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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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Thank you, ECHO Center!

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When we were first learning about ordinal numbers, I made my students make life cycle wheels, so we could practice saying those first few numbers over and over again.

And then Ms. Ann, a former kindergarten teacher who has been invaluable this year in helping some of my students get much needed attention in reading, introduced a few books that dealt with butterflies and bugs.

I have been a member ofECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain since I moved to Vermont in 2006. It was the one place I could take my babies and let them look and learn and not have to be dressed in snow pants in winter. So we’ve been members ever since.

During spring break, I took my youngest back, and we saw butterflies! I was enchanted.

So having already done life cycles, I decided that I needed to take my students to ECHO before the Butterflies, Live! exhibit leaves, and before I lost my class to the end of the year.

I was planning on paying for my students to go out of pocket; although many of the elementary schools make regular visits with PTO support, the high school plays less of the field trip game. So I just decided to try to fund it on my own. And I needed them to see the National Geographic movie that described the life cycle.

But at $8 for students and $10 for the three adults who came with me, plus $3 for everybody to see the movie, the price was getting awfully steep.

I was beginning to get a little frustrated, tapping into every resource I had. And then it happened. Through a generous offer of passes, I was able to get my group in for under $60. And the students saw the movie. We were able to bring a few of our multilingual liaisons, Krishna, Lal and Poe Poh, with us. Ms. Ann, sadly, was not feeling up to the visit. Everybody had a great time exploring, though they thought the butterfly tent was a bit too hot.

I left a very happy, and very grateful teacher.

The donations this organization gets from donors go a long way to helping subsidize those of us who are not the “normal” visitors.

My daughter’s 5th-grade class was there. I remember giving $5 at some point during the year to pay for a trip to ECHO. And I have $5 to spare. But for newly resettled refugees, money is tight. There’s not much disposable income when you have nothing to begin with, and then you have to start paying rent and buying food and clothes in a Western society when you are making wages below the poverty line. And on top of that, you have to pay back the plane ticket the government gave you to get here. So $5 for ECHO just isn’t in the budget. And that’s why I had to take them.

I am so grateful to ECHO for making this possible. And donors help make that happen. So if you’re looking for a place to spend that money you would have spent on a latte this week, I’ve got a great idea of where it could go!

(P.S. Please share widely! It’s important to spread the word about generous moves in the world that make one smile!)

A look back, on the last day of classes

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I am a little melancholy as this year’s classes end today.

I am not sure whether this class will run next year. Together, we’ve seen great progress, with 19 students in and out my door.

I have felt so blessed to get to know every one of them: the boy who told me that what I do is not teaching, who eventually came to me to get help; the girl who shared her heart-felt pain with me; the one who would share nothing; the one who smiles only to herself; the one who always claims to understand; the one who texts just because he is bored; the one who is sad to be here, but pushes herself to learn more quickly; the one who comes almost daily, no matter the problem; the one who calls me “second Mom.”

I celebrate and cry over students leaving my class, almost simultaneously. I urge them to leave, knowing they need to go on to move forward.

I tried to help them through troubles, both in and out of school. And sometimes those troubles were heartbreaking; other times they disappeared like mirages.

I know I will see these students again… at least most of them. I’ll see the ones who stick it out, who try to play school the way that we do, even though it may clash fundamentally with the schools they came from. I’ll still ruminate on the ones I don’t see, the ones who decided that this school is not the right place, or that it’s not the right time.

They will grow. They will learn, no matter which path they choose to take.

And I will miss them all.

I will miss teaching this class. I can only hope that the mood of the country changes, and that we will be able to someday run this course again.


Nepalis on my mind…

img_995920rations20distribution20wfpThe last couple of days while I’ve been walking my dog, I’ve been listening to some NPR.

Lately, the Syrians have been in the news. We are all waiting with bated breath to see whether the new administration will let the scheduled resettlements continue, even as they threaten “calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on. We have no choice… we have no choice.

But in the past couple of days, I’ve listened to two stories from Beldangi 2, a refugee camp in Nepal. It focuses on Teacher Day, which is really in the fall, but the reason the stories are coming now is because the camps are scheduled to close.

There was a deadline in November for people to apply to leave:

The Bhutanese refugees were given until Nov. 15 of this year to apply to go abroad. By the end of the year, UNHCR will stop forwarding applications for resettlement.

The reporter says there are predictions of 10,000 people who will be left behind in the end. Most of my students are from this camp. Most were born there. I wonder how many of their relatives or neighbors will be among those left behind?

When things wind down in a camp, it causes a little havoc; this PRI story profiles a woman who is teaching math, even though she is not a math teacher. For her $7 a month, she studies at home so she can bring the knowledge back to her students. Those with the most education leave camps first. Those left now, according to a Nepali friend I was talking to last year, are there because they are old and sick and don’t want to leave or there is an issue with intermarrying which hangs up paperwork.

The stories this reporter tells are heart-rending. How do you leave when a parent says that they will not make a change to a new language and climate? They don’t want to leave truly everything they ever knew behind. At least when these refugees moved from Bhutan to Nepal, the language and climate stayed the same. But leaving to the United States is something completely different.

One story is of a man who is refusing to go, whose family has been waiting to apply, hoping he’d change his mind, but to no avail. He knows that his illiteracy, age and lack of marketable skills will hold him back. But staying also is not a great option. Nepal does not allow integration at this point, although UNHCR is working with both Nepal and Bhutan to try to come to an equitable solution.

What happens to the children when the camps close? Will they be allowed to matriculate into Nepali schools? What happens to health care? What happens to those who are old or sick? Addicted to alcohol or drugs?

The high rate of suicides in the camps are well-documented. As the camps empty out in this last push, as rations are cut and friends, neighbors and family leave, will those numbers jump even higher?

For men, stressors related to employment and providing for their families were related to feeling burdensome and/or alienated from family and friends, whereas for women, stressors such as illiteracy, family conflict, and being separated from family members were more associated.

It’s difficult to forecast positive change for these stressors that were documented among former refugees resettled in the United States. They surely will intensify for those left in the camps.

I see more and more uneducated families settling here. And it takes a lot of hutzpah to tackle those huge barriers when one loses everything one knows.

What has life been like for these people for the past quarter century, having lost everything they had in Bhutan: land, property, stability, jobs, and a sense of home? They will most assuredly lose all these things again, or any semblance they had of “home”, by coming to the United States. These families may gain indoor plumbing and free education for their children, but what kind of jobs await illiterate adults who don’t speak English? And yet the bills continue to mount. They must repay their travel expenses. A person has to eat.

Even more difficult to imagine is how my students, who grew up in the tropics, in a place where elephants knocking down your house was part of reality, are coping with suddenly living in snow. It may not seem like much, but it’s huge going from wearing shorts and flip-flops every day to dressing for the cold. My high schoolers fight wearing hats (they mess up their hair) and gloves (they get in the way and are itchy); the little ones try to slip in line without putting on snow pants to keep them warm on the icy playground. And in a state where the windchill has been known to slip into dangerous territory more than a few times in an average winter, the battle never ends.

So I open 2017 with my eye on trying to stand in another’s shoes. It’s only by doing the research that teachers can have a tiny inkling of where students came from and maybe glean an idea of where to go from here.

One of the best stories I found was one from a couple of years ago from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Video, photos and stories make this a powerful place to start: http://newsinteractive.post-gazette.com/longform/stories/refugees/   I encourage everyone to take even a passing glance at this, just to imagine where your new students and neighbors come from.

And this travelogue from 2015 gives an unflinching look at attitudes prevailing in the camp at that time.

And thanks for listening.



You think you know somebody…

pencil-918449_640I learned something last week… One of the office workers at our school district’s office is working on his doctorate. And he used to be a teacher and the headmaster of a school.

I found out because of a newspaper article.

You think you know somebody.

I’m glad he’s getting his doctorate, but it’s more than just a little sad that he should spend so many years of his life sitting at a desk in an office when his previous life was filled with educating people.


From partnershipforrefugees.org/employment

There’s a whole lotta knowledge he has that has not been fully used.


Since moving to Vermont, I have heard of doctors who now run hospital janitorial services.

I once knew a woman who worked as a multilingual liaison for our school. Her husband used to be a dentist. Now he works at a factory.

And on Saturday, I heard of a para-professional, a teacher’s assistant job that one can get with just a high school diploma, who used to be a teacher in his own right, who has multiple courses he took online from the camp where he used to live.

They are grateful for the jobs they have. But I think everyone would be better served by having them be employed at least closer to their educational experiences.

I hope that we will be moving in that direction.

There are some groups working on this, but I wish it were more organized and prevalent.

A story in the USA Today pullout of our local newspaper talked about regions with shrinking populations. Baby Boomers are getting older, and there is nobody to replace them. Of our population growth, the article says that 45% of it can be attributed to legal immigration. You can see the article here:

Americans aren’t having as many kids: 8 states post population loss http://usat.ly/2ifcTnm via @usatoday

It’s kind of funny, but most of those states that are on the list of losing population in that article are the same ones that don’t want Syrians. Because they are different and strange and not Christian and wear head scarves.

It’s time to look past our prejudices.

It just makes economic sense.

NYTimes Tackles Bias


I am so digging this series by the NYTimes.

This is what I was trying to say while my dad was visiting.

And it was not what I said.

I used the term “racist.” And that offended. And for that I’m sorry.

Maybe this will explain better what I was trying to say…


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.

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