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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!)

Spring brings a revival of sorts

Last week, after more than a month hiatus, our Flynn performing artist came back. And it happened to coincide with one of the most beautiful days our little Vermont town had seen in a long time.

The sun was shining.

And we all needed to get outside.

Susan had a list of plans, but she had sent a last-minute email. And I was so antsy to have the sun on my face after a week of clouds…

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So I handed out the stress balls to everybody and told them to grab an iPad and we were heading outdoors with Ms. Susan.

It was a nice opportunity to ease back into using theater games in the classroom and also to re-introduce the idea of cooperative fun.

We looked for signs of spring on our way down to the shore of Lake Champlain, a 10-minute walk from school. But because most of these students have never seen spring spring here before, they didn’t quite know what to look for.

Susan and I found ourselves trying to show them: See? The tree is budding. The snow is melting. The mud is here now. There are birds. Do you hear them?

But if you’ve never missed it before, you don’t know what is new and what is returning. And so we went to the beach and played.

We threw balls to each other (though sometimes it felt as though it was at each other), calling out names, making eye contact, and pushing all to keep everyone involved. When one would wander off, another would bring that student back.

Even on the way back we were continuing to break off and chat and play.

It was so beautiful to see these students from such disparate cultures reaching out to each other to enjoy an hour in the sun.

Even if it was a little chilly.

VT Commons students come back!

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During the last week in January, students from Vermont Commons School came to visit my class of beginning English learners.

They came on Monday to meet us. And then they came back on Thursday to share how they envisioned learning could be facilitated with drama and movement.

We learned about shapes, colors, prepositions of place, transportation…

And it was really kind of fun.

I think that outsiders are always amazed at how much repetition it takes to get words to stick. But it’s also hard for teens to envision how to teach elementary topics to peers. They have great ideas. I can tell they put a lot of thought into what they did…

What I do has to be presented simply. But what I do is not simplistic. These are (almost) all grown adults, who have a lifetime of experiences on their own. And so the lessons cannot be simplistic…

The issue with having visitors into one’s room, especially when they want to take on the role of teacher, is when does one jump in? When do I fix the issues? When do I intensify what was done? When do I add my particular brand of craziness to the mix?

I agonized a bit.

Sometimes what they did was just perfect. The language, topic, engagement hit the mark.

Sometimes the content was just right, but the affect was not. Students who don’t speak English well can’t pay attention to students talking to them for an hour if the hype is missing. It’s all about the salesmanship. They are game to try whatever it is you are selling, but if you don’t bring what it takes, they aren’t buying.

And sometimes it was about the prep. How can you teach a lesson when you don’t bring what you need? I see pre-service teachers do this, too. Someone comes in with an idea–and it’s not necessarily a bad idea–but it’s not fully baked and not ready to roll out. Questions I have fielded: Do you have a box? Do you have this thing I can use? Do you have magnets, markers, a box, a toy…

It’s likely I do have that stuff…somewhere. But, honestly, I’m not the best teacher to ask to give you something on the fly. Happy to give it to you if I know in advance. But with an office in one building and my classroom in another, I’m just not that organized. I have all kinds of stuff, but it takes me a while to lay my hands on it.

For being teen teachers, they did an awesome job. Like I said, I see the same issues with student teachers, who should definitely know better, as it is their profession they are training for. And these  students were just trying it on.

I’m curious about the students’ take on my class. It looks as though they had a great time during their week of exploring how drama can be used outside the stage.

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I find, however, that unless you steep yourself in this population, oftentimes one’s class and privilege get in the way of seeing who they really are and where they come from and the absolute courage it takes to even come to school.

I so much welcome people to come in. Because until we actually make contact, the strangers remain strange. I’d rather be friends.

Movement to bridge the social/language/education gap

Two weeks ago, we had two separate visits by a bunch of students from the Vermont Commons School, a private school that focuses on global immersion and planetary interdependence. They were taking a week to investigate “Performance Art for Social Change.”

Students who visited us ranged in age from grade 6 to grade 11, I believe. Their task for the week was to investigate different ways of using movement, other than just being on stage.

But our realms of experiences, our orbits of reality, were worlds apart.

When we talked about what we did this weekend, my students offered “work,” “sleep,” “visit family.” Among their offerings: snowboarding, skiing, brushing my horse, playing my saxophone/piano/etc.

In other words, the typical activities for these private school students was not of the same nouveau as the students I teach.

Life of a newly resettled former refugee is so much more about survival. There is neither time nor money for many extracurriculars, whereas our playmates for the week plan their days around them.

I so much appreciate the opportunity for my students to share space with these other students, to have a time to play and rub elbows a bit, even if they didn’t quite understand why these other students were there. Left to their own devices, the whole crowd would have just shrugged and walked away from each other, each in a different direction.

My students had nothing to tell them. And the VT Commons students did not know where to start with kids who really couldn’t speak to them. These boys and girls were incredibly articulate. But my school, with its bells and hallway traffic, seemed a bit foreign to them.

One of my colleagues stopped by and asked if I was hosting foreign exchange students. He noticed how wide-eyed they seemed, kind of lost.

No. They are just from less than six miles away. But they are worlds apart.

So the VTCommons kids came on Monday and then came back on a Thursday, ready to try to lead some activities with us, based on what they saw and observed. They came a little early and asked questions:

  • How do I teach them if I don’t know their languages?
  • Where are they from?
  • What languages do they speak?

And then they stayed later to see what they could do to help me. What kinds of things do we need to learn? Well… everything. Colors. Daily activities. Prepositions of place. Clothing. Comparatives. Superlatives. Speaking in general. You name it, they have to learn it. But the trick is getting it to stick.

The crash course I give to visitors is overly simplistic. There is no way I can convey the deep compassion I have for these heroic students who are heroes just by existing in the world. In their short lifetimes, they have had to make much more difficult decisions than I face. When I chose to go overseas–twice as a foreign exchange student and once in Peace Corps–I knew I was coming home. I had that privilege. I own that.

But I cannot even imagine what it must feel like to leave everything forever: Friends. Family. Places. Routines. Everything familiar is gone. And then they walk into my class where I make them do silly things. They don’t want to say no, because I am the teacher. I deserve respect just because of the job I do. But they do want to say no, because it’s silly.

So here, I’ll just share some of the pictures from that first day, and then tomorrow, I’ll share some of the activities we did together.

I’m glad they came.

I would like to think we all learned a little bit more about the world, just by coming together.

In the words of our president: So sad

Where is the compassion?

I cannot understand how this isolationist move can possibly help make us “great again.”

http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-trump-refugees-20170127-story.html

In the words of my friend, Rai, is what I really want to say:

 

(Trigger Warning: Not Kind) Vermont had 100 Syrian refugee families set to arrive in 2017. Two made it in before Cheeto’s mental health disappeared. Now 98 *families* are back in limbo after 3-5 years in waiting, after being vetted (picked apart), going through rigorous security screenings, and being cleared for US resettlement. Dreams and hopes of mothers, fathers, and children dashed – because some Americans and the man they elected are misguided, misinformed, scared xenophobic, Islamophobic bigots.

Statement of Steven Goldstein, Executive Director of the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, the U.S. civil and human rights organization among Anne Frank organizations worldwide:

As President Trump prepares orders to wall out Mexicans and shut out refugees from America, today marks one of the most hateful days in our nation’s history. Donald Trump is retracting the promise of American freedom to an extent we have not seen from a President since Franklin Roosevelt forced Japanese Americans into internment camps during World War II. Today the Statue of Liberty weeps over President Trump’s discrimination.

President Trump is beyond the wrong side of history. He is driving our nation off a moral cliff.

When President Trump uses national security as a guise for racism, he doesn’t strengthen our national security. He compromises our national security by engendering disrespect for America by people around the world.

Make no mistake, suspending visas for citizens of Middle Eastern and African countries is not called national security. It’s called prejudice.

President Trump is now exacerbating the largest global refugee crisis in history. His slamming America’s doors on the starving, the wounded and the abused is a grotesque blot on our nation’s history of freedom. The President’s actions are an embarrassment to the timeless vision of America as inscribed by Emma Lazarus to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Demonizing refugees and immigrants, and spending billions of taxpayer dollars to keep them out of our nation, will go down in American history as one of the most tragic deviations from our national conscience.

 

Student Voice in Changing Images

 

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The following is a press release from the International Club at Burlington High School:

The recent national election brought fear to many immigrant families in Vermont. With the increase in anti-immigrant rhetoric, new Americans–refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers–were distressed about their future in Burlington, Vermont, and the United States.

What was going to happen to them? Would they be safe in America? Would they have to leave?

Driven by the real fear she witnessed in her pediatric practice, Dr Andrea
Green reached out to Burlington High School to see if she could support the students in
feeling safe and welcome. The students of the International Club of Burlington High School were also worried and wanted to do something.

The students met together with Dr. Green to talk about these fears and ways to communicate that Vermont is a place where all are welcome. During these meetings and the design process the students strengthened their voice and power to stand up against hurtful rhetoric. They were able to share how Burlington has been a welcoming community. Something they wanted to make visible to all.

—–

The pictures above were taken in downtown Burlington, Vt., on Friday, as students distributed posters to businesses and pins to passersby. The artists took a detour to Senator Bernie Sanders’ office to spread the word.

Burlington is a fairly welcoming community for refugees. Many businesses have a “Refugees are Welcome Here” poster that was distributed by Jewish Voice for Peace.

I’m so excited about this movement with student voice at the center.

It’s what is supposed to happen. I’m so proud of them.

Rutland getting some NYT press!

Screen Shot 2017-01-02 at 1.12.15 PM.pngYeah, there’s a lot of controversy over the refugees scheduled to hit Rutland any day now, but there are a lot of kind souls getting ready for them. The NYT article linked above outlines it.

I can’t wait to see what happens!

I hope that their arrival is great and that it brings with it prosperity.

Will there be costs? Yes. At the beginning, there always are. Language classes. Supporting a needy population with necessities of life. Job training.

But there are also so many good things that come along with welcoming new populations. They bring an economic promise to pay rent, pay taxes and support the local economy once they get established. They have just come from chaos; they are not wanting to sustain it.

This Washington Post story refutes the idea that refugees are a “burden,” even though that is how they are primarily referred to. Multiple studies show that communities at least break even if they don’t see a financial gain from being a welcoming community.

Bring ’em on! I’m so excited!

 

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