Today team Foster Hope worked at the Madden Campus of Maryville Academy. This specific campus is for teenage girls and young women who are pregnant or parenting. In the morning, half of our team (myself included) painted one of the lunch rooms. Before we painted, the walls were marked up and chipped; the room really needed a fresh coat of paint. Every time a staff member walked by, they always seemed genuinely excited that someone was finally reprinting the walls. It was nice to see tangible evidence of the impact we were making at Maryville and to know that this work would last for a long time. In the afternoon, I did some research for one of the Maryville staff members. Every day, the girls at the shelter have a lesson on some sort of skill; sometimes these lessons are parenting related, other times they’re related to self-care. During my research, I was looking for articles and information that could be used for these kinds of lessons. The woman, Mary, who usually does this has a lot of other responsibilities at the shelter and it was nice to know that I was alleviating some of her work load so that she could focus more energy on completing the many other important tasks she does. It’s also really nice to know that they have classes like these. It’s obvious that the Maryville staff cares about their girls; they want to make sure they are well prepared when they have to leave the shelter.

       Although I really felt like the work I did made a huge impact at Maryville, I do wish I had gotten to interact with the girls and their babies some more. Hearing from my team members who got to do art projects with the girls in the morning and play games with them in the afternoon was wonderful. I loved hearing the enthusiasm my team members had for what they did during the day and it sounded like everyone, including the girls and the Maryville staff, was having a great day. I was speaking with one staff member at the end of the day and she seemed so impressed that the girls had opened up to us so much. One of them mentioned that this was the most they had heard the girls laugh in a long time. Even though I wasn’t directly a part of this, hearing that made me feel so fulfilled. I was nervous at first that we wouldn’t really be making an impact at Maryville, but after today, I realize that we already have.

“Me, We”

After beginning our second day in New York with a short video (Changing Education Paradigm) and untangling a human knot, Team Super headed to The Studio Museum of Harlem. Out of all the exhibits, I found a piece entitled “Me, We” to be the most intriguing. It featured neon lights with the words “Me” and “We” mirroring each other. To me, this piece represents how each individual is part of a larger community. Every “me” is part of a larger “we.” I think the exhibit relates very closely to ASB’s mission of creating community awareness and civic engagement. It is important for us as individuals to remember that we are part of a larger community and that all of our actions impact the greater community in some way. Following our museum visit, the team watched the movie Freedom Writers, a powerful story about a high school teacher who was able to create a passion for learning among struggling students in an urban high school.

Tomorrow, we get to meet two Lafayette ASB alum. I’m so excited to hear their stories and see the lasting impact that ASB has had on their lives. I’m especially looking forward to meeting one of the alum who has experience in both public and charter schools in NYC. It will be interesting to hear about the differences between the two types of schools.

I’m really looking forward to finally getting to Brilla on Tuesday. After months of preparation, we are finally here! The team worked really hard creating our “in-school field trips” and I can’t wait to see the plans come to life!

Home from Chicago

This past week has been one of the greatest experiences of my life in many ways. Our ASB team began the week in Chicago in typical tourist fashion. We spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday braving the cold and exploring the city, stopping to take many group pictures along the way. These two days provided the group with an opportunity to bond before we began our direct service – and bond we did! It was evident from the very beginning of the trip that there was no better group of people to share a week of meaningful service with. On Sunday night, I went to sleep unbelievably excited to start my week of service the next morning.

First thing Monday morning, the group headed to Northwestern Settlement, the settlement house that provided us with an abundance of great opportunities to serve. The morning was dedicated to a brief history of the settlement house, an overview of all of the services they provide to the community, and a quick tour. It was evident from the moment we entered the building that the people of Northwestern Settlement were some of the most generous and empathetic people I had ever met. Their philosophy that “everyone is a neighbor” really shined through. Their warm hearts were evident from the way they welcomed us and the way they treated each other. We spent the afternoon helping AmeriCorp’s Project YES! with a Martin Luther King Jr. Literacy Day. It was a wonderful opportunity to help show students of all ages and their parents that reading can be exciting!

On Tuesday, we got to see Rowe Elementary School, which educates students from kindergarten through sixth grade, for the first time. We spent the majority of our time at Rowe learning about their mission as a charter school. The Rowe Elementary teachers and staff quite obviously care deeply about the future of their students. Each child is called a “scholar,” the classrooms are all named after colleges and universities, and the different grade levels go by the year in which they will potentially graduate from a four-year college. While I do think that such a strong emphasis on college at such a young age puts a lot of pressure on the students, I also believe that it is important to engrain the idea of college in their heads. The majority of these students come from families where nobody has attended college. Without the encouragement of Rowe, a lot of these students would probably grow up believing that college is not a possibility for them. I think it is important that Rowe teachers not only tell students that they CAN get into and graduate from four-year college, but they also show students that they should have high goals for themselves that they can achieve if they work hard. Rowe Elementary also places an emphasis on social-emotional learning. I think that this is an important aspect of learning, especially for younger students, that many school systems have completely removed from the curriculum. Rowe starts off every day with an extensive greeting during which students engage in guided conversations with one another. Every day closes with a brief reflection on the day. Students also attend one enrichment class (such as drama, physical education, or yoga) every day. I think that it is very important that the teachers not only fills their students with factual knowledge, but also encourage their students to seek self-knowledge, develop passions, and explore meaningful ways of self-expression.

The next day, we went back to Rowe Elementary in the morning. I was placed in a third grade classroom. While I was in class, I got to observe a brief lesson on poetry. Then, the students got to write poetry on their own. I was instructed to walk around the classroom, answering any questions students might have and helping everyone include line breaks in their poems while the teacher helped a small group of students who needed extra help. The students were instructed to write about something from their “hearts;” they had previously drawn maps of their hearts, including everything that was important to them. It was amazing to see the different passions that each of the students had. Two stories that I heard stood out to me the most: one student shared with me that her dad had abused her and I was very grateful to learn that she no longer lived with him; another student was writing a poem about his father who had been shot and killed. The ease with which these students told me these things that I perceived as tragic blew my mind. Then I realized that this was, sadly, the reality of the world in which they lived. Things that I could never imagine happening in my lifetime happened to these kids every day. Suddenly, the passion that these students had for learning and the care and encouragement that the teachers gave to them became immensely more meaningful. Without this school, students would have no safe place to explore and develop who they are and who they want to become.

Later on Wednesday, we went back to Northwestern Settlement and helped out with the food pantry for a while. The generosity of the people who worked there completely blew me away. Not only did the food pantry workers give out food to those who came for it, but they also had genuine conversations with every individual about his or her life. If there was something that they needed help with, the food pantry workers helped them. If they couldn’t help, they found somebody else who could. They were always sure that every single person had everything they needed. After the food pantry, we headed back to Rowe Elementary for an after school program. Dean McKnight, Emily, and I were placed in a kindergarten classroom where we led games and kept the students company while they waited for their parents to pick them up.

On Thursday, we went to our team leader, Yanel’s, charter high school, Noble Street College Prep. In the morning, the students were taking practice ACTs, so Jeff and I helped the English teacher we were assigned to with things he needed done around the classroom. (I got to cut more strips of paper than I ever imagined.) After lunch, we got to help out during classes. At the end of every class, the teacher set aside 10 minutes for the students to ask us any questions they had about college. They were all anxious to learn about our college experiences. It was obvious that these students were all motivated to succeed. The environment of support that Noble provided for the students was shocking. The principal informed us that, as far as he knows, four different Chicago gangs are represented in the school. Based on how well-behaved the students were in the classroom and in the hallways, I never would have guessed that. The amount of support that the teachers gave to the students and the students gave to one another was astonishing. In one class I observed, the whole class would break out in “snaps” to celebrate an exceptional answer. It is so important that Noble provides such a safe and supportive environment to these students who would likely be stuck in a dangerous, failing public school if it weren’t for the dedication and hard work of the Noble teachers.

On our last day of service, Friday, we got to help out with the HeadStart Program, a federally-funded program that provides pre-K to families in need. I got to help out with two half-day classes. The one thing that I experienced that meant the most to me on Friday was the bond that I shared with one girl in particular. She speaks mostly and Spanish and I speak not a word of Spanish, and yet I could still tell that my presence meant a lot to her. She would always gesture that she wanted to sit next to me and play with me. It was amazing to me that even though we don’t speak the same language, she could see that I really cared about her and all of the other students. The students in HeadStart are very lucky to be there. The program provides 3, 4, and 5 year olds with social and educational opportunities that will help them excel in elementary school. Without HeadStart, they would likely not have the skills that they need in order to meet or exceed expectations in kindergarten. The dedication that the HeadStart teachers had to their students was also apparent. They taught most lessons bilingually, so that all students could understand. They also placed an emphasis on creativity through art and dance. I think that the teachers are doing phenomenal work to provided these students with the tools to succeed when they move on to kindergarten.

I was very blessed this week to explore two schools and a pre-K program that are doing great work in the field of education. I believe that every single student I interacted with will succeed thanks to the dedication of the teachers and the structure of the schools which they are lucky enough to attend.

Unfortunately, not all schools are as successful as the schools with which I had the opportunity of working. I strongly believe that the education system needs to be fixed. Schools such as Rowe Elementary and Noble Street College Prep and other successful charter (and even public) schools can provide great models for the education of the rest of the country. I believe that if we pour enough time and resources into educational reform, we will see more successful students doing great things to better the world. If we fix the education system from the very youngest, providing even pre-schoolers with opportunities such as HeadStart, eventually, all of our problems will be solved. These students are the future. And if we provide all students with similar opportunities to those I observed this week, then the future will be brighter than it has ever been.

After this week, I intend to keep learning about what makes schools successful and what makes schools unsuccessful, and I will advocate for education reform.

ASB Newark

Today was my third (and final) day of working at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark, New Jersey, and I am not looking forward to leaving. On the first day of the trip, I was a bit apprehensive. I’ve always been shy and I was worried about bonding with my team and making friends with the other volunteers. I was also nervous that I wouldn’t know what to do with the kids, or that I wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation with any of them. After the first day, all of my fears were relieved. The kids were fantastic, and I already felt like I was bonding with my Lafayette ASB team and the other volunteers. My patience was tested in more ways than one, but overall, it was a learning experience and a fantastic day.

During my second day, I felt like I really bonded more with the children. I saw some familiar faces and met some new kids. Overall, I felt more comfortable then I did the day before. I had a better idea of what to expect and got the gist of how the program is run. I was able to hold meaningful conversations with a lot of the kids and give them reassurance and positive encouragement that they didn’t seem to be getting from many other people in their lives. I got to talk to more of the kids who I hadn’t gotten the chance to speak with the day before, and by the end of the day, I had a nickname…”2 Chainz.”  I got to play pool, paint in the art room, and get destroyed in multiple arcade games. I also felt more comfortable being myself and opening up to other volunteers, both from Lafayette and from other places.

Yesterday, I got the chance to do a different type of service. I spent the day on Staten Island doing Hurricane Sandy relief work through the organization Tunnels to Towers. The story behind the founding of this organization was truly inspirational. I spent the day putting up sheet rock for the walls of the home of an 82 year old woman whose home was completely destroyed by the storm. It was amazing to see the damage that was done. Windows were shattered, debris was still everywhere, and tops of miscellaneous houses were in others’ backyards. It was amazing to see the damage that was done and to hear stories about how little aid some families and individuals were offered. I’m very glad I got the chance to experience something a little bit different.

I am very sad that today was my last day of service. I absolutely loved this week. I’ve built so many relationships with people. I’m so glad I got to bond with the children and hear about their experiences. I’m also so happy that I got to know my ASB team so well and make friends with new people who I wouldn’t have met if it weren’t for this experience.