Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Children go where I send thee

Just for fun today...

...the funny little boy reminds me of my nephew and cousins.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry X-mas

I learned something the other day.

X-mas is perfectly legit. No more reason to panic because, "They're taking the Christ out of Christmas!" ...because they're not. X is a symbol for "chi" in Greek. (How did I forget that from my college years and my desire to be in a Greek sorority??)

I learned that tidbit of information the other day from a friend who is in seminary. But since you don't have access to her, here is an abbreviated version through Wikipedia:

Usage of X for Christ in ancient languages

The word "Christ" and its compounds, including "Christmas", have been abbreviated in English for at least the past 1,000 years, long before the modern "Xmas" was commonly used. "Christ" was often written as "XP" or "Xt"; there are references in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle as far back as AD 1021. This X and P arose as the uppercase forms of the Greek letters χ and ρ used in ancient abbreviations for Χριστος (Greek for "Christ"), and are still widely seen in many Eastern Orthodox icons depicting Jesus Christ. The labarum, an amalgamation of the two Greek letters rendered as ☧, is a symbol often used to represent Christ in Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christian Churches.

The occasionally held belief that the "X" represents the cross on which Christ was crucified also has no basis in fact. Saint Andrew's Cross is X-shaped, but Christ's cross was probably shaped like a T or a †. Indeed, X-as-chi was associated with Christ long before X-as-cross could be, since the cross as a Christian symbol developed later. (The Greek letter Chi Χ stood for "Christ" in the ancient Greek acrostic ΙΧΘΥΣ ichthys.) While some see the spelling of Christmas as Xmas a threat, others see it as a way to honor the martyrs. The use of X as an abbreviation for "cross" in modern abbreviated writing (e.g. "King's X" for "King's Cross") may have reinforced this assumption.

In ancient Christian art, χ and χρ are abbreviations for Christ's name. In many manuscripts of the New Testament and icons, X is an abbreviation for Christos, as is XC (the first and last letters in Greek, using the lunate sigma); compare IC for Jesus in Greek.

So, no more panic. When someone texts, writes, or says, "Merry Xmas!" be reassured that people over the years have not left Christ out of it. They simply had a broader base of knowledge than we do now. And now you know what they knew all along. In our day of 140 character texts and tweets, this is great news!

Merry Xmas everyone!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Skills of a thief

I've been reading the book, Flow, by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

There are different ways to "flow" and different reasons people get into "flow." But the result is the same. Flow is something that happens when we get completely absorbed in something we enjoy. It happens when we engage the mind...when we work toward a solution...when the gears in our brain are turning and we are deep into problem solving. It may be gardening, writing a paper, fixing a computer, or planning an event. "Flow" is not accomplished when veging out in front of the TV. It takes work. But the work is so fulfilling that it results in a deeper rush of enjoyment.

It made me think of a conversation I overheard one time. Some teenage boys were talking about "hitting a lick." From listening to them talk, it sounded like their "lick" had produced quite a bit of money. Not so long ago, I would have written off crimes like this as an adrenalin rush. However, I don't think that is entirely accurate.

I do believe that "hitting a lick" successfully provides an adrenalin rush, but it is much more than that. These teenage boys had to do a lot of work to rob the store. They had to plot out which store to hit, research the store, scope out the patterns of people going in and out, figure out the security system, know where and how the money is secured, ...you get the picture.

There are a lot of skills involved in robbing a store. Yet these teenagers do it successfully and often manage not to get caught. Adrenalin rush? Perhaps. But I would argue that the problem solving that takes place and the enjoyment and excitement they receive as a result of their success is what Csikszentmihalyi refers to as "flow."

I thought about schools and after-school programs. Too often, schools are set up to teach kids to read and write. After-school programs are set up to contain kids between the critical hours of 3:00-6:00 until their parents get home. In itself, there's nothing wrong with that. But we're missing a piece. We're not equipping kids to use their minds outside of the classroom!

Even in after-school programs, we often provide activities kids can do while there. They might have fancy equipment or toys that they don't have at home. That's great...as long as they're at the program. But what happens after they leave? Their mind has to become sedentary until they return the next day. For a kid with a sharp mind (like many of those "thug" teens in my neighborhood), they are not satisfied with passive learning. They want to think!

We need to begin thinking in terms of how to engage kids in a way that they can take what they learn outside of the classroom. We need to think about how to engage kids utilizing and being creative with the resources they have.

So how do we do this?

As a child, I used to get absorbed in making crafts--cross-stitching, putting craft kits together, latch hook... I loved crafts. Some days my cousins and I would walk to the creek. We searched for crawdads and strategized how to catch them before they could scoot away backward. I was given a job I hated--scraping paint and re-painting our mill. As I scraped the paint, I tried to figure out the best way to hold the scraper to get off as much paint as possible, as quickly as possible.

We need to provide kids with opportunities to pique their interest.

In our After-School Academy, we have a garden. I have watched Ladaysha and Niemen get completely absorbed in that garden. I'm hoping we can begin working with them to create container gardens for their home. In our Digital Connectors program, Vanessa said she wants to learn everything they have planned because she wants to be able to fix their home computer when it goes down. In the Library, kids can get absorbed in books...and now they can purchase them and take them home with them for a mere 25 or 50 cents.

Instead of writing off the kid who has chosen a life of crime, maybe we should look at the skill level their crimes require. I believe if we look close enough, on the higher order thinking scale, we will find that the skills they have taught themselves often exceed what we're teaching them in school.

Maybe we're the ones that need to re-evaluate.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Is lying a justifiable means to get to college?

My text message alert went off around 9:30 p.m. "Are u still up?" it asked.

I was tired. I was planning to go to bed early that evening and really didn't feel like talking to anyone. I responded by saying I was getting ready for bed, but then thought about the person sending the text. It was Jasmine and she didn't seem like the type who would want to talk to me about something pointless. "Is everything all right?" I text'd. "Not really," she replied. "I just wanted help. I'm so sorry."

When I tried calling, her cousin said she was crying so hard she couldn't talk. My mind immediately went through all of the worst that I know about some of my teens. Did she kill someone?? Is her mom pimping her out?? Is she selling drugs?? Is she pregnant?? My mind raced.

I continued trying to communicate with her through texts. She said she was going to quit coming to Teen U but wouldn't say why. She said if she told us why, we'd never look at her the same. I explained all of my former interactions with and knowledge about teenagers (some mentioned above) and told her I was still in contact with those teens. I tried to assure her I wouldn't look at her differently. "It's not that bad!" she replied. But I still couldn't get her to talk.

After an hour of texting back and forth, Jasmine finally called. Even then, all I could get out of her was, "I'm a fraud." After much coaxing, she explained to me that she was 20 years old...not 17 like she had told us.

"That's it?!" I couldn't help but be incredulous to this discovery.

"But I lied!" she went on. "I signed papers that said I was 17 and in high school, but I'm not."

Jasmine and I had a long talk about being truthful. Because of her dishonesty, she had missed the deadline for the Central Dallas scholarship. There were other natural consequences that occurred because she had lied.

I am no fan of lying. But here's the bigger issue to me...

A 20-year old girl lied SO THAT SHE COULD GET HELP WITH COLLEGE!!!!

Because Teen U is only for 6th-12th graders, Jasmine was afraid that if she told us her real age, she would not get to visit the college campuses, listen to the career speakers, and begin figuring out what she wanted to do. She was afraid she'd passed the age of being able to get the guidance she needed and desperately wanted. Jasmine's mom and aunt encouraged her to keep lying so that she could get a college education.

What does it say about our inner city communities when a young adult so desperately wants to get an education that she is willing to lie about her age to access those resources??

How often have I heard and read that we have to teach "those kids" [in the inner city] to value education?! How often do I hear that "those parents" [in the inner city] don't want anything for their kids?! Who are "those people" talking about???? Where are they getting their information??

Knowing this truth, I know our program needs to be expanded. We don't have the people or monetary resources in place, but we will make it work. Fighting crime and providing basketball leagues are important....but the communities where I live and work deserve educational opportunities as well. Our city and our society has to begin backing up this big talk on education. If education is so important, we need to improve our schools and offer more accessible, community-based programs that provide kids AND adults with the opportunities to fulfill their dreams...and helps them figure out how to get there.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Traveling Journal

Our Education Department has what's called a Traveling Journal. Since our programs meet at different times and in different buildings, I think it's important for each of us to see what the other is doing on a particular day. Each staff member signs up for a day and is supposed to chronicle that day. They can write whatever they want. They can draw, attach items, etc. The journal creates a daily history for us.

I've meant to share some of those with you...and will try to do better...but Tameshia's struck me as one that is really representative of what a day in the life of the Education Department is like. I'll let her speak...

Today I feel like pulling my hair out. I'm so frustrated at the moment. I don't know what happened at school with the kids today but they all seem to be in a bad mood. Stinky attitudes all day today. Doesn't help that I have a headache either.

As I'm writing, I'm getting less frustrated. I just asked Iesha (Dr. Iesha) what she did at the doctor (physical therapy with Ms. Janet) and expected her to tell me not demonstrate it! I'm really impressed and delighted that she remembers. She just asked me to go to the internet (blog) so she can show me something. When the blog comes up...she asked me to make it big. Then she says to her classmates, "Look, I'm famous. I'm Dr. Iesha!" She then tells me, "You see this button (talking about the timer at the therapy place)...I pushed that first then...." (and so on and so on).

I can't be frustrated now.

My class has finally calmed down and now we're playing "roll-a-turkey" on the computer. They love it!! When you finish the game...you've drawn a turkey. Ladaysha has truly (slowly but surely) become a leader. When she finished her turkey, she started talking about what she's thankful for. Her classmates then followed. I like when they come up with their own ideas from a lesson I planned. It's refreshing.

So now it's 2 hours later...
I'm now in the Teen U lab with the Digital Connectors. I walked into the building at exactly 6:00 p.m. All of my students were together saying, "Ms. Tameshia! You're late!" Wow!!!!! These can't be the teenagers the media displays. They're ready and excited to learn.

They've bonded so well. They work together without me saying so and get mad if I put them with the same partner over again. It's all kind of surreal to me. What's wrong with them...I think to myself sometimes (haha). Tonight they learned the difference between the internet and the world wide web and my "flows/raps" about the differences. They took it serious and actually wrote really good flows. Dung thinks they could get a record deal. haha

So much for being frustrated!!
Tameshia Rudd-Ridge is our technology guru who teaches the 2nd-3rd graders in the After-School Academy and is the Coordinator of the Digital Connectors program for teenagers.

This is why I love my job!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Future Physical Therapists

We took a group of students to Prairie View A & M a couple of Saturdays ago. I'd never met Jasmine before that Saturday. In fact, she hadn't been going to Teen U very long at that point. But she's a senior and she heard about a college trip. She immediately signed up. I mentioned her in a previous post.

She ended up sitting in the front seat of the van on the way back to keep me awake. As we talked, I found out she was interested in the medical field. She said she liked to help people. But the more we talked, I found out she had a lot of interests. I think "medical field" was something she was familiar with and sounded like a good field to enter, but it was more of a default career than something she knows for sure.

As I started asking more questions, I found out that she was thinking about physical therapy. What a perfect opportunity! I mentioned before that I had been taking different kids with me to my physical therapy appointments. So, I asked Jasmine if she'd like to go.

I didn't see Jasmine again until the appointment. She arrived at our meeting spot 30 minutes early. (the dedication of teenagers should really be noted more often!) Very characteristic of Jasmine, she was quiet on the way there...answering questions as I asked and trying to make polite conversation in return. I told her a little about what it would be like at physical therapy and encouraged her to ask them questions.

I can't quite tell what she's thinking because she's so quiet. As I did my exercises, I asked the therapy technicians some questions I knew Jasmine might be interested in. One lady there took a particular interest in Jasmine's ambitions and started giving her advice about P.T. schools.

At the very end, I noticed some sparks and new understandings. She had mentioned to me that physical therapy wasn't what she thought it was (ahhh! And that would be the whole purpose in exposing kids to a variety of options!). She had started asking different staff questions that helped her process her new knowledge.

At one point, she overheard them mention that my usual days are Monday and Thursday. She turned to me and asked, "You come again on Monday?" and somewhat shyly asked, "Are you going to invite me back?" ...to which I whole-heartedly agreed.

"There's so much I want to do," she explained to me on the way home.

I'm so glad that we have Teen U, the University of Texas-Dallas interns, and Digital Connectors to help the teenagers discover all of their possibilities and make educated decisions about what they want to do. I love thinking how great our future will be because of students like Jasmine.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Nurturing youth to create their own "Flow"

The after-school programs touted as "successful" are often the ones who claim to create leaps and bounds in academic achievement and have figured out a way to prove their claims. I, too, have always thought our After-School Academy students' scores increase as a result of being in our programs, but instead of emulating schools to achieve this, I tend to strive toward creating programming that involves a lot of learning, without all of the drilling on individual skills that seems to be typical of a lot of schools these days.

Over the last few years, I've decided that we are much more like a parent than a school. But the other thing I've decided is that parents are educators in a much more meaningful way, oftentimes, than the schools. As a parent, you can teach your child math skills by opening a checking account. You teach them the value of nutrition, budgeting money, math skills, and the importance of following instructions by cooking with them. You can teach good sportsmanship, taking turns, math and reading skills, and so much more by playing board games with them. Life has so many practical lessons. Maybe that's why home schooling has become so popular with some parents.

So, when Terrence told me about the middle school boys who have now captured his heart, I was reminded all over again.

Evidently, these middle school boys have wreaked havoc in the past. They were throwing rocks at the windows in Teen U when Terrence first caught them. After using a bit of reverse psychology on them, the boys continued to return to the Teen U on a regular basis. They would usually hang out there long enough to create trouble and get kicked out for the day. However, Terrence noticed their obvious interest and began to capitalize on that. Last week, he created a special program for them on Saturday mornings and told them to show up at 10:00 a.m. Nine showed up on time and ready to find out about their new opportunities.

As Terrence explained to me how he connected with the boys--encouraging some, dismissing two (with the knowledge that they could return next week *if* they followed the rules), and letting a latecomer know he had to get up earlier if he wanted to be a part of something cool--I thought about parenting again.

Kids want to be a part of something. They want people to expect things of them. And they want their brain to be stimulated.

We all need to be stimulated. We need to have things that interest us so much that we lose track of time while doing them. We need to have a purpose so that the things we do have meaning. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi addresses this in his book, Flow. He poses that how parents interact with a child has a lasting effect on the kind of person that child becomes.

To help them create their own "flow," he suggests kids need:
  • Clarity--knowing what is expected of them
  • Centering--a perception that parents are interested in what they are currently doing, their thoughts, and their feelings
  • Choice--possibilities and options...including breaking rules and knowing they face consequences for their actions
  • Commitment--trust that allows the child to get involved in and interested in something unselfconsciously
  • Challenge--dedication to provide increasingly complex opportunities
The Education programs provide that...sometimes to augment what parents are already doing...other times to step in where parents can't, don't, or don't know how.

More and more, I hope that we see our students grow...not just to become college graduates or "successful" business people, but to be people who know their purpose and have a intrinsic ambition to work toward their goals.

Those who have a "why" to live, can bear with almost any "how." Friedrich Nietzsche

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Preparing kids for the future

This is why our education department is doing everything we can to prepare our kids and teens to be knowledgeable in technology:

They don't deserve to be left behind.