Monday, May 28, 2012

Words: Letter from a Student

From a favorite sophomore :-)

Captured: Last Weeks of City Year

Being twinners with our students :-)
Painting a mural for the teacher's lounge with students
The last crazy lunch... baha I look like a student in a matching shirt!
Last moments... this student came to say bye to us, even though he was suspended that week <3
How we left school
The Picnic
We did it!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Rambling: Letter to Myself

Reflection activity we did as a team: 

Dear Nicole,

            Today is Wednesday, May 16, 2012.  My last day at Collins Academy is Friday, and next week is the end of my City Year experience.  It’s strange to be ending something that has consumed my life for the past 2 years.  I’m not sure that I’ll ever be a part of something that fosters such a deep transformation in such a short period of time.  Right now, my basic emotions are overwhelmed, grieving, and excited – it’s bittersweet.  I’ll try to capture all of my feelings and memories in this one letter, but know that it won’t be sufficient and I won't get the language exactly accurate and it will only be a glimpse. 

            Some of my favorite memories are those that involve just hanging out with kids when there’s a carefree, loving atmosphere in the air (Yaree, Trevon, Eli Bunny, Marvin, Tyshawn, Denikko) Some of them are those really deep, intimate conversations with kids when they open up and you know that they know you won’t judge them (Jerome, Vincent, Justin).  Some of them are time spent with the team (sparking champagne, Hannah ribbon dancing, ridiculous emails from Phil, sleeping on the train with Andrea, my teams’ Life’s Work,  the end of the team supercharger at Robeson, team days at Phil’s, Dan’s, Jade’s, Senait’s, and my place).  Some of them are events planned for the students (Camp Duncan, Career Day, Tyshawn’s poem at Word Warriors, the last day of Spring Break Camp, Manny doing the cat-daddy at the talent show). Some are the magic that can happen with the corps (every talent show, the quality community meeting moments, Ripples of Hope satisfaction, playing Base Defense during Camp).  And some of them are time spent with my Senior Corps family (IJ with Carly and Dan, the day our life’s work banners were on display, the entire summer training out of uniform, South Haven, Boston training, bars, and travel).  I’d like to look back fondly on the sillyness and culture, too – PT, ABCs, BTA, really acronyms in general, email etiquette, dosage, Bobb Darnell, trackers, voting, and first circles.   I always get get weird during times of change about worrying that I’ll ‘lose memories’ and that the value they give my will decrease over time – I think that’s why I get so nostalgic when things are ending.  However, the memories, the ways the impacted me, the photos, and the people involved will never end.

            I never want to forget what I learned here – treat EVERYONE with respect, resist gossip and negativity, collaborate as much as possible, seek out feedback, value diversity, over-communicate, remember that the people are the job (not the tasks), and spend the time necessary to build and rebuild your team.  I’m glad that my experience confirmed what I already thought to be the key to life – everyone is a good person, and when treated with respect and provided with the right environment, will make the right choices.  The most important thing in education is love.

            I’m proud of the structure I provided for our team – our 3 non-negotiables (open communication, 100% effort, and see the best in every child), our visual ways to manage tasks, the norm of asking for feedback, and excessive positivity.  I’m proud that I was able to earn the respect of my team and the organization almost all of the time.  I’m proud that I was able to put the needs of my supervisor and the team above my own complaints.  I’m proud that I worked really hard, not just the minimum.  I’m proud that we earned the reputation of caring, welcoming people in the building. I’m proud that everyone at school and CY knows who I am.  I’m proud that I allowed myself to listen, change, and be impacted. 

            I’m worried that I inadvertently left some kids behind along the way during the past 2 years.  Everyone needs so much, and I don’t have time to even identify all of the needs, let alone meet all of them.  I hope those students still felt my love and will for them, even if at a greater distance. 

            When I look back at myself on Day One, I see myself as a nervous ‘newbie’, not sure how kids would respond to a “little white girl,” complaining about the ugly uniform, and asking so many questions.  I love that now I feel more at home in North Lawndale than in Uptown, kids greet me with hugs and fist bumps, they stop themselves from cursing in front of me, and I can understand (most of) the slang.  Now my attitude is protective mama bear - “yup, those are my kids, I can roll my eyes and laugh with them but YOU BETTER NOT.”  I’ll go into my next inner-city job with context and confidence.

            I hope I remember the community feeling that City Year has given me and take that where I go.  It’s cool to feel like I’m joining an invisible group of alumni who share the same bond, mission, and spirit.  Even if it doesn’t remain a part of my every day life, I will keep City Year, the values, the students, the people, and the lessons with me; even if I don’t know that it’s impacting my actions, it’s become such a part of me that it always will. 

Yours in Service,

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Words: 20 plus 10

Me: Alright, well we're about halfway done, so how many folders have we done?  There are 25 total.
An intelligent, respectful, hardworking sophomore: Uh, I dunno, you can do it Ms. Lewis.
Me: Well, let's see, I know 25 is near 24, and I know what half of 24 is... do you?
Sophomore: Uhh....
Me: It's 12.  I just have that memorized, but if you don't, you can break up 24 into 20 and 4.  So, what's half of 20?
Sophomore: Umm, I think it's....
Me: Just think, 10 plus what is ______
Sophomore: (Counts on fingers) 20!
Me: Yes, but you don't need to use your fingers for that.  Just remember your tens.  10 plus 10 is 20.  20 plus 10 is 30.  30 plus 10 is _____
Sophomore: (Counts on fingers again) 40!

After some time working on the board, he understood that to add 10 to any number you just increase the tens place value by 1 digit.  We then moved on to adding quickly by breaking apart numbers (ex. 22 + 12 is the same as 22 + 10 + 2).  How are there sophomores in our schools that don't know these things????  My heart breaks for the destruction in their lives that poor schooling in elementary school has done for them.

Note to self: teach students the meaning behind procedures and how to manipulate numbers, not just procedures.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Captured: CY Room Tour

Well, before we tear down our City Year room, I thought I'd capture it.  I do have to say that I'm pretty proud of it, as I lead our team to build it to be both functional and inspiring.  As Martha Stewart said, "life is too complicated not to be orderly."  (Yup, just quoted her.)


The best photo I have.  A dreary windowless room with 2 tables, computers, a whiteboard and couch,
a pile of things that don't belong to use, and an enormous pile of unorganized boxes (out of view).

The best whole-room photo I have.  Notice the work space table against the wall and the tech info above the computers.
The Master of All Things.  Tasks to accomplish along the top, check yourself off when you're done.  Usually a
running list of 'team tasks' as well, random info, and who is heading current 'leadership opportunities.'

STORAGE!  You have no idea how much work I put into getting us a cabinet.
It's (usually) more organized than this, thanks to the labels I made.

Progress monitoring - how many donations have we in-kinded so far? (managed by a corps member)

The appreciation board :-) Cards, emails, and notes from anyone to the team are posted here.

The Calendar, which rules our life.  Color-coded (obviously) and a record of hours along the side.

A running list of inspiring quotes from throughout the year :-)
Notice the red class schedule and monthly 'perfect punctuality awards' in the background. 

Everyone has their own desk (gasp!) and can post up their own things about their spot.

First circle boot prints

The appreciation fridge, thanks to one of my corps members.  Want to thank someone? Post it up!
Yes.  Somewhat effective.
Above the less effective bulletin board, and highly effective supply table.

Mission statements and meeting norms.
Notice they're on our fancy bookshelf, that can hold books AND binders!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Printed: Vacant Houses

More homes are sitting empty as lenders take them over through foreclosure and try to resell them, especially in depressed South Side neighborhoods with a lot of subprime lending activity.
"They're not getting snatched up by investors," says Michael van Zalingen... Bank-owned properties "are just going to keep stacking up."

Englewood has a 16.1% vacancy rate, the highest in the city, and North Lawndale's vacancy rate is 11.8%, according to Neighborhood Housing Services data. - Source 

The walk from the bus stop to my school - many vacant houses are out of view.

If I had a lot of money, I'd buy a bunch of cheap vacant houses in North Lawndale and turn them into cozy community centers, art and theater schools, and preschools.  There are certainly enough qualified unemployed people in the communities to hire.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Captured: Career Day

Today was "Freshmen Career Exploration Day" - we recruited guest speakers to come be 'stationed' in the freshmen teachers' rooms and give presentations as the students went through their classes.  It was a fantastic day and I think that some students' perceptions of their future and their role in the world were widened a little more, which is extremely rewarding.

A nurse and dietician

Staff members of the Blackhawks speaking about 'behind the scenes' jobs in sports

A nuclear engineer speaking about careers in science

A Hoops High representative speaking about careers in broadcasting

A former forest ranger speaking about careers in forestry and parks and rec

A respiratory therapist speaking about her career and the dangers of smoking
 Excerpts from the reflection packets (it's funny how these are a lot of things we blab about to them all the time, but is so much more effective when it's brought to them concretely):

Listening to other people speak about their careers made me think:
I could be anything when I put my mind to it.
about how much math and science is in every career. 
that football isn’t the only job out there and I have more options. 
about staying in school and getting my bachelors and my masters degree.
that I should start discussing my future career with my counselors.  
about how hard work pays off.
about how I want to change my whole entire life.  

Something new I learned today is:
your education is everything – without it you cannot do well. 
that smoking is very bad for your health. 
there are all many kinds of careers that help make up this world.
nothing is impossible.
that we should value our education.

I think I would like a job that allows me to:
become who I want to be, pays a good salary, and makes me feel comfortable.
be creative and help save lives at the same time.
have fun with and be very passionate about. 
have fun, make enough money to provide for my needs and wants, and also to be able to say I did it all for a reason. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Words: I Love It Here

Me: So, have you lived in this area your whole life?
A favorite involved parent: Yes, I have.  I grew up in a house just down the street.  I love it here.

A healthy reminder that success doesn't always mean getting out of the neighborhood as soon as possible.