Monthly Archives: September 2017

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Jon Vanegas: Broken, Reshaped, Renewed

Jon Vanegas, 16-18, San Miguel School, Washington, DC

Jon Vanegas, 16-18, San Miguel School, Washington, DC

I’ll be honest with you: I’ve been staring at this Word document for the last 12 hours – typing and deleting every thought/idea I could think of while reflecting on my past year as an LV. It’s hard. It’s hard because the year was hard, but also great, but mostly exhausting. So, I have a lot of thoughts roaming through my mind, and I don’t know which one to focus on.

And I guess that’s a good way to summarize my first year as an LV.

Just like my thoughts, my first year was all over the place, slightly unorganized, pretty chaotic. And yet, it was valid and reassuring. I reflect back on where I was when I started and look at where I am now and tell myself, “you survived!” Believe me, there were a lot of days where I felt like I was pushed down to the floor and was too weak to get up. But, as my current community member Baraka has mentioned, “you don’t fail when you fall; you fail when you choose not to get up.” And with that quote, I am reminded of the three main vignettes that were my first-year LV experience.

IMG_04801) Broken

A year ago today, I probably had gone through five breakdowns, 30 sleepless nights, and two boxes of Emergen-C.  My scheduled consisted of:

  • Waking up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Prayer at 6:30 a.m.
  • Getting to school between 7-7:30 a.m.
  • Work until 5 p.m.
  • Prayer at 5:45 p.m.
  • Dinner (until who-knows-when)
  • Planning/grading
  • Bed

Repeat.

It was a lot for me to handle. I tried to be positive about the whole situation but could not find a way to maintain any ounce of energy by the end of the day. I kept drinking a ton of water because I was told that could help. (Plot twist: it didn’t.) There were many days where I wanted to skip dinner – actually, almost every day – but I felt that would be viewed as rude and alienating. And then at school there were days where some students didn’t listen to instructions or maybe I just couldn’t give clear instructions (most likely the latter). I felt like I was a terrible teacher and that negativity just made everything worse.

IMG_08782) Reshaped

Our community participates in monthly meetings called Faith Sharing, in which the leader shares an article/story that resonated strongly with them, especially in their relationship with God. At first, it was awkward for me, since I’m not one to be comfortable to talk about personal things such as faith and religion. But, I can say now, that I always look forward to those meetings – especially meetings in which we are discussing a meditation by De La Salle. I’m still trying to figure out which one is my favorite between the Third and Fourth Meditation for the Time of Retreat. But I know that my favorite quote comes from the Fourth Meditation:

“Be convinced of what Saint Paul says, that you plant and water the seed, but it is God through Jesus Christ who makes it grow and brings your work to fulfillment. So when it happens that you encounter some difficulty in the guidance of your disciples, when there are some who do not profit from your instructions and you observe a certain spirit of immorality in them, turn to God with confidence. Very insistently ask Jesus Christ to make his Spirit come alive in you, for he has chosen you to do his work.”

I believe this is such a powerful quote that perfectly summarizes the role of a teacher. We work hard for our students to succeed. However, we don’t get to see their success immediately, but we can only hope that God takes it from where we leave them and helps them grow, helps them become successful. I often forgot where some of these children are coming from. And when a student is having a bad day or talks back to me or shuts down – it’s not their fault. It’s not because they’re “stupid” or because they “hate me”; it’s because they feel like the whole world is against them. Praying for my students is the only solution I can think of to help them cope. I pray that they have the strength and courage to open up to me or to another adult. I pray that they know what trust is. I can only pray.

IMG_11503) Renewed

I finally saw the purpose of my year. What I was going through was only a testament of my dedication to my service and my relationship with God. Through Faith Sharing and prayer, I was able validate my crazy decision to become a middle school teacher. When I get to school at 7:00 a.m., start prepping for the lessons or labs of the day, I don’t look at it as a job. When I go to my students’ soccer games every weekend, it’s not because I’m required to. I don’t worry about working for a paycheck. I don’t even view what I do as work. I serve. I always put them before myself. I always think about their needs before I can think about my own. And this mentality was so important for me at the beginning of my second year because it allowed me to be just as open to them as I want them to be to me.

I have definitely been more positive and energetic now than ever before, and I think it’s because I know my limitations. But I also know my students’ limitations and I know how to work with them. I like to believe that my students and I now have a strong sense of trust and community. In fact, during the third week of school, one of my students gave me a bag of Kit-Kat Minis because I was “the coolest homeroom teacher ever.” I clearly took that as the biggest compliment ever.

And I can’t help but think that any of this would not have happened if I didn’t have those breakdowns and sleepless nights a year ago…

Jon Vanegas is a second-year LV serving at San Miguel School in Washington, DC and is a 2016 graduate of Manhattan College.

By |September 21st, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Jon Vanegas: Broken, Reshaped, Renewed

Ministry of the Month: Ocean Tides School

In this month’s Lasallian Volunteers “Ministry of the Month,” the District of Eastern North America is featured. The ministry is Ocean Tides School and the Lasallian Volunteer is second-year volunteer, Andre Barnes, a 2016 graduate of Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.

WHAT IS OCEAN TIDES SCHOOL?

Ocean Tides School is a Lasallian school and residential program that is committed to providing a challenging, yet safe and healthy learning environment designed to meet the social, emotional, behavioral, and intellectual needs of each individual. The young men who attend are in grades seven through 12. Ocean Tides School offers a full high school diploma, is licensed by the Rhode Island Department of Education, and accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. In addition, Ocean Tides School offers a certified special education program and career/technical education programming.

WHAT SERVICE IS ANDRE DOING AT OCEAN TIDES SCHOOL? Andre-Barnes_1097

Andre is a recreation and activities coordinator at Ocean Tides School. He is part of a team that researches, plans, and implements a variety of on and off-campus activities and events that include sports, community service, life skills workshops, and field trips. Andre has taken students to a variety of activities during his service years. He has found the most success from taking the students at Ocean Tides School to neighboring University of Rhode Island (URI) to join in the activities that are offered by the student organizations. The kids in Andre’s charge have enjoyed going to dance competitions, open mic nights, playing basketball, swimming, and running on the URI track. Andre says, “I want them to reduce tension and have them see the outside world. It gives them something to work for. Seeing a college campus is also really good for our guys.”

HOW WAS ANDRE INTRODUCED TO LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS?

Because Andre is a graduate of Lewis University, he heard about the Lasallian Volunteers from several of our alumni. What truly motivated him was his desire to work with students he identified with as similar to himself when he was growing up. He says, “I wanted to help kids because like them, I was not always a good student and had behavior problems in school.”

HOW DOES ANDRE TOUCH THE MINDS AND HEARTS OF THOSE ENTRUSTED TO HIS CARE?

Andre’s service involves flexibility and the understanding that things can change quickly in the life of a high school student. His students might not want to do the activity he’s proposing so he has to have two or three back up recreational activities to meet the needs of his groups. He recognizes that they need him to be flexible but consistent in his tone and behavior with them. He says, “Consistency is a huge thing but it really has to come with the events and lesson plans and with discipline. One thing I’ve noticed is if I change something they call me out on it quick.”20170827_133759_resized

WHAT DOES ANDRE WANT TO SAY TO COLLEGE SENIORS ABOUT THE LASALLIAN VOLUNTEERS PROGRAM? 

Andre believes that all college graduates should give back after they finish school. He hopes his peers will all consider a year with Lasallian Volunteers. He says, “We’ve done so much growing to this point (graduation) and learned a lot that I think it would be a shame if we didn’t give back and try to help people who didn’t get that opportunity. I’ve been in some of the same situations the kids have and learned from them and overcame. If I didn’t use my experiences to try to help them like somebody did for me, it wouldn’t feel right.”

By |September 7th, 2017|Categories: lv of the month, news + events|Comments Off on Ministry of the Month: Ocean Tides School

Krystiana Schaffer: What I Wish My Students Knew

I don’t want you to think that I decided to enter the world of education because of the handful of people during my 17 years of schooling who made me feel disruptive and like an underachiever. I decided to enter education because of the many more incredible teachers I met along the way who saw me for more than my grade on a spelling test. My first grade teacher let me be silly and my fifth grade teacher held me to high standards and gave me the structure I needed. My German teachers, all five of them, are some of the most incredible teachers I know and taught me just as much about life as they did German language. My high school English teachers made me fall in love with the very words that once felt unreachable and unreadable. My guidance counselor and my principal became members of my family and my business teacher was an incredible lady.

Krystiana Schaffer, 17-18, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

Krystiana Schaffer, 17-18, De Marillac Academy, San Francisco, CA

When I got to college I was blown away by the Lasallian mission and community. A handful of my professors, one with dyslexia, made a huge impact on my career choice and inspired me to keep doing my best work. Most of these teachers never really knew that school was hard for me. Reading and writing were challenging for most of my academic career only getting easier when spell check was added to computers and audio books became more popular. Once in college I was so exhausted and frustrated with school that I sought the answers for myself.  After several doctors’ appointments and six hours of comprehensive testing I was finally given the answers I was expecting. Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Disorder and a specific learning disability in reading. I got that diagnosis three days after completing my last day of college. It was liberating actually; I could finally forgive myself for that D on my report card and for having to retake Organic Chemistry II over the summer. But each teacher I had who “got” me for a lack of a better term made me feel important and smart and capable. They never set me back but pushed me forward and helped shape me into a young woman who is proud of where she came from and where she is going. I ended up at La Salle University because of the teachers who made learning fun and who are passionate about their vocation. I would not be here today as a capable student and teacher without them. I wanted the opportunity to be that for one of my students, the way they were for me. That’s why I decided to apply to be a Lasallian Volunteer. I wanted the opportunity to remind my students that their brains are beautiful. Getting to do that at a Lasallian institution felt like more than just the right place, but it continues to feel like my calling. The Lasallian community allowed me to move 3,000 miles away and still feel at home.

Krystiana and fellow LV and community member Quaneesha Shields

Krystiana with fellow LV and community member Quaneesha Shields

Fast forward to my first day of teaching and the opportunity Lasallian Volunteers and the Lasallian community gave me has already exceeded my wildest dreams. During staff training at De Marillac Academy, LV alum and La Salle University graduate, Samantha Hyland, the school resource teacher, gave a presentation about learning disabilities. Her words were filled with passion and dedication to her students. She spoke of dyslexia, attention deficits and a number of other learning disabilities and showed a short video of Steven Spielberg detailing his own experiences. I had tears in my eyes during the interview because I identified with his frustration and because I felt the beauty that dyslexia brought him and me. Samantha created such a safe space for our community that teachers began offering up their own experiences; a brother, a student, someone close to them who struggled in school. Samantha created the environment that prompted me to tell my new colleagues that I too have dyslexia. Shaking uncontrollably and with tears still in my eyes I thanked everyone in that room for being so aware. I truly look up to those teachers for their dedication to their students and for their commitment to individualized learning and the success of their students. Most importantly, I look up to Ms. Hyland who is dedicated to not only her students, but to normalizing learning disabilities and empowering her fellow teachers to do the same. It is people with passions like hers that got me here. Samantha recommended to me that I share with my class the same thing I did with my colleagues because there are five students in the seventh grade class with dyslexia.

I was really nervous about it, but I remember my professor, Dr. Ballough, explaining his academic struggles on our first day of class. He filled me with drive and determination, so I decided to put my syllabus and lab safety lesson on hold and get to thing that was most important to me: the success of my students. Using an activity I learned at the Kitson Institute, I made my own version of “What I wish my teacher knew….” I gave my students the space to tell me about their lives and to be vulnerable if they felt they could. I knew it was also unfair to ask someone to trust me and be vulnerable with me, if I could not do the same for them. I started with a slide of my family and I told my class I missed them. Next was a map of all the cool places I have traveled to. My last topic of conversation began with a slide displaying a picture of me in the seventh grade, pre-braces, in all my awkward glory. I gave my class of 24 permission to giggle and then I took the conversation to a serious but positive place. I told my students that reading and writing is difficult for me, but that I loved school. I then advanced to the next slide revealing the text that read “I have dyslexia.”

Krystiana with all of her community members

Krystiana with all of her community members

I heard a few gasps but before I could even begin to explain one of my students stood up in front of her class with a big smile on her face and proudly said “me too” to the whole class. I was and am so proud of her because I know how hard it is to be honest about it. She knew I understood her, and I know she understands me. I also hope she knows that I have her back and am dedicated to helping her and my entire class in any way I can. I told the class that I was proud of my dyslexia and that it made me the determined person I am today. I told them that I think it is beautiful and a gift rather than a curse. I know she got it and that connection is why I wanted to travel 3,000 miles across the country. To see the light in her eyes made my entire day, my entire week for that matter. I hope to aid in the normalization of a rather common disability. Will I misspell words this year? You better believe it. I told my class that too. But I also told them that it’s okay because I am still learning – a forever student. I became a Lasallian Volunteer because they gifted me the opportunity to work in the classroom teaching a subject I love, to students who need to be reminded that their individuality and uniqueness is beautiful. We all need to be reminded of that. I am teaching at a school that operates under the Lasallian mission I love and makes every child feel like the gifted and talented students they all are. We are so much more than a test score – De Marillac gets it and is dedicated to shaping well-rounded individuals with strong Lasallian values. We are meeting students where they are, just as I was met where I was in my formative years. I am so incredibly thankful for the opportunity to be here and for the Lasallian community across the world that helped me get here. #IwannaLV #youshouldtoo #LVingthedream

Krystiana Schaffer is first-year LV serving at De Marillac Academy in San Francisco, California and a 2017 graduate of La Salle University.

By |September 6th, 2017|Categories: blog, news + events|Comments Off on Krystiana Schaffer: What I Wish My Students Knew