Monthly Archives: March 2013

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Liana Vantrease: Teacher House Calls

Liana Vantrease, 12-13, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

For the typical student, there are only a few days of the year that are dreaded. For the unathletic student, fitness testing in gym class is just proof that you are as uncoordinated and slow as you knew you were. Test days are stressful because taking a test on an entire chapter’s worth of information is no easy feat. But no day even compares to the worst day of all for students…dun dun dun dun…Parent-Teacher Conferences. There is nothing more intimidating for a student than sitting in front of a room full of your teachers who are there to tell your parents about how you are doing in school. Even the most studious kids are nervous that their report card will have a B+ instead of an A, or that their teacher might have noticed when they pass notes in class.

What if we lived in a world where students did not want to start crying the second they entered the room? What if they actually looked forward to their conference as opposed to dreading it?

Well, this is a reality for many of the students at De Marillac Academy, the school I am serving at in the Tenderloin District in San Francisco. Many of the students are truly excited about their Parent-Teacher Conferences because we take a different approach here at DMA. Each quarter, every team of teachers chooses two students to do a home visit for, very similar to a doctor making house calls. Instead of them coming to the classroom to hear the positive and negative report about their academics and behavior, they get to be in the comfort of their own home.

Traveling to their houses from our school alone is a very moving experience. The students do not come from good areas, but their parents are doing the best they can to make a better life for their children. They are sending them to De Marillac so they can get a good education, go on to high school and college, and so that they will not end up on the streets like so many of the homeless that we pass as we are walking to their houses. Unfortunately, the kids are exposed to so much at such a young age. The harsh reality is that they are passing drug deals, people under the influence, and many other dangers on the way to and from school, and this makes me that much more proud of them that they are able to accomplish so much despite the unfortunate cards they are dealt.

Initially, the conference begins very similar to every other student who has theirs at school. We share why we enjoy having them in our classes, give them their report card grades, pass them a Kleenex if necessary, discuss some things they need to work on, talk about any concerns or issues they may be having at school, and set some goals for the following quarter. Pretty typical.

The difference with a home visit is that we are able to delve a bit deeper into the lives of our students. By asking the simple question, “Do you have anything else you would like to show us?” we get to see a variety of things that help us to get to know our students and their families. That question has led to tours around the houses of the students, showing off the family pets, looking through countless awards the student has received in the past, flipping through photo albums, visiting with the siblings of our students who long to go to DMA one day, and sharing quality time with their families. They are so proud and happy that their teachers are taking the time to get to know them better throughout this process, and this really helps to establish a good rapport with our kids that carries over in the classroom.

The students and families are not the only ones who benefit from these experiences however. The teachers, including myself, really love having this opportunity to bond with our students and their families. I will never forget the most recent home visit that I went on with the rest of the fifth grade team. They were so hospitable and offered us each a glass of orange juice and some vanilla wafers. That seems like no big deal but for a family that has so little to offer us anything at all speaks volumes about the amazing people that I am here to serve. I am humbled at my site on a daily basis and the home visit Parent-Teacher Conferences serve as another reminder not only of the impact my students are having on me but also the impact that I am having on them.

“A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much money I had in the bank…but the world may be a better place because I made a difference in the life of a child.” — Forest Witcraft

Liana Vantrease, 12-13, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

By |March 25th, 2013|Categories: blog|Comments Off on Liana Vantrease: Teacher House Calls

Pat Blythe: It’s All Fun and Games (Mostly)

Pat Blythe, 12-13, La Salle School, Albany, NY

The first 7 months of this service year have been a whirlwind to say the least. From playing sports, hiking, caving, board games, and a gingerbread house building contest, I am confident  I’ve lived up to the title of Recreation Coordinator. I rekindled my love for volunteering the summer before senior year of college and could not have pictured ending up where I am right now.

I’ve never been described as ‘strictly professional’ and soon after arriving at La Salle School I realized the last thing these boys needed was another adult telling them what they can’t do. I often relish sharing with people that I plan recreational activities (although I phrase it as ‘I get to be the fun guy on campus!’).

Not every aspect of La Salle is fun and games, the realizations set in quickly when I arrived that these boys are in need of healing. Lasallians have been known to say ‘the last, the least, and the lost.’ Those words hit me immediately and leave me grateful for my own upbringing. These boys are prime examples of that ministry. Finding out the reasons these boys are at La Salle always breaks my heart, but I also view it as the opportunity for them to right the wrongs and for us to walk with them as they become responsible young men. The simplest yet most effective things I can offer them are my left and right ears. Before arriving here, these boys were rarely encouraged to do positive things for themselves, so when I ask them about their day while shooting some hoops, I’m often surprised how easily they tell me how they feel.

The most profound moment by far has been the Confirmation of one of our boys. This boy in particular was one I had grown close with since the day I first arrived, and I know him well. When he was asked by Rich Ward, the campus minister, who his sponsor was going to be, he whipped around and said, ‘Hey Mr. B, wanna be my sponsor?’ with a certain nonchalance that made me laugh before accepting his offer with sincere gratitude. I know he might not realize the gravity of that request, but one day I like to think he will. We continually grow in our relationship and that added responsibility has made me even more keen on helping this young man heal, change his future, and adopt the mission of St. La Salle.

It’s those positive interactions that make this service year worth it. Sure, the ski trips and dodgeball games have been a blast (both for the boys and myself) but it’s the fact that they strengthen our relationship that’s truly amazing. It’s always gratifying to see a timid group in the van en route to an activity, and then have that dynamic completely change after the experience. Providing opportunities they might otherwise never have the chance to partake in gives them memories that go beyond the parking lot of La Salle.

Pat Blythe, 12-13, La Salle School, Albany, NY

 

By |March 18th, 2013|Categories: blog|Comments Off on Pat Blythe: It’s All Fun and Games (Mostly)

Jen Coe: Fully Possess Oneself to Fully Give Oneself

Jen Coe, 12-13, Martin De Porres, Queens, NY

I try to make it to weekday mass before work. One day recently, father spoke of self-possession. “We must fully possess ourselves to fully give ourselves.” For me, these words could not ring more true.

My service year thus far has been one of immense growth, complete with intense growing pains (I went from 5’4” to nearly 5’9” in middle school and I remember complaining to my father how much my knees and legs were hurting).  Until mass that day, I didn’t connect that I’ve been learning, trial-by-fire, the important relationship between self-possession and self-gift.

With my job as case manager at a residential high school for emotionally disturbed teenage boys, I can’t afford to live a life of extremes. I know what it’s like to go to work with little sleep (awful), I know what it’s like to go to work unprepared (stressful) and I know what it’s like to go to work in a bad mood (disastrous). This year is a crash-course in how to be an adult – I cannot get away with the disorganization that characterized my life for three-and-a-half of my four years of college. Then, I lived only for myself. Now, I have a duty to my community and to my students. I live for nineteen wild teenage boys, and whether or not they see or appreciate it, I need to be at my best every minute that I am at work. Self-possession, or self-discipline, is an important skill I am trying to acquire for the sake of myself and those I serve.

Social service is a field that demands one to continually give of oneself. You give your time and attention to students with issues like, “I have a toothache and my mom’s insurance card isn’t working, can you make me an appointment?” to “I feel abandoned by my family and don’t want to be in this place” to irate calls from parents, to surprise visits from state agencies.. One is constantly giving time and attention to all types of people and situations.

Self-discipline may have too much of an ascetic, medieval tone to it, but it is so very important for good work. I need to sleep. I need to smile and listen to others even when I don’t feel like smiling or listening. I need to do my paperwork in a timely manner. I need to read my work email instead of browsing the internet. I need to make sure I have time with friends so that I can be in a place of peace and happiness for my work. I need to model how to live a good life, so that when I give my students a hard time for playing 18 hours of video games over the weekend or for not communicating respectfully with their parents, I am not picking out their splinter in their eyes while the plank is in my own.

We learn more from what people do than what they say. Our world is inundated with words, most of them pretty useless. Actions are more powerful, and someone who does what he or she preaches is the kind of person I might stop and listen to.

Our faith has the most beautiful image of love: Jesus on the cross. That example of pure love, of most unselfish self-gift, moves me to action more profoundly than any words of a thoughtful hallmark card, any viewing of the Notebook, any poem of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (and I enjoy EBB!). Love in our faith is a dying to oneself for the sake of others and God. If I fully possess myself, I have grown in my ability to die constantly to myself. And if I have created that habit within, then I can more freely love and give to those around me.

Jen Coe, 12-13, Martin De Porres, Queens, NY

By |March 11th, 2013|Categories: blog, news + events|2 Comments

Carly Myrtle: Teaching Through Song

If I asked you what you read in the newspaper two weeks ago, could you answer me accurately? Probably not.

On the other hand, if I played one of your favorite songs from 10 years ago that you haven’t heard in a while and asked you to sing it, would you be able to? Most likely.

I have always wondered why this was the case. I remember being a student, trying to memorize countless facts and dates and not being able to. However, I could sing you all of my favorite songs! In fact, I can still sing you all of my favorite songs from college… high school… middle school… and elementary school. But if you were to come up to me now and ask me a question about something that I learned in Social Studies in middle school, I guarantee I would not know the answer. Unless, of course, you were to ask me to recite the preamble to the U.S. Constitution. That, I know. Can you guess why I know it? I LEARNED IT THROUGH A SONG! (Credit to Schoolhouse Rock)

Now, I tried to research the brain and how it relates to music so that I could explain to everyone the magic answer of why this is true. But I really couldn’t find a great explanation. I think it must be because most people enjoy music, and it is easier to learn something when we are enjoying ourselves. It must also be because songs have a rhythm, and this helps us remember it quicker. I’m sure there are many other reasons to why songs “click” in our brain. But maybe there is no clear answer.

Carly Myrtle, 12-13, San Miguel School, Providence, RI

Ok, now to get to the point. At San Miguel, I LOVE teaching my students concepts throughsongs and raps. It’s sort of my “thing.” And guess what? IT WORKS. Sometimes it takes a while to form the lyrics, and I’m sure I look completely crazy every time I am walking around the room rapping or singing, but it’s worth it. Teaching through song not only gets the students to know the concepts, but it also gets them interested in and excited about learning. I want my classroom to be a place where kids are learning but also where they are having fun. I think I have achieved that goal in my classes, from teaching the order of operations to the tune of “Umbrella” with my 6th graders, to busting out a rap about concave mirrors with my 7th graders, to memorizing the process of photosynthesis to the “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” theme song with my 8th graders. I know I don’t have the best singing voice it the world, but my students appreciate my effort. And if they’re learning because of it, that’s all that matters.

So, in true “Miss Myrtle” fashion, I must end with a song about my LV experience. I hope you enjoy it! =) 

                                                       “TiK ToK LV Style”

(to the tune of “TiK ToK” by Ke$ha)

Wake up in the mornin’ feelin’ like an LV
Lookin’ at the core values: faith, service, and community
Before I leave make sure to have everything packed
‘Cuz when I leave for my site I ain’t comin’ back

I’m talkin giving a year of service
At first I was a little bit nervous
Movin’ to the “Pawtucket Palace”

And I am workin’ at San Miguel School
Teaching Science and Math, too
Tryna get them to learn something new

Feet first, and hands on
LVs, your hearts will be moved
This year, I’ma serve
‘Cuz the best these kids deserve
TiK ToK, on the clock
But volunteers don’t stop no
Woah-oh oh oh
Woah-oh oh oh

And then, eyes open
LVs, your minds will expand
Tonight, I’ma pray
At the end of the day
TiK ToK, on the clock
But volunteers don’t stop no
Woah-oh oh oh
Woah-oh oh ohh

What a privilege this is, yes, that much is clear
Ain’t got much money in my pocket, cuz I’m a volunteer
But the experience I’m getting is worth so much more
Yes, my community I love and my students I adore

I’m talkin’ bout – growing in my faith, faith
And learning things every day, day
Getting things done for the U.S. of A., A.
Now, now – this year has been so much fun, fun
Especially the LV run, run
I love it here a ton, ton
Love it here a ton

Feet first, and hands on
LVs, your hearts will be moved
This year, I’ma serve
‘Cuz the best these kids deserve
TiK ToK, on the clock
But volunteers don’t stop no
Woah-oh oh oh
Woah-oh oh oh

And then, eyes open
LVs, your minds will expand
Tonight, I’ma pray
At the end of the day
TiK ToK, on the clock
But volunteers don’t stop no
Woah-oh oh oh
Woah-oh oh ohh

Carly Myrtle, 12-13, San Miguel School, Providence, RI

By |March 4th, 2013|Categories: blog, news + events|1 Comment