe and I circled with all of the other corps members representing their sites.  It's always really cool to be with corps members from other sites and hear about what service is like in other places.  Afterwards, we headed to the Howard Theater where the night's festivities were going to take place.  When we got there, the theater had tables set up and assigned by site.  The theme for the night was "I Believe" and on each table there were pyramids with "I Believe" statements submitted by each corps member in attendance (including me).
"I believe that City Year gave me the opportunity to believe in myself and realize my own potential, the same thing I hope to give my students." -my "I Believe" statement

"I believe that the students I work with have had as profound an impact on me as I have had on them." -Joe Stafford

That night was a ton of fun.  Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, spoke about his long term plan for education in America, which is almost identical to City Year's.  There was also a performance by a high school chorus that was from one of the high schools that City Year serves in Columbus.  They were awesome.  They were by far the best part of the night.  They did a finale with a guy who was on the Voice, which was pretty cool.  As they were leaving, this one kid was taking selfies on the stage holding the rest of the chorus up.  It was so funny and so typical of high schoolers. It definitely had us laughing. After we got back to the hotel, Joe and I met up with a bunch of the other corps members at  a bar down the street.  All of staff was at the hotel bar, so we figured it'd probably be best to go somewhere else :)   Whenever corps members from all over get together, it's always wild.  Like I said, it's fun to hear about other people's service, plus, I got to reunited with a girl I served with in Boston who's now in Sacramento, which was awesome.

Tuesday, we were up early for breakfast before meeting the rest of our delegation.  There was a morning presentation with speeches from Michael Brown, the national CEO of City Year, Jim Balfanz, City Year's president, and the superintendent from Miami.  Michael Brown is always an awesome speaker and he obviously knows more than anyone on City Year.  The star of the show, though, was the superintendent from Miami.  He has turned that school system around and is one of City Year's biggest supporters.  He might have been my favorite part of the whole trip.  He was just so knowledgeable about everything and you could tell he didn't mess around.  He spoke about how there were many underperforming teachers when he came in within the first three months or so of being superintendent, he had not renewed 6,000 teacher contracts.  He means business.  At lunch, there was a panel of speakers from across the country and our superintendent, Dr. Vitti (love him!) was on the panel.  The New Site Development team also announced that we had been approved to officially be a site at the board meeting, so Joe ran in waving a huge CY Jacksonville flag.  Even though we have been in school all year, this was just a pilot year and next year it will be official.  All of our hard work has paid off.

Tuesday night, the corps members were given a guided tour around DC to see all of the monuments.  I absolutely love DC (well any major city actually), but to see the monuments at night is unreal.  They glow. It's awesome.  It was fun just to hang out with the corps members and be outside for the night. Then, of course, we all went out.  I was exhausted though and didn't last very long, but it was still a ton of fun. I met corps members who were from the U.K.  They are starting a site in Birmingham and were fascinated with start up. I was fascinated with their accents! hahah. So fun!

Wednesday, we were hitting the hill.  We had appointments with congressmen from our district in the morning and in the afternoon to tell them about City Year and get them to promote and vote for national service. We stopped by Marco Rubio's office to see if he was there, but he wasn't so we spoke to one of his representatives.  We had appointments with Corrine Brown (who lives right up Main Street from me!) and Bill Nelson.  Neither really had time to speak, but I did get to give my testimonial to Corrine Brown. I spoke about my little one who has made a ton of improvement this year after working with her. Michael Brown, the CEO, came with us, which was really cool. It was also really cool to hear him speak about City Year because he is so articulate and knowledgeable about it all. It definitely gave me some pointers for the next time I have to explain what City Year does.  I was able to talk about my student who I work with who has doubled her reading comprehension score and the relationship we have (funny side note: about the same time I was bragging about her to congressmen, she was getting a referral for shouting the F-word. Awesome.).  It was just an incredible experience being able to see above the ground level and actually lobby for something I'm really passionate about.

We left the hill around three thirty and headed back to the hotel to get our stuff and head to the airport.   We got to the airport really early, but it was fine.  I was so tired that I was barely able to keep my eyes open.  I slept almost the whole way home.  Overall, it was such an awesome experience. I really appreciated the fact that I got to go and be a part of it.  Getting to hear from people like superintendents and mayors was an extremely unique experience.  I wish that everyone could have come to the summit.

Joe and I looking great and making better happen.

Joe waving the flag after the announcement that Jacksonville is officially a site!

From Virginia Beach to JMU to City Year!

Boston Reunion

Sunday, May 12, 2013

just counting the days

I'm off to DC tomorrow for City Year's National Leadership Summit and it couldn't have come at a better time. I just finished probably the most (unnecessarily) stressful week of the year.  I'm really excited for the Summit.  All of the major donors for City Year will be there plus a bunch of staff and senior corps from around the country.  Pretty awesome. Plus, we get to go to all of the fancy dinners, talks, etc.

Anyways, this week was extremely stressful. On Wednesdays, I got to school and realized that the bracelet that Mike gave me in Guam was missing. I never take it off, so I began to panic.  I retraced my steps, went home during my lunch break to search my room and couldn't find it.  When I got home from work, I tore apart my room and house looking for it, with no avail. At that point, I had pretty much accepted that it was gone, although lots of prayers to Saint Anthony were still being made.  Luckily, Mike wasn't too upset and understood that it was an accident (thanks for that!).  Thursday, I was heading to my car and as I was walking, a little glimmer caught my eye.  I looked down at a pile of leaves and there was my bracelet! I guess all of those prayers worked! I walked back and forth the day before looking in that same spot, but the sun was out that day and there it was! I was so happy I wanted to cry! Needless to say, yesterday, I took it to a jeweler to get tightened because it was pretty loose before.

On top of that, my teacher was really strict with the students this week, to a point where he was kicking them out of class when they didn't even know why.  I had five students get referrals in a class of 20, all for things that they've gotten away with a million times. One of the students I work with every day got kicked out because she asked why she wasn't allowed to go with me (a valid question since she goes with me all of the time).  I didn't even understand what she did.  I also don't think he understands that it's my job to pull her and other students on my list out of class to work with them. It was so frustrating.  At one point, I had to leave the classroom because it was so overwhelming and frustrating. Students were asking me what they did and I couldn't even tell them.  I don't know what happened to make my teacher so strict.  He mentioned that one class was really talkative, but nothing that merited his behavior.

Add some stressful grad school stuff into the mix and you've got one stressful and crazy week.  Luckily, Mike has been in port all week, which has helped.  I'm grateful to be taking a little "vacation" away from Jacksonville for a few days to clear my head and refresh.  When I get back, there will only be three and a half weeks left of school and until Mike comes home!! At this point, I'm just counting the days....

I'll leave you with this quote my student yelled across the room to my teacher....

"Mr., you on your period?" -Amy after my teacher made her move seats and kicked four people out of class (little did she know she was going to get kicked out next).  Welcome to my life.

Friday, May 3, 2013

the Kentucky Derby

I'm an avid horse lover and horseback rider (when I'm home).  Horseback riding and time around horses is something I cherish greatly. It is one of my most absolute favorite things in the entire world.  I think about Fireball, the countless days spent at the barn and smile.

This being said, you would think I would love the Kentucky Derby.  It's a huge event dedicated to horses and horseback riding. I used to love the Derby.  My family used to draw names of horses and you would cheer for them, hoping that one of  "your" horses won. It was always a ton of fun.

Then one year, I watched a horse that was in line for the Triple Crown trip and fall. He had to be put down on the track due to a leg injury.  It was horrible. I cried.  The next year, another horse was injured  and I realized that this was becoming a pattern.  After reading and digging a little deeper, I was horrified to find out about all of the steroids that were being pumped into these horses, which were making them weaker and leading to a rise in injuries.  Some of these injuries were so bad, these horses were living with lifelong injuries or were having to be put down.  Basically, these injuries were hurting them more than they were helping.  Even if they weren't injured during their career, their lives after were less than enjoyable.   A lot of them were sold and lived in poor conditions where they were used to breed.

After this realization, I stopped watching the Kentucky Derby.  It's not fair to support this huge money making event that is just putting these animals in danger. I know it's a huge party day, and believe me, I would love to be there drinking Mint Julips and wearing a flowery sundress, but I think of the horses and how they have no say in any of it.  The image of the horse lying on the track won't leave and I can't help but get a little angry.  So,  I will not be watching the Kentucky Derby (or any major horse race) this year and I hope you will join me in supporting the horses this year, not the race.