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YES Day 8: Duds, Drumming, Dragons & Day Trip

The community partner who we were unable to connect with on the day we went to the skatepark was Zack Engler, who works with Chill Burlington. This organization makes it possible for kids who normally don’t get exposure to board sports (skiing, snowboarding, skateboarding, stand-up paddleboarding) an opportunity to get out and try. They provide the training and the equipment; all the students have to do is show up with a responsible adult.

This program is run through community partners, such as King Street Center. There has to be one adult for every five students who wish to participate, so volunteerism is extremely important. They also are the beneficiaries of several fundraisers, including the Color Run that takes place in the fall.

It’s not often that you see Nepalis or Somalis or Iraqis at the skatepark or on the slopes. Particularly if they are newly resettled refugees. So I wanted to give my students a chance to hear about it. And after my boys finagled their way into borrowing a skateboard the day that Zack and I misconnected, one of them kept asking about lessons and when they could take them.

Zack felt so bad about not making it the day we were at the waterfront that he wanted to come by the school and talk to students. And he brought presents. They all were recipients of t-shirts, and those who had the right sized feet got some skating shoes. He told us all about the program, and Zack and I made plans to reconnect in the fall. We have three students who really want to jump on a board. I bet anything there will be more. Thank you, Zack!

Then we went over to see the drumming class and got a quick lesson on beating on the drums after a short demonstration of students’ newfound percussion skills. These quick dips into other programs lets students know what was on the Year End Studies menu this year and what they might be interested in signing up for next year. So Matt Yu, a BHS math teacher, was up for helping us widen our students’ knowledge base!

Shortly thereafter, we went back to art teacher John Mazuzan‘s YES class, where students were just finishing up their papier mache lizards that we had visited early in the process. Most of his participants were out photographing their final products. But we did get to see a few students’ work.

We all piled in the car shortly after that and went to my partner teacher’s house in Jeffersonville. It’s about 45 minutes from the school, and students get to see quite a bit of the county where we live. It’s up in the mountains, on country roads that feel a bit like rollercoasters at some points.

We had lunch (most brought their own) and watermelon and jumped on the trampoline. After we finished, we headed down to a covered bridge on a river, where we waded, took selfies and threw rocks. Simple pleasures.

It’s days like these that make me think that the love part of the love/hate relationship with the YES program should win out. We’re nearly finished, the students are mostly having fun, and they’ve been exposed to things they didn’t know existed in this area. I get so conflicted because there is a whole lot of good that comes from this. And yet I still find myself dreading this time of year…

But I’d just like to give a huge shoutout again to Zack Engler, Matt Yu and John Mazuzan. You help make our days a little brighter!

#YES@BHS #SoGrateful

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A beautiful day for a walk

Thursday was our next-to-last day of regular classes and our next-to-last day with Susan Palmer, our Flynn artist.

When we were talking about what would make sense to cover a couple of weeks ago, I just kept coming back to time. But when it’s so hot outside (93 degrees! It’s not even summer yet!), it’s just not prudent to stay indoors.

So I ran to the store and got water and food, and Susan brought some chips, and we were ready to go.

We did have Susanna Olson with us, another Flynn artist who I worked with many years ago at the Integrated Arts Academy. She told me at the end of our walk that she had been meaning to come by, and it suddenly was the end of the year. And now we were finishing. So my students got to play a little name game/greeting stuff before we took off.

At the classroom, we prepared for our outing, talking about what students could see in a field, in the forest and at the beach. We brainstormed and made movements (which I sadly did not catch on video) to reflect items that we might see. How many different ways are there to show “forest,” for example?

We had spent a third of our time getting ready (in addition to the name games and brainstorming, we also were assigning photos so that all would be walking with a purpose). It all felt kind of last minute, making it up a bit as we went along, because although we were planning, we were both kind of planning past each other. I brought a list of a scavenger hunt; she had in mind something that came more from the students. Two different ways to deal with the same issue of keeping students’ heads in the game.

That’s the drawback of not really having that face-to-face time and of making up lessons week by week. Maybe next time I have the chance to develop a project with the Flynn, we need to build in some google hangout space so we can see each others’ faces outside of that five minutes at the end. Even just a few minutes to get our thoughts together the night before or over the weekend would be so helpful. Email just isn’t sufficient for getting the job done.

Soon I’ll post all the photos students took. They each had an ipad and an assignment. The boys were all going a bit crazy with finding every single flower in existence to photograph, which led to me needing to herd the group every once in awhile.

The rain we’ve been experiencing of late, along with the heat of Wednesday and Thursday, brought a few swarms of mosquitos our direction. It also brought up the chance for Susan to explain to students about ticks, a pretty big concern in the area at this time of year.

We ran out of time to eat, but we did see a snake and we collected artifacts on our walk. Susanna got the opportunity to meet a few of my students, and we reconnected a bit. It was overall a lovely day, and a nice way to begin ending our time with Susan for the year.




World Wise Schools

Finally, I get around to talking about my own presentation last week.

I was a Peace Corps volunteer with my husband from 1998-2000. china-cast-party-at-spocks

My husband and I taught so many beautiful, incredible, wonderful students, some of whom never wanted to learn English at all, but in the end, they each helped us build our story and our skills, and they made our hearts that much bigger.

The commercials I remember from my younger days really are true. It is the toughest job you’ll ever love.

It was among the most difficult experiences in my life, and one of the most eye-opening journeys.

One of the greatest things about being a Peace Corps volunteer is making those personal connections. And as part of the Third Goal for Peace Corps (the first two being helping the people in the place we are stationed, and the second being learning about the culture and the people), we deliver the message back home. We tell people about what we do. And that’s a task that never ends.

peace_corps_logoI was asked to present to social studies teachers about the World Wise Schools program. Go to the site. The resources are pretty amazing. As a teacher, you can download ready-to-go lesson plans and stories; you can ask for someone to come speak at your class; or you can be matched with a volunteer for correspondence.


And all this for free.

I have spoken to students in the past and I also had my students correspond with a volunteer right after I got back from my service. I don’t now, simply because of the language proficiency levels of my students, but there are so many great things at that site.

One of my favorite lesson plans from the site is based on an essay from a volunteer in Papua New Guinea called “A Single Lucid Moment.” The essay talks about showing pictures of his hometown of Chicago to villagers. They were struck by a picture of a two homeless men. They asked what the men were doing, and the volunteer tried to explain the concept of homelessness, and the next day, the village was asking for the men to be sent there, where they could be cared for and given a place to live.

Cultural concepts run deep. And these lessons and resources can really give educators a chance to explore the idea of culture for both American-born students and others.

Check out the website. You’ll be glad you did.

Richer than I thought I was

I grew up thinking I was poor.

I just had this discussion with my dad over Thanksgiving break. He was hoping that I didn’t feel I grew up in a racist household; I told him that I did. But there are reasons. We learn lots from our parents. And our grandparents. Sometimes the lessons are not overt, but we take things with us.

1c2Like the kids who lived next door and were the children of Mexican migrant workers. They didn’t have toys; we left ours out. They took them. We threw rocks. We stole our toys back. They threw rocks and stole our toys back.

You get the picture. Hate (which I now know was just misunderstandings and a lack of empathy) abounds.

I think we want to pass on messages of compassion to our children, but we don’t always get the job done. I kind of wish there were do-overs, that I could learn that those kids had nothing. And I should have had compassion. And even though I thought we were lower-middle-class, we likely were a lot better off than we thought we were.

These are the lessons I was taught in church each Sunday. But those lessons don’t always translate well to real life.

My dad didn’t remember the time I came home with a free and reduced lunch form and got yelled at because “we don’t take handouts.” My teachers, concerned that we did not have enough money at home, just wanted to make sure I had enough food. There was no ill intent, but there was a lot of prejudice in my house against people who took those handouts, even those who needed them.

I was one of seven children, with two parents who worked, living in a three-bedroom tiny house. I likely came to school in dirty clothes, not because my mom wasn’t constantly washing clothes day in and day out, but because I had my favorites, which I would hide in my room and wear again. With that many bodies, it’s not too hard to sneak out wearing yesterday’s clothes.

So my teachers likely thought they had reason to worry.

Today, I found this article from USAToday that has average income in the United States. How do you compare, it asks.

Well, I’m richer than about 85% of the general population. I don’t feel like it. I feel like I am in the middle, but the numbers tell a different story. I’m not living paycheck to paycheck. And that’s better than most people in my country, or even in my state or my community. And if you’re better than most, you’re not in the middle.

I feel like I’m pretty comfortable. Not rich. Not part of the 1%. But comfortable.

I then started wondering who else feels this way. And although I’m not as comfortable as Chris Christie, I think we fall in the same boat. This blog post from sociology professor Jay Livingston looked at exactly that dilemma: Why do rich people think they are in the middle class?

I’m not sure.

But I don’t feel any richer knowing that I’m not in the middle. I still don’t have the money to redo the bathroom and simultaneously get a new roof.

First world problems abound.

Kudos for Curtains, and for Clare

curtains-with-curtain-colorThank you, Clare, for making it happen.

Tonight, Kevin Cross and I took our students to Burlington High School’s production of Curtains.

So lovely, for many reasons.

The cast, crew, production were all wonderful. But the most wonderful thing was seeing my students smile and laugh.

They didn’t have any idea what was happening.


But they enjoyed going out at night with us to watch a show and to see some students they normally see in street clothes at school.

And some of them might just someday find their way to the stage. They enjoyed seeing these people on stage. “Maybe when my English is better.” “Yes! Is good!” “I like it.”

So awesome.

There were a couple of students who were just too tired to stay awake and alert. They had to be admonished for taking out phones. But for the most part, they liked it. We’ll do a bar chart tomorrow to measure success.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thanks to all of you, cast, crew, directors, musicians, and financial supporters and offerers, for helping us bring this night to our students. I love you all.


So grateful for a little compassion and generosity…

At the end of this week is our school’s musical.

For the past two years, I’ve connived with other teachers to bring a cohort of English Learners to the musical in the fall and the school play in the spring.

This year, it didn’t look like it was going to happen.

I’ve always had the principal be able to talk to the drama teacher, who needs a revenue stream, and is, understandably, reluctant to decrease ticket prices. And this year the principal is new. And I don’t know how to access funding through the school. Everything is different, harder. I don’t get immediate answers to emails. I don’t know how to grease the wheels.

But I have a reason to argue for my students to get a bit of a break. I don’t think most people are aware of how awful it is to be a refugee.

First, you give up everything you’ve ever known: your language, your neighborhood, your lifestyle.

Then you move to a place that is totally foreign, where you don’t know the food, the money, the language, the customs.

This alone is enough to trigger some serious PTSD. Not to mention that the fact that you’re a refugee means that you are either running from something or somebody doesn’t want you anymore. This is the case for many of my students, as they are arriving from refugee camps that are closing.

Refugee camps are meant to be short-term holding spaces. But these short-term spaces have turned into communities, and for many of my students, it’s the only home they’ve ever known. They were born there. They don’t remember the country their parents ran away from. Many times, they’ve never been there.

This video shows one of the camps that many of the Nepali-speaking Bhutanese students came from. Camp life is not easy. The school is based on the British educational system, and classes are in English. One year, I was so excited to find a list of math terms in Nepali. Our Nepali liaison said it was very interesting, but it would not be helpful for our students, as they learn all math in English.

How crazy is that?

Can you imagine going to school in a completely different language than the one you speak at home? And now they come here, and our English is not the English of their country. It is one of many World Englishes. There are whole books and conferences exploring the many ways English is different across the world.

This article, written one year ago to try to argue against myth and fears surrounding Syrian refugees, explains how these refugees are not welfare cases. They have to pay back their flights. They pay taxes. They do not get automatic subsidized housing. Like indigent Americans, they must wait to get Section 8 housing, which can take years. Until then, they stay in the least expensive accommodations they can find.

I have students who are working third shift and then trying their hardest to get up for school in the morning. It’s not an easy life.

So they need a little compassion. They need boots. And coats. Blankets. Help turning on the heat and then help paying for the bills.

I showed a student a video of a blizzard, and her jaw dropped.

“Do you have a coat?”

“No, Miss.”

“Boots? Do you have boots?”


We measured up our feet and I’m currently looking, hoping I’ll find some size 9s before the first snow hits.

But my kiddos need some breaks, some help learning about our culture and lives and all these weird things they have to deal with that are not at all like what they consider home.

So this past week, while we were discussing how to get artists into my classroom to help my students learn English in a different way, I mentioned this to Stacy Raphael, who works as the Flynn Center for the Performing Arts’ program director for teaching artists, and is a teaching artist in her own right, and she said she might be able to help.

“The Flynn’s mission is to get kids into artistic opportunities. And how much is it, like $100?”

It’s actually less. Student tickets are $8.

So this week, we’ll find out. I think Stacy might make it happen.

And for that, I am eternally grateful.

Even for the promise to try to help.

It brings tears to my eyes.

————An update————–

This morning, I walked into the school and a woman who just makes things happen walked up to me. She has been involved in the PTO at every level where my own children were. And she just gets things done.

She told me this morning that she would make sure the school would pay for my students to go.

I cried!

I’ll keep you updated on how it goes!

Loving my Mistakes

mortar-board-32277_640Today is graduation at my high school.

I get to see students who I have known for the past four years finally get that degree. And the ones I will yell loudest for are the ones who had the hardest slog.

I became a teacher in the United States in 2000. And I had some awfully hard students. I lamented then entering the classroom with so little knowledge. But my AP, an amazing woman who pushed us to try to raise the bar even when it felt like this was so much the wrong thing to do, said that I was better than the alternative.

These teaching positions in the Bronx, at the 8th worst high school in New York City, were not filled for long. Teachers who came quickly moved into positions that were in a less sketchy part of the city, where the students weren’t so difficult. What she was telling me was right. I was better than a long-term sub, who really wasn’t there for the long term.

But as I look back today, I kind of wish I could do it all again.

I didn’t really know these students. Nor did I know how to.

profiles_SalaamAlaikum_4250_935931_mediaI can’t believe my naivete, or my arrogance. To imagine that I was trusting a book with a pronunciation guide on how to pronounce “As-SalaamAlaikum,” rather than trusting the Muslim student sitting right in front of me makes me ill today. I still think about it. Even though it was more than a decade ago. Heck, I didn’t even know he was Muslim.

But today, I know. It’s a lovely greeting that carries with it such strength, and, for me, lessons of humility.

And I’ll be thinking of my Muslim students as they cross the stage during this first week of Ramadan (I know what that is now, too!). I’ll be reminiscing about the young man I was blown away by when I was working in an elementary school. He still credits me today as the one teacher who taught him to read.

And that is something to smile about.

I’ll be thinking about the Nepali girls (and boys) who stressed out so much about what to wear UNDER the graduation gowns.

I’ll be thinking about the Karen student who came to me for help on topics that were so culturally foreign to him that he did not know where to start.

I’ll be thinking about my students. About how much I’ll miss seeing them. No matter how hard they were.

And I will wish them well.

And I’ll pack along plenty of tissues.


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