I wish we could have had internet in Appalachia, to share our experiences each day, but at the same time I think that the time away from excessive technological stimilation made the trip more intensive and helped me be truly present to the experience.

Appalachia Service Project, our community partner organization, is committed to providing opportunities that include both construction projects and the development of Christian relationships. While the ASB club has no religious affiliation, the emphasis on the relationship portion of the community engagement experience was a truly important part of our trip.

Our team was paired with a family, a couple and four young boys. The family has had problems with mold, because there is is hill that goes right into the side of their house, so the moisture and water is directed towards their home. The children sleep on low beds and suffer from asthma; the mold is particularly bad for their medical condition. The Appalachia Service Project has a variety of projects planned for this problem, but our team is phase 1: get rid of the source of the mold. We dug a ditch the length oth their home, 6 feet wide and 2-3 feet deep. We then layed out and mixed cement, to make a form that now reinforces the foundation of the house. We also build a retaining wall, using cement blocks, and then mixing and pouring cement for the wall. It was a lot of hands on work! Most of the service work that I have engaged in previously has focused on interacting with another person, tutoring, mentoring, wherein the service itself involves relating to people. In our direct service, we related to the earth (lots of digging), our own bodies (lots of aches and use of strength), and our own ingenuity in problem solving an strategizing the construction over the course of the project. It was a really unique experience for me to challenge my physical capabilities, for a reason more than just my personal health.

The relationships we formed with the family were really special. The first two days of our project were muddy and rainy, so we didn’t want to go into the home and get it dirty, and the children couldn’t come out to play with us.  When we finally did get to connect with the kids on Wednesday, it made the project completely different, and for me it changed how I felt about the project. In our Monday orTuesday night reflection, we had a really insightful conversation about issues in poor rural communities – education, health, and the affects of capitalism and consumerism on communities like Jonesville. When we began to interact with the family, it made these issues more complex. Perhaps there are overarching themes in the issues, but the personal stories and personal  connections have made me think that the solutions to community challenges might not be so simple to summarize.

On our final night of reflection, I introduced a quote to the group, a concept that an economics professor of mine once talked about and really struck me: “there are 2 possible worlds: the one that sucks and the one that sucks more.” In the world that “sucks,” the world moves along according to technological innovation, which promotes the potential for higher standards of living for many, but leaves poor rural communities behind. The world that “sucks more”, according to an economist, might be the one in which we choose to stagnate technological innovation in order to include communities that would otherwise be left behind, in the economy. This world “sucks more” because there is less economic progress. This rural poverty experience made me think about these 2 options. I happen to think there must be a 3rd, an option that minimizes suffering and maximizes comfort in a way that does not leave whole communities behind.

When Life Gives You Lemons…

Thursday was our final day of service working with the Center City Charter Schools. It was bittersweet walking the hallways, bustling with the mirth of students for the last time. I knew, however, that my team members and I had done our part, and a new project was awaiting us at the Boys and Girls Club.

Like the prior day, we were divided among the classrooms at the Trinidad campus and assigned to teachers of different grade levels. Having already experienced the atmosphere of  one class-year the day before, upon arriving at Trinidad our group quickly dispersed throughout the building based on the age group of each person’s choice. Still a bit puzzled by the layout of the school, I hesitantly climbed the flight of stairs and located the  Spanish teacher’s office. Hoping to spend my morning facilitating lessons in Spanish and interacting with the kids in another language, I was slightly disappointed when I was she explained to me that she only had two classes and that my time would be better spent with another teacher. Not knowing where else to go, I begrudgingly trudged my way back to where I had been on Wednesday, the fourth grade class.

Before I elaborate any further, I want to make it clear that the students in the fourth grade class were wonderful. I was impressed by how welcoming they were, especially to a complete stranger such as myself. Each pupil had such a passion eagerness to learn that I only wish I possessed at their age . My reluctance to re-visit the fourth grade has nothing to do with the students, but was entirely due to my opinion of their teacher.

As highlighted in “Waiting for Superman,” there is a term used to describe incompetent teachers who, despite being ineffective educators, have tenure and therefore remain in the system. These teachers, collectively called lemons, reinforce the negative stereotype of the “bad teacher.”

Yesterday had been disheartening. The teacher had spent the entire day complaining about how “difficult” her job is and criticizing her students. In reality, she didn’t do any teaching, and ended the class period by giving the kids “quiet time.” The fourth graders were instructed to put their head down and rest, while the teacher relaxed in the back of the room and showed me pictures in her wedding book. To my alarm she even instructed one student to bring her her purse from her desk so she could look for her cell phone.

After what I had witnessed the day before, it was hard to believe that I wasn’t in the midst of a lemon, but for the sake of the fourth graders I desperately wanted to believe that the teacher simply had a bad day. Sitting in on her the class for the second day in the row, I realized that I wasn’t mistaken. Although the teacher was on better behavior, under her poor direction the class wasn’t taught.

Now, more than ever, I understand the influence of a teacher on a child’s education. Equally important to monetary funding in providing  reform in  America’s public schools is that  each classroom is lead by a quality educator.


Hey everyone!

So today we went to the Congress Heights Campus Center City Charter School.  One of the teachers at yesterday’s school had told us that this was in a rougher area, but we did not get to interact much with the kids while there today because we organized their library all day.  This experience was similar to our experience on Sunday of having the opportunity to clean the playroom for more experienced volunteers who have a rapport with the children, and can make more of an impact with them, in reflection we talked about how we were glad to be able to facilitate these dedicated volunteers’ in their service, and how important this ‘indirect’ service, that may not be as gratifying immediately, really is.

We spent the entire day on computers looking up books and organizing them into reading levels, which involved teamwork, and a lot of work, but we were glad to do it, as the kind librarian told us, we saved her about two weeks of doing it by herself! Whereas the 10 of us could get it done in the six hours we were there! The people at the Congress Heights school were so hospitable to us and really appreciated our help.

Today at the Boys’ and Girls Club we had more kids, so that was a lot of fun to really have the opportunity for a lot of us to really get the chance to interact and really have a lot of fun with them. We played hangman, parachuting games, ball games, basketball, colored bookmarks, coloring, and got to meet and talk to a lot of different kids.

I really appreciate that we get to see so many different sites and how so many different ones run differently, but I almost wish that we could stay at one Charter School all week and one Boys’ and Girls Club, so that we could really get to know these children and bond with them, instead of learning new names every day.  I think part of this is the Boys’ and Girls Clubs and Charter Schools, though they always seem appreciative of our help, I hear from the organizing side many of them did not want to commit to having our volunteers all week, so perhaps this is not possible.

I really appreciate the way this trip has been able to combine direct and indirect service.  Yesterday’s experience at the Brightwood Campus Charter School was really informative, and really gave us a lot to think about after watching ‘Waiting for Superman’ about the difficulty of teaching, and really made us a whole lot more realistic about how challenging and all-encompassing and consuming that job really is, as many of us got the experience of being a teacher’s aide, and actually TEACHING and being responsible for children, where we may have felt a little over our heads, but we really got a feel for what that is like. Sunday and today’s experience’s of organizing the library and cleaning and organizing the playroom really gave us the opportunity to see how much work goes into these programs behind the scenes, and to appreciate that, and gave us the opportunity to help.

I really think that this combination of direct and indirect service is invaluable to the trip and should not be changed, but makes the trip a much more holistically educational experience.

Books and Games

Today we went to Congress Heights Charter School. At this site we organized boxes upon boxes of books that the school had just received. Books ranged from Pre-K to 8th grade reading levels and our group had fun organizing and reminiscing about the favorite books of our own childhoods. The reading specialist, Ms.Brown conveyed her appreciation sincerely upon our completion of the daunting task. She explained that had we not volunteered our time, it would have taken her two weeks to organize the books alone. It was a productive indirect service and I think that our efforts went a long way. During reflection our group discussed that we felt very appreciated by both the reading assistant and the school principal. They went as far as to order lunch for us and bring us candy during the day. They really conveyed how much then appreciated our help.

This afternoon was our second and last afternoon at the Boys and Girls Club: Butler-Wyatt Clubhouse 2. We had more kids today and had a great time playing with them. We played with the parachute, pulse, and shake your booty. I think that the games really helped bridge gaps between kids and volunteers and helped everyone get to know each other in a fun environment. Something that really touched me at the Boys and Girls Club today was the fact that a few alumni visited. The fact that they chose to spend their free time volunteering shows what an influence the program had on their lives. I was glad to see them interacting with the younger kids and being positive role models for them.

Today was a great day of service and I look forward to tomorrow!


Hi everybody!

Yesterday (Sunday) we did our first service project at Children’s Playtime Project where we cleaned a playroom for children who live in this homeless shelter. We re-organized and sanitized the playroom in two hours and were excited about how much we accomplished. We worked with two volunteers that have been with the project for years and their dedication to the project was evident. We walked to Capitol Hill and went to the Museum of Natural History.

Today (Monday) we traveled to the Brightwood Campus of Center City Charter Schools, which was founded three years ago. We were each assigned a classroom where we acted as teacher aides and had different responsibilities. The kids were extremely welcoming and the teachers were appreciative of the help. I had the kindergarten class and loved the kids. The experience highlighted many of the themes covered in the documentary “Waiting for Superman,” which was amazing (Sam and I may have cried a lot).

In the afternoon, we went to the Boys and Girls Butler-Wyatt Club and although a lot of the kids were outside, we had a lot of fun we with the few kids who were inside. Caitlin D may have been crushed  in a chess game by an 11 year old. But he was an awesome chess player.

Jocelyn has been crutching around and is such a trooper despite her torn ACL. The days are really busy and we’re already delirious but we’ve been making good food, having a lot of laughs, and doing some really interesting service.

ASB DC 3/14/11

This morning our group was able to visit a local charter school, where we were split into individual classrooms. I was sent to the second grade, where I was able to bond with the children, many of whom had english as a second language and were behind due to their previous experience in a very nearby school which many had transferred from. In this school a young child’s jaw was broken in one of the many fights that often broke out. This was one of the numerous ” failing” schools or “drop-out factories” that our educational guru, Chandler, was able to tell us all about through the inspiring and revealing documentary – “Waiting for Superman”. I was very thankful that we were so informed about education in the United States before entering the charter schools this week, because it gave me a new perspective on the children’s ability level and statistical chances of going to college. I look forward to seeing how the other local schools compare as we experience them throughout the week and meet more children. We have been frequently discussing the affects of good and bad teachers, as well as having a motivator like a parental figure on children’s education. The boys and girl’s clubs provide a safe place for children between the hours of 3 and 6, the most dangerous time for youth and getting into trouble. I am interested in seeing the affects of these different organizations on the children in this economically depressed and academically struggling area.