Friday, December 11, 2015

National Child Awareness Month Youth Ambassador Program


Over the summer I was chosen as Rhode Island’s Youth Ambassador for the National Child Awareness Month program and received a $1000 grant.  I represented The Challenge T.E.A.M (Together Everyone Achieves More).  In September, I travelled to Washington, D.C. for a three day training program.  
One ambassador, between the ages of sixteen and twenty-two, was selected from every state, and Washington, D.C.  We spent three days together receiving leadership training and getting tools to bring home to our project.  We heard from many speakers who shared with us ideas on how to best run a year-long project, with a final event planned for April or May of 2016.
The Challenge T.E.A.M. is run by Kimberly and Marc Rose.  Kim is a licensed social worker, and her husband Marc is a former police officer.  They started the program when Kim was working at an organization that served foster children aging out of the system.  They realized that many of these youth had never had anyone in their life help them set and work towards goals.  The team works out together two nights a week at various locations in the Providence area using materials that can be replicated in a small space with little to no money. The idea behind this is to have visible results to show the youth that they can achieve their goals.  Each person on the team also sets other personal goals (job-related, school-related, etc.).  Everyone supports one another on all levels and checks in with each other frequently.
The money received from this grant will allow the Challenge T.E.A.M. to provide binders to each member to keep track of his or her goals.  It will also allow them more flexibility in finding locations for the winter months when they cannot work out outside (they could pay a small fee to reserve an indoor location if necessary).  In April or May the T.E.A.M will work to put on an event that they will discuss over the course of the year.  It may be a fun run 5k similar to one they put on last year.  Currently, the T.E.A.M is trying to recruit more youth in need so that they can help more people achieve their goals.  I look forward to working with the team this year.  

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Lights On Afterschool! Breakfast of Champions 2015

Earlier in the semester, I had the privilege of attending the Lights On Afterschool! Breakfast of Champions at the Rhodes on the Pawtuxet in Cranston.  There was a table reserved for RIC Youth Development.  There were several people that I knew, including Dr. McKamey.  There was also a girl named Jacqueline who was a YDEV alum.  It was nice to get a chance to talk to someone who had graduated from the program and was out in the field trying to start her own non-profit organization.  
The opening remarks were given by two individuals who work for United Way of Rhode Island, who put on the breakfast along with Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA).  United Way works to bring the people of Rhode Island together to create positive change in the state.
The second speaker was Arnell Milhouse, founder of the program IntraCity Geeks.  The mission of this organization, according to their website (, is “to teach everyone in urban environments coding and entrepreneurship.”  He spoke about his childhood, which started out very difficult, but turned around when he moved to Cape Cod.  He excelled in his schooling and decided to start the organization IntraCity Geeks to give youth the same opportunities he was lucky enough to have.  This interview provides a little more background on Mr. Milhouse and his ideas behind the creation of IntraCity Geeks.  This video from their website provides a brief introduction to the organization.  
The keynote speaker was Mr. Jonathan Kozol.  I was very excited to hear him speak, since I read excerpts from his book Amazing Grace in my FNED 346 class last semester.  He was an amazing speaker and brought up several great points regarding our education system.  He also talked about his past and the work he has done throughout his years.  Partway through his talk, he mentioned that one of the students he wrote about years ago in Amazing Grace, who was in first grade at the time, was in the audience today.  I looked around when he asked where Jackie was sitting, and was shocked to find out that it was the YDEV alum Jacqueline that I had met earlier and was sitting across the table from.  I feel so lucky to be a part of a program with individuals who have overcome hardships and continued on to do amazing things with their lives.
I hope that I will get a chance to see Mr. Kozol and Mr. Milhouse speak again sometime, and I would love to attend this event next year if I can!  

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What Youth Work Means to Me

Youth work is about helping better the quality of life of all youth.  It is not the same as education as we typically think of it, where a student goes to school for eight hours a day and comes home to do homework.  It is about what happens outside of school.  The job of youth workers is to support youth in a holistic manner, taking into account their physical, mental, emotional, academic, and social well-being.  

According to “Strengthening the Youth Development/ After-School Workforce Lessons Learned and Implications for Funders,” Yohalem, Pittman and Edwards point out the necessity of youth work due to the “research showing these programs are useful not only for problem prevention, but for growth and development and academic success” (2010).  

I have always known that I wanted to work with youth, and I have been doing it since I was eleven years old.  But what I also know is that I don’t want to be a classroom teacher, particularly in a public school.  I don’t necessarily agree with all of the standards set forth by the federal and state governments that require teachers to teach certain things, while limiting what they can do in other senses.  

In my current position, I teach dance at a YMCA.  I have had the opportunity to develop relationships with all of my students over the years, helping them to be healthy physically, mentally, emotionally, academically, and socially.  I focus a lot of my energy on fostering a positive environment and discussion around physical health, which is especially important in the field of dance.  My students are all comfortable talking to me about what is going on in their lives and asking for help or advice when they need it.  I also have spent countless hours helping with various homework assignments and studying for tests.  

Finally, I believe that all youth workers should have a strengths based perspective when working with youth.  Every child should believe that she or he is capable of great things and that we as youth workers will support them in whatever way they need.  

**Side story about strengths based perspective**
I was teaching a class with my favorite little Mariah (the one I wrote about last week who is on the autism spectrum.  We tried the sticker chart again, but she was having a really hard day and it was not as effective as the first time.  While I could have easily become frustrated at her outbursts, I focused my energy instead on being patient and understanding.  In the middle of one of her episodes, I sat down next to her to try and figure out how I could help her best.  I refused to send her out of the classroom.  Through her short, tense breaths she was able to tell me she wished she had her stress ball.  I scanned the room and realized I had nothing that could be used.  So I made my hand into a fist and let her squeeze my hand.  With every squeeze, I could feel her becoming less and less tense.  Her breathing slowed to a normal rate and she was able to join back in class.  At the end of class when it was time for stickers, she came over to me after all the kids had left and said she didn’t think she earned a sticker because she was just a bad kid.  This absolutely broke my heart.  No child should ever feel like she is genuinely “bad.”  I explained to her how upset it made me to hear this and how much I wanted to find a way to help her make it through dance class without that feeling.  We decided together that getting a stress ball to keep in the dance studio was the first thing we should try.  It would be kept on a shelf near the stereo, and she would be allowed to go get it whenever she needed it.  She and I both felt that this will be a good way for her to manage her emotions during class.  I followed up with her mom when she picked her up, and will be bringing a stress ball to work with me tomorrow so that it will be there for her class on Thursday.  As easy as it would have been for me to yell or give up and send Mariah out of the room, I would not have been doing my job as a youth worker.  We play such an important role in the lives of youth, and we must always strive to be our best for them, even when it might not be easy for us.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Resilient Kids

Mission: To foster the social, emotional and academic growth of children and young people through mindfulness curricula seamlessly integrated into the school culture.  Our professionally-trained, dedicated instructors work in partnership with school administrators and classroom teachers to reduce stress and behaviors that interfere with learning, to accelerate positive student outcomes.*

Vision: Our vision is one of resilience.  We work in partnership to create a self-sustaining culture of fortitude for school, career, and life. We envision a community where all people live lives of strength, purpose, and compassion.  We inspire success one moment at a time.*

I love the mission and vision of Resilient Kids.  Too often, schools focus on the academic part of children’s lives and completely disregard other aspects of their lives, such as social and emotional.  By bringing mindfulness into the school curriculum, Resilient Kids is fostering the growth of the whole person, which is such an important concept.  While the program is school-based, the tools students learn can be taken outside of the classroom and applied at home, in extracurricular activities, and throughout the rest of their lives.  

In my years of teaching dance classes, I have found that kids feed off of the energy and attitude of their teachers.  Regardless of what kind of day I am having, when I get to work it is important that I put all of my personal problems aside and focus my time on the kids and teaching dance.  This is not always easy, but kids can tell when you are having a bad day and will take advantage of that if you let them.  One technique I have learned for classroom management in the dance studio, and when I am nannying is not yelling.  I don’t like yelling, and it accomplishes nothing.  When my students get out of control, I simply stand there and say nothing.  Slowly, they start to realize that they should be doing the same until the classroom is silent.  I then ask them, in a quiet voice, to take a deep breath and bring their focus back to what we are doing.  At the end of the day, the kids are happy, I have a productive (and somewhat quiet) class, and I don’t lose my voice or my patience.  

A Single Story

In the fall semester last year, I had the opportunity to work in a 2nd grade classroom for my FNED 346 class.  I was placed in a Providence elementary school and given a list of the six students I should be working with, since they were “the lowest of the low.”  In my training, I was basically told that these kids had no hope.  This was purely based on test scores.  When I actually got into the classroom and had a chance to talk to the teacher, she looked at the list and disagreed with it.  Although the six students on the list had tested the lowest on standardized tests, she felt as though there were other students who could benefit from one on one help more.  I ended up staying throughout the spring semester as well because I enjoyed working with the kids so much and saw so much improvement in the students I worked with.  

For my special education placement in the spring semester of 2015, I was placed in another Providence elementary school.  This time, I was placed in a 4th grade classroom and worked one-on-one with one young girl.  She struggled with reading at a kindergarten level and could not pass the basic addition timed tests, while the rest of her classmates were doing multiplication and division.  It seemed to me that her teachers had essentially given up on her.  The system was also failing her.  On multiple weeks, I had to read her the standardized reading tests.  Her teacher told me “It’s really a waste of time.  Even if you read it to her she has no comprehension skills.  Just try to get it done as quickly as possible.”  She also spent many hours taking the PARCC test, even though she could not read.  So “she will just pick random answers and then sit there while everyone else finishes.”  This is where I struggle with standardized testing.  It seems to me that these hours could have been better spent working one-on-one with her in areas that she struggles, rather than setting her up for failure

I came across these two videos, and I think they are so important for anyone who works with children to watch.  Take these messages to heart:

A third story hits really close to my heart.  We have a little girl at the dance studio, Mariah, who I have had since she was four years old.  She is nine now.  Mariah is on the autism spectrum, and many of our staff and instructors get frustrated when they have her in class.  They do not know how to work with her to help her be successful.  When I was talking to some of the teachers the other day, I said “I love Mariah”.  My statement was met with blank stares, confused looks, and “How?!”  My response is simple.  She is a very special girl with very special talents, and even though her brain might work a little differently, she is just as amazing as all of our other students.  The kindness Mariah displays towards other students is remarkable.  Sometimes she has trouble controlling her body and actions, but she recognizes this and does try to control herself.  When I was subbing for one of her classes, the teacher warned me that Mariah was in the class and I would need another person in the room because she is “out of control”.  I politely rejected the offer, as I don’t see a need for her to feel different and that I need help to control her.  I feel that this undermines my control as a teacher, and “others” her.  The first half of the two hour class went ok, but I had to keep redirecting her.  With an hour left in class, Mariah sat under the barres and refused to participate.  She was tired, bored, and overwhelmed.  She couldn’t control her body, and her only solution was to sit against the wall in a ball.  But as a teacher, I never want any of my students to feel isolated or disconnected from the class.  I knew that I needed to do something to intervene to make the rest of the class manageable for Mariah, the other students, and myself.  At this point, I knew two things: 1) the thought of a whole hour was too much for her, and 2) stickers motivate Mariah.  So I made a little visual chart.  I broke the rest of the class time down into 15 minute increments.  Every 15 minutes, Mariah could earn a small sticker on the chart for good listening and focusing on controlling her body.  If she got all four stickers, she could get a big, sparkly sticker at the end of class.  I have never seen Mariah behave so well.  When she started to lose control, I simply had to show her with my fingers how many minutes she had until her next sticker.  I didn’t even have to say anything.  I will definitely be passing this technique on to her other teachers so that we can provide the best environment possible for a very special little girl.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Context Mapping My Life

From what I gathered in the reading, context mapping is thinking about the different areas/aspects of one’s life, who is involved in that part of his or her life, what is expected of the individual in that part of life, and how the person feels when he or she is in that setting.  

Based on my understanding of context mapping from the reading, I created a context map of myself and the different areas of my life.  I included five different areas/contexts of my life.  For each I included words that people would use to describe me, along with words that describe how I feel in these settings and the role I feel I must take on in each of these settings.
Four Types of Identities (according to Chapter 2, Understanding Youth Adolescent Development for Educators, Nakkula & Toshalis, 2010)

Foreclosed Identity: “one in which an individual has committed to a life direction or way of being without exploring it carefully and without experimenting with alternatives...either thrust upon a person...or simply accepted with little reflection”
Diffused Identity: “a state in which there has been little exploration or active consideration of a particular identity and no psychological commitment to one...easily influenced by others and often change rapidly from one belief or representation to another to fit into changing contexts”
Identity Moratorium: “a developmental state in which one actively explores roles and beliefs, behaviors, and relationships, but refrains from making a commitment...often accompanied by a great deal of anxiety due to the competing demands experienced in the exploration of the authentic ‘me’ and the immediacy with which a lack of identity cohesion is felt”
Achieved Identity: “occurs when the identity crisis is resolved and the commitment to the selected identity is high...the individual has successfully integrated his ego-identity needs from the past, within the present, and into the future and can therefore display a certain level of self-acceptance and ego strength across changing contexts”

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Coauthoring My Life

Going into reading this piece with the assignment to “Make a list of ten vocabulary words or concepts from this chapter that you did not know, didn’t understand, or feel are essential to the major concepts of the text,” I was expecting the reading to be challenging and difficult for me to understand.  Once I started reading, I realized that I understood most of what I was reading.  I am currently taking Human Development, so I recognized a lot of the terms such as scaffolding and zone of proximal development from that class.  There were other words and themes that came up that I was a little unsure of, but upon further reading, I was able to gain a pretty good understanding of their meaning from the context of the reading.  Finally, there were some words that I did not fully understand, or felt that I could understand the reading better if I looked up the definitions.  One word I had never heard before was “maligned” which I learned from Google’s dictionary is defined as “to speak about (someone) in a spitefully critical manner.”  I also wanted more clarification about who exactly is defined as an adolescent and what is considered to be adolescence.  When I searched “adolescent” on Google, the first definition given was “(of a young person) in the process of developing from a child into an adult,” which seemed very vague and open to interpretation.  Searching for the definition of “adolescence” on Google clarified this, as it is defined as “the period following the onset of puberty during which a young person develops from a child into an adult.”

When thinking about my own life story and who helped to coauthor my story with me, one rather lengthy quote from the reading stuck out to me:
“During adolescence, coauthoring possibilities become more complex as the venues for accessing life experiences grow more varied and the implications for selecting and interpreting organizing themes take on exceeding weight.  In the educational realm, for example, the meaning of “school” often becomes dramatically revised.  During childhood, school largely is used to build academic and life skills that have strong personal meaning for the present.  If a third-grade student succeeds or fails, those outcomes have important implications for status among one’s peers and can bring either favor or negative consequences at home.  But implications for “one’s future” with the exception of concern about passing into the fourth grade, tend to be vaguely felt or understood.  By early adolescence, however, students clearly associate their school performance with possibilities for the future.  And by middle high school--tenth or eleventh grade--school performance is strongly associated with life opportunities and plans for early adulthood.  During adolescence, then, the theme of education is critical to one’s developing life story, in whatever form that theme takes” (7).
Looking back to my elementary school years, I was always very successful.  I never got less than 100% on a spelling test, my homework was done by the end of my car ride home from school, and I always received the highest grades on my report cards.  This trend continued through middle school, and going into high school, I was sure that I would get straight A’s with no trouble.  This idea was quickly shut down in my freshman year science class.  My teacher treated us all like high schoolers right away.  She had a way that she was going to teach, and you either got it or you didn’t.  I did very poorly on my first few exams, but looking back, the material we were learning would not make or break my success in life.  However, as a young, nervous high schooler, I remember talking to my teacher one day after school because I was so distraught about doing poorly on my tests.  She asked me what I wanted to do when I graduated (keep in mind that I am not even 15 years old yet).  I told her that I wanted to go to nursing school.  I distinctly remember her looking at me and saying “Good luck with that.  If you think my tests are hard, you will never survive nursing school.”  
Luckily, during my junior year of high school (one of the more important in developing my life story, as discussed in the reading) I had the opportunity to have a man whom I would consider the best teacher in our school for English.  I consider myself lucky because he definitely played one of the biggest roles in coauthoring my story with me throughout the second half of my high school career, and even the beginning of my college career.  He was there to support me through my worries, talk through college options, and listen to me stress about what college I would get into on a daily basis.  The difference with him was that he cared about more than just how I was doing in his class.  He cared about me as a person.  On one occasion after I spent the morning freaking out (probably crying) about something in his classroom, he sent my mom an email saying, “I worry about her stress level” and later sat me down to talk about his concerns.  When I was concerned about getting into a specific college, he sent them an additional email after his original letter of recommendation without being asked.  He went above and beyond his job description of “English teacher,” and was very transparent in sharing with me his own personal struggles.  He did not do this for any benefit of his own, but rather “saw himself in me” and felt as though he would be able to connect with me better if he did this.  The dialogues I had with him were some of the most important things I learned in high school.  Even after I graduated, we still kept in frequent communication; and he never stopped helping me.  To this day, he knows more about me than some of my closest friends; and I am forever grateful for his help in coauthoring my life story with me.  

For anyone who hasn’t read or seen Freedom Writers, I highly recommend it.  Erin Gruwell is an amazing teacher who I think truly embodies the idea of coauthoring with adolescents. In her TEDTalk  Becoming a Catalyst for Change: Erin Gruwell at TEDxChapmanU, “Erin shares how she chose to become a teacher who believed in change, who believed her students could decide their own future instead of becoming another victim of gang-related violence or teen pregnancy. She walks the audience through her and her students' journey to chronicle their own stories, mirroring some of the most iconic figures in history.”