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.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The purpose of a life...

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. There is no gift-buying that adds to the stress of other holidays...just family getting together and doing what they do best--some cook, some clean, some take pictures...

I have so much to be thankful for.

Thankful was the word that came to mind when I watched this TED video:

I listened to Emmanuel Jal talk about his willingness to die for education...not for himself, but for the other children in the Sudan. He writes, he speaks, he performs...he only eats one meal a day...so that he can raise money to build a school for the children in his home country.

Emmanuel Jal credits Emma McCune for saving him. It is because of her that he is able to save other people's lives.

We need dedicated people...no matter what their dedication is to.

I am thankful that we have people like Emmanuel Jal who believe in education so much that they have dedicated their lives to ensure children have access. I am thankful for people like Emma McCune who believe so much in saving child soldiers that they dedicate their lives to the effort and, as a result, people like Emmanuel Jal and his vision becomes possible.

We all have those people in our lives. People who inspire us. People who save us from ourselves. People who are so devoted that we can't help but be devoted as well.

Thank you to all of those people.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Learning from Precious

Have you seen the movie Precious? If not, it's a must-see. But not just for a night out. Precious exists to pique our conscious. Read the book as well. The movie stays pretty true to the book, but the book provides even more insight.

I wanted to watch the movie because several years ago one of the teenagers were sitting in my apartment. We were having some kind of serious discussion and one of them mentioned that she had been sexually molested by her mother's boyfriend. One by one, the other girls spoke up...“Me, too…me, too…me, too…”

I had no idea what to do. We worked to try to get the most recent one to counseling but her grandmother resisted and her mother denied it had ever happened.

More recently one of them text'd me to let me know she was ok, but she had just tried to commit suicide. I couldn't believe it. She's in college and she had just told me how well she was doing! She explained that she had repressed her memories, but knew she needed to know. When her sister told her what all had happened, she couldn't take the reality. The residual of what happened when she was four or five years old still haunts her.

Just the other day when I was telling another young adult about my idea to have one of the girls I know speak about their situation in hopes of helping another young teenager speak out, she explained that she had also been sexually abused. She went on to tell me she knew of quite a few others who had been victims as well.


I don’t understand! Where do these sick, sick men come from?? And why can’t we stop them??

I had heard one time that 75% of women…or maybe it was 75% of African-American women had been sexually abused. 75%! That’s 3 out of 4 women! And I would guess most times that abuser is never brought to justice because the women were too scared and unsure to tell when they were kids and by the time they became adults they felt like there was nothing that could be done. I've heard mothers say, "It happened to me and I'm fine so you will be, too." ...and they don't realize how it has manifested itself in so many other ways in their life.

As I read the book, I've been bothered even more. Precious didn’t know how to read until she was 16 and was, by chance, put into an alternative program. She thinks so little of herself because her mother always called her stupid and ugly. She was fat because of her mother's abusiveness toward her. She was raped not only by her own father, but she was also molested by her own mother.

I think about other kids I’ve known. I wonder what I *don't* know about their situations.

I think about a girl I knew who was sexually abused by her mother's boyfriend for so long. I wonder about her sister. I wonder if that's why she was always a slow learner. I wonder what a pre-GED program and literacy program could have and could still do for her today.

I’m so happy that we finally have teen programs at Central Dallas. I’m happy that we have young adults working with the teenagers who have been in their shoes. They know what the teens have gone through and they can relate to them in ways I never could.

But I am not satisfied.

We have to do more.

I have known so many adults who graduated from high school who are illiterate. After watching Precious, I wonder now if some of their childhood situations may have contributed in a much bigger way than we realize.

We are doing what we can, on a small scale, with the elementary kids and the teenagers. But we need a program that works on literacy. We need a pre-GED program. We need counselors--not the school referrals that send kids to counseling but only allow them three visits...not the school counselors (because they only administer tests and aren't real counselors anymore) ...and not the fly-by-night counseling services that come through the inner-city neighborhoods to make a buck, take on clients for a limit time until their funding runs out, and without even having the counseling ethics to tell a parent or client that they will be leaving, they disappear.

We need more programs like the ASA, Teen U, the Library, and Digital Connectors. Programs that exist for the long haul. Programs that don’t disappear. Programs that have such dedicated staff who care about the future of the kids and adults in the community. Programs that offer solutions instead of just pointing out the problems.

We’ve got to do more. Not just in Dallas, but everywhere.

I don’t know what that is just yet. I haven't figured out what we will start next. But I know we’ve got to do more.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Teen U: Helping teens realize their dreams

One of my biggest pet peeves these days is listening to adults talking about inner-city youth say, "We've got to teach these kids to value education."

Newsflash: Kids value education. They simply don't have the opportunities to get a good education from many of our schools...and they don't know what to do to progress past high school.

Note to adults: Stop trying to teach them to value education and, instead, start providing them with opportunities.

Case in point:
This past Saturday I woke up at 4:00 a.m. so I could drive the van for Teen University's college trip to Prairie View A & M. When I arrived at 5:05 a.m., I only saw one teenager walking toward Teen U. I admit, I was disappointed.

However, my disappointment was completely unwarranted.

As Terrence (Teen U Coordinator) finished up inside the building and walked out, seven teenagers followed right behind him. He told me later that they were at the door waiting for him when he arrived at 5:00 and were trying to tell him he was the one who was late!

The entire trip impressed me! As we went into our first session, the teens introduced themselves to the PVAMU financial aid speakers just as they had been taught at Teen U. As they took the campus tour, the teens stayed right on the heels of the tour guides listening to everything said.

Realities we need to recognize:
One girl in the group was a senior. She only recently got involved with Teen U, but it was very obvious she was serious about being on the trip.

After our first session with financial aid, she began talking to me out of the blue. "I've got a lot of questions, but I don't even know how to ask them," she confided. She mentioned her concern that she wouldn't be able to start college next year. She explained how she would be the first in her family to go to college. She wanted to make sure if she didn't go to college right out of high school we would still help her.

As we drove home, she and I talked about careers and college possibilities. Though she said she wanted to go into the medical field, in talking to her I found she had a lot of interests and wasn't aware of all of the possibilities available to her. She hadn't ever visited colleges beyond the community colleges in Dallas.

Why Teen U exists:
In working with kids and teens over the years, over and over I hear the same thing. Teenagers want to go to college, but don't know how. Teenagers want to be "successful" but have no idea of the possibilities of careers that are open to them.

Props to the staff:
For the first time in my career, I did not play a role in the planning or decision making. All I did was agree to drive. I'm so glad I did. It's obvious that the teens are absolutely amazing because of the staff at Teen U. The Teen U staff and interns are passionate about ensuring the teens have the information and knowledge to make a smooth transition into college.

Teen U has only been in operation for two months and already has a solid group of about 10 students plus about 20 others who show up once or twice a week. As more teens find out, I know Teen U will continue to grow.

Teens know to value education. It's our job to provide them with the opportunity to realize their dreams.

Friday, November 20, 2009

What's in your community?

I forget how easy it is to do a good deed. And I forget how meaningful those good deeds can be.

Last night we had our monthly Parent Academy. Soup and sandwiches are provided through an organization that comes each week. We try to over-estimate our numbers so that we are sure to have food for everyone. Last night we had an over-abundance of leftovers. Mostly soup and bananas.

By about 8:30 when the meeting was over, I was ready to go home. Though I *hate* to waste food, I was about resigned to throwing the soup in the trash when Tameshia wondered aloud if there would be any homeless shelter open to take it to.

Duh! Why didn't I think of that?!

Before I moved to Dallas, I was very involved with the homeless. I worked at a cafe breakfast program designed for formerly homeless addicts in Chicago and then worked at a homeless shelter in Boston. As I walked and caught the bus to work, I made friends with the homeless men asking for change or selling newspapers. I always enjoyed what I learned from them.

One of the guys in Boston, who stationed himself right outside of Mass General hospital, informed me that people would walk right past him without ever even looking at him until one of the doctors (who had become a friend of his) would stop and talk to him. He told me people would literally go around the corner then turn around and come back to give him money if the doctor was standing by him.

So, when Tameshia suggested that, I thought of the places I know. I thought of the Dallas International Street Church because of a friend who volunteers there and because of some minor involvement I've had there.

So, we headed that direction. I called my friend, Karen, to make sure it would be ok to take food that late at night. She assured me it would and told me who to connect with once there.

Just as she said, church services were in progress. Several men were sitting around out front, while others were walking in and out of a building beside the church. It was dark and the street where the church is located is not necessarily the best neighborhood to be in.

It's interesting to me how darkness and run-down buildings can make everything seem so scary. Because the man I approached had absolutely no threatening factor about him. As I asked my questions, he immediately guided me in the right direction, sending me to another man by an open door. As he saw the man we needed to speak to, he called out to him. Barry and a young teenage boy came over to the car to pick up the soup.

Each gentleman thanked us in a very gracious way that wasn't over-done or under-appreciated. They took the soup and bananas and returned to the building.

I am reminded how much perfectly good food goes to waste when people right down the street are hungry. And tonight I was reminded of how easy it is to do good if I simply get outside of my every day routine and think outside of that box.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Volunteer Spotlight: Susie Marshall

I often get random requests from people wanting to volunteer with our education programs. Usually the requests are very specific. They want to come on a certain day (usually a weekend or an evening after we're closed) and during a certain time frame. Oftentimes, they want to bring a large group of people.

I truly appreciate a person's willingness to give of their time, but I struggle to try to reconcile a group or individual's willingness to give of their time (working around their work schedules) with our actual need. There has got to be some way to engage people in volunteering without making our staff work 50 hours a week to accommodate them. There has also got to be a way to engage volunteers in a way that is beneficial to the program instead of just busy-work that is created because non-profits feel the need to cater to volunteers.

The consistent and genuinely engaged volunteer is very rare and hard to come by but they are possible. We have a couple of them.

Today, I want to spotlight Susie Marshall as one of those people.


Susie works with the Gleaning Network of Texas. She helped our After-School Academy get their garden started this summer. Her original commitment was to teach a garden/environment class one Friday a month last school year. But she took it upon herself to visit us more than that. Susie would stop by every so--in between meetings or if she was down the street for some reason--often just to say hi or to check out something for the class she was going to be teaching. Because she was so consistent, we convinced her back in the summer to help the kids to start a garden.

Due to different obstacles here and there, we couldn't start the garden when we wanted to. Many people would have stopped coming. But that didn't stop Susie. She kept coming. She hung out. She got to know the kids better. She assisted some teachers and sat in on some classes. She became a part of our program, despite there being "nothing" for her to do.

By the time we got approval for the garden, Susie was ready...because she never went away. Since we were behind in the process, she recruited different people to help. She ran into more obstacles (the ground was too hard). She did more research. She decided on a "lasagna garden." Since the process was too big for small kids, she recruited a group of teenagers to work with the kids.

We could have set aside our project and waited for a volunteer group to come along, but we needed to get the garden going so that vegetables could grow and so that the kids could work in it. And we didn't want it done *by* somebody, we wanted it done *with* the kids. Susie knew all of that and was quick to accommodate--even gathering and purchasing the supplies needed.

Because we had a long time relationship/partnership with Susie, she didn't need a lot of nurturing. We didn't have to provide a staff member to supervise her and her group on a Saturday because she was very familiar with us, the garden, the kids, and our expectations. Susie's volunteering efforts didn't (and don't) take time away from what we spend with the kids, they enhance them.

The garden now has green peppers, red tomatoes, and ripe black-eyed peas and jalepenos. Susie is still researching new practices and has become a part of our summer planning committee. Our After-School Academy is doing some great things with the help of volunteers like Susie.


If you are someone who wants to be involved, offer your time. Stop in on your lunch break and be willing to enter data or shelve books. Get to know the program's day-to-day activities and needs when kids and big events *aren't* happening. We have to have staff to run our programs like everyone else. Our kids deserve that. But in preparing for our programs, we don't always have time to get the behind-the-scenes things done. Help us with those behind the scenes things...or just show up regularly so that we know we can call on you when we need something. And we need those kinds of volunteers beyond Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dr. Iesha

For the last two weeks I've been going to physical therapy to rehab my knee.

I'm a big believer in exposing kids to new opportunities and careers. So as I left therapy the first day, I asked my physical therapist if he would mind if I brought a kid with me the next time. He said he didn't think it would be a problem.

So...each time since, I have taken a different "kid" with me. Warzandrielle, a sophomore, was first. Hayzul, a 4th grader, was next. Brittany, a sophomore in college was next. Each of those guys seemed to enjoy the experience. Warzandrielle celebrated with me when I came home and told her my knee had healed enough for me to make an entire revolution on a stationary bike. Hayzul learned what a quadricep, a hamstring, and a calf muscle was. And Brittany decided that she just might want to change her major from Political Science to Sports Medicine.

So, tonight, when Danielle (our After-School Academy Coordinator) brought Iesha (2nd grader) to me, I thought she had asked someone too young. On the way there, I talked to her about what we were going to be doing. I asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up. She said a doctor. I figured at least that was a start.

Once there, as I worked on the bike and then the shuttle machine, I tried to give Iesha some similar activities so she could work the same muscles I was working. She did the exercises, but seemed just as content watching me and everyone else doing exercises.

After doing a few exercises, one of the therapists allowed Iesha to shut off the timer and asked if she was going to read the next exercise on the clipboard. Iesha, being as quiet and shy as she is, didn't respond. Feeling that it was ok for Iesha to look at the clipboard, I asked her if she was going to tell me the next activity. Next thing I knew, the beeper went off. Iesha took it upon herself to turn off the beeper, take the clipboard off of the counter, and begin to read me the next item on the list, "Is-o-met-ric..." she began.

She wasn't being silly. She was very intent on her job. She took on the role so well that I could see shock but a pleasant, surprised smile on my physical therapist's face as he watched her. He proceeded to ask Iesha what I was supposed to do next. Very intently, she looked at the chart and did her best to figure out which exercise was next and how to pronounce it. As we finished up, he smiled in a very pleased way and commented to her in a very genuine way, "We need to hire you!" He went on to say that child labor laws would prevent that, but I got the feeling that had Iesha been about 10 years older he would've hired her on the spot! When we left, my therapist very seriously asked her if she was going to come back.

As we got in the car, I loved watching the smile creep across her face as I told her from now on I was going to refer to her as Dr. Iesha.

Ask Iesha what she wants to be now and I think she just might tell you, "Phy-si-cal thera-pist." It's a big career with a hard name. We've just got to work on saying it.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Great things at the ASA

My staff constantly tells me little snippits of great things that are happening in our Teen U, Library, Digital Connectors, and After-School Academy. I constantly tell them, "Write it down!" But, when in the midst of it, it's a whole lot easier to tell someone than to take the time to write it.

However, I just noticed that there are three new posts at our ASA blog.

Check them out. Hopefully soon, I'll be posting some comments the staff has made in the "traveling journal" we've been keeping.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Exploiting poor people's desire to learn

As I was walking out of my office the other day, a friend of mine in the housing development where I work approached me with a big smile on her face. "I'm so glad I caught you! I wanted to give you my graduation announcement!"

Being the educator I am, I try to make every graduation I can. Graduations excite me. I was honored that she would think of me when she was inviting people.

As I opened the invitation in front of her and saw Everest College, I tried to keep the smile on my face, though my heart cringed. I knew she had just wasted two years of her life and probably had the debt to prove it.

I don't know that our country realizes how well it has sold the idea that education is the key to one's future. I hear it preached over and over again in the inner-city where I live and work...and people listen.

People in the neighborhoods and in the housing developments where I lived and worked have bought into the belief that education is they key to their future. It is because of that belief that they actively pursue "higher education." The problem isn't in their effort. Their problem lies in where they've been convinced to pursue this "higher education."

If someone comes to me to ask for college advice, I immediately, emphatically tell them to stay away from "colleges" like Everest, Remington, ATI, or some these other for-profit schools that promise them they will have no financial obligation and promise them a high-paying job when they finish. I try to convince them what many of us know already. Those institutions lie to get people in the door. See this article: The Subprime Student Loan Racket - Stephen Burd

Sometimes, I can convince people of the lies they've been told. Other times I can't. The for-profit institutions market so strongly to poor communities that people are convinced they are their ticket out of their life of poverty. Instead, they are their ticket into more poverty.

However, it is one thing for me to convince someone before they start their educational career. It is yet another when someone is 1/2 way or all the way through one of these exploitative schools. They are so proud of working toward something, I don't have the heart to tell them the reality they are about to face. Unfortunately, because of these schools, they often get dissuaded and then convince their children that they have to accept the reality that there isn't a way out.

So what do we do about "colleges" like ITT Tech, University of Phoenix, Westwood, Career Education, Corinthian College, DeVry, Brooks Institute, and Everest?

We need to change legislation. We need to prevent these institutions from profiting off of the backs of poor people.

Right now, the government acknowledges these schools and assists with their funding by backing defaulted loans. Sallie Mae works in conjunction with them because they make big profits in working with these for-profit schools.

If you have a similar story, post it here. If you know of people who are being taken advantage of because of these schools, post that as well. Maybe we can build enough stories to convince Congress there need to be strict regulations against them.

We need to get the word out that it is not ok to exploit poor people's desire to learn.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Justice of the Peace refuses to marry interracial couple...now resigns

It's the year 2009. Barack Obama, a bi-racial man, has been elected President of the United States of America. As we look back through our history, we can see the events that led up to him becoming president.

School segregation was outlawed in 1954. Some cities (like Dallas) didn't institute it until 1970. Even now schools suffer from de facto segregation, but at least the de jure segregation is over, I suppose.

In 1967, the Supreme Court determined that interracial marriages were legal. This was another landmark decision. No longer were people told who they could and couldn't love.

Despite this fact, 40+ years later a Justice of the Peace in Louisiana thinks that he doesn't have to abide by that Supreme Court decision. Keith Bardwell refused to marry at least four interracial couples in the last 2 1/2 years.

After much publicity and despite his term being up in 2014, Mr. Bardwell has now decided to resign. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

When will we understand that blackface is *not* acceptable??

Remember that Post-racial America series I did here, here, and here? Well, here's another to add to it.

Deadspin.com reports that a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader dressed up in blackface as Lil' Wayne for Halloween. Though I believe Deadspin was reporting it for the sheer idiocy of the act, the question they pose at the beginning of their article speaks to their own ignorance:

"When are people going to learn that you cannot upload photos to your Facebook page if you don't want them to get out?"

Geesh! How do people miss the point so blatantly??

Maybe I'm over-estimating people, but I think we all know that the World Wide Web is the WORLD WIDE Web! We may not think about it as much as we should, but people know that their words, pictures, etc. are accessible. Otherwise, we wouldn't put them on our pages. Whitney Isleib knew other people would see her photos. There would have been no need to post them if others couldn't see them.

The problem here is not that she uploaded the photo (though the picture is nauseating to look at). The problem is that she thought it was ok to go in blackface in the first place!

I'm sure she shared her costume idea with others before going out for the evening. So, my other problem with this whole incident is that no one around her talked her out of the idea!

Whitney obviously doesn't have the social consciousness to know or understand her actions...on the other hand, maybe she does. I mean, really, who doesn't know by now that blackface is not acceptable?? But, it sounds like she also doesn't have friends who are willing to call her on her own ignorance.

I'm sure someone will point out that there were Black people at the same party. I saw that, too. The only thing I can think is that if I were Black, would I point out the racism of your costume or just shake my head and wonder why White people still don't get it. I lean toward the latter.

I'm trying to keep myself from lumping Whitney in with all White people. But when will we learn?? When will we begin taking historical context into account and realizing that no matter what year it is or what crowd of people we are around, some things just aren't acceptable!

My friends deserve the Public Option

I mentioned in a previous post that I was trying to rehab a knee injury. Little did I know it was a torn ACL.

I had surgery. Even with insurance it has been a pretty expensive process. But I am blessed to have a cousin who took on the expense of housing me, feeding me, and providing any medication and supplies I needed. I have parents who drove from Missouri and contributed as well. I have other friends who brought food and loaned me exercise equipment to help me recover faster.

My recovery has been faster than most, I believe. I am grateful.

But I can't help but be troubled by my friends who need surgery and don't have insurance...nor could they afford it even if they did.

One friend particularly disturbs me...

As we walked and talked the other day, he stopped. His hip was convulsing. I paused and asked if he was ok. He said he was; his hip just sometimes acts like it wants to move out of socket.

After standing for about 30 seconds and the shaking hip continued, I quickly grabbed a chair for him to sit in. I don't think he could have moved at that point to go get the chair himself.

My friend is only 24 years old.

I asked him what caused his hip to do that. He explained that he had an old basketball injury from high school. At the time of the injury, his family was poor and had no health insurance so they didn't (couldn't) fix it.

As he got older, he found out that the injury had progressed and gotten bad enough that he needed hip replacement surgery. However, they won't do a hip replacement on a 24-year old. Besides that, he is an adult on his own now, has graduated from college, and is now in seminary. He is on his own and, once again, doesn't have insurance. He could at least use physical therapy...but, again, no insurance.

He takes 16 hours in seminary. He works a 30+ hour a week job. What has he done to *not* deserve health care??

We need a public option. Please, President Obama, push for the public option.

But, President Obama can't do it on his own. We need to help.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Creating a Single Story

I often wonder why terrorists who fly planes through the Twin Towers cause us to hate and become skeptical of Muslims, but why two White men in the Oklahoma City bombing become two anti-government individuals that have never defined White America.

Listen to Chimamanda Adichie(below) as she describes what hearing a "single story" affected the way she saw her own life...and then her realization of how she looked at others.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walk in someone else's shoes

After having knee surgery on Friday, I was unsure whether or not I would be able to make it to the Steve Martin concert at the Meyerson on Tuesday night. As the day grew closer, I began to regret not purchasing tickets. I grew up on bluegrass and really wanted to be a part of the CDM event.

As luck would have it, a friend came by my house Tuesday afternoon and said he had three extra tickets. Figuring that was a sign, I called a couple of friends and decided to venture out. Another friend had assured me the Meyerson had wheelchairs available and encouraged me to use that option (especially since I had not gotten approval from my doctor to be out and about just yet.)

We arrived, explained the situation to the lady taking tickets, and requested a wheelchair. She was very kind, immediately requesting a wheelchair from the man sitting behind her, who was obviously waiting for just such a request. He, too, was great. He quickly wheeled a chair over to us and offered to keep my crutches, saving us inexperienced people the trouble of maneuvering with two bulky items at the same time.

With Tameshia pushing from behind, we followed the lady’s instructions to go up the elevator to our designated seating area, where we were assured there was wheelchair seating. As the elevator opened, another lady in a wheelchair came out. We exchanged greetings and she told us she’d see us soon. We weren’t sure what to make of that, but proceeded into the elevator anyway. The nice gentleman (another Meyerson employee) helped us not get trampled as the elevator loaded and proceeded to take us to the wheelchair level.

As we left the elevator, we were all a little confused as to where we were supposed to be going. Sheri (the other person in our party) ventured off to find an usher. (Why is it that ushers are only available when you *don’t* need help?!) Sheri emerged from inside the seating area, an usher trailing her with a walkie talkie.

As the usher was calling around asking people where wheelchair patrons should be seated, a friend of mine walked by, noticed my dilemma, and came to commiserate with our frustration. “We had the same problem!!” she exclaimed, obviously more than a little upset. She went on to tell me that her boyfriend’s father had been sent on the same wild goose chase to find a seat. It was then I recalled the lady in the wheelchair getting off the elevator telling us she'd see us soon. She was obviously trying to tell us she had already experienced the run-around of going up and down the elevator to places that didn't exist.

As the lights flickered to signal the show starting, we hurried to try to get back down the elevator to the place they had re-directed us. With Tameshia’s patience in wheeling me around and Sheri’s persistence in asking everyone where we were supposed to be, we finally reached our destination. We were about to get settled in…only to discover that only one person can sit beside the one in the wheelchair. Sheri, ever so graciously said she would return to our original seats in the GT section, two levels up, by herself.

Though the show was wonderful, I sat through the first 30 minutes or so of it frustrated by what had just happened. I had coerced my friend, Sheri, to come to a bluegrass concert (not necessarily her favorite), only to end up two tiers away from her. I was also irritated thinking about what I’m sure wheelchair patrons experience on a regular basis. But more than anything, I was irritated that someone in a wheelchair would have to deal with that kind of run around in a nationally recognized theater like the Meyerson! How can a place that has that many events...and I'm sure at least a few people in wheelchairs every evening...not train their employees to know where people in wheelchairs should sit?? Truly...it's as simple as giving every new employee information on where the wheelchair section is!

I did not intend for my last minute decision to attend the concert to be a social experiment. I wasn't trying to walk in someone else's shoes. But, quite honestly, I’m glad it ended up that way. I know my situation wasn't extraordinary or different from others'. And I know it could easily be fixed if we started thinking of others who may have different situations from our own.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dallas South News' Junior Reporters in training

Dallas South News' founder, Shawn Williams, conducts a Junior Reporter class at our After-School Academy every Thursday. He's working toward getting them to the point of being able to post articles on the Dallas South News website.

Last Thursday I met up with Randy after he won the "Junior Reporter of the Week" award. He was so proud! The kids had been learning about asking open-ended questions.

This Thursday, the kids began working with the Flip video cameras. As far as I can tell, the kids had never worked the video cameras before. You can hear Shawn instructing them in this random video below:

But, as we know, kids are quick learners. After a few simple instructions about how to work the Flip video camera, the kids quickly moved to interviewing each other. Shawn was impressed that the open-ended questions lesson had stuck. Kwane, interviewing Lewis here, was awarded the "Junior reporter of the week" this week. Check it out. I think you'll understand why:

I couldn't resist posting Ishmael's interview. I love his beginning answer, "I go to school. I get a good education." Toward the end he explains what he does to get that good education. He's already preparing, whether he knows it or not, to be a great college student!

Keep an eye out for more from these Junior Reporters.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Best Boss's Day ever!!


The loud rap on my office door startled me.

I was closed off from the world, working hard to get several things done and was so engrossed that I didn't expect the knock.

Once I reached the door, though, no one was there. Instead, there was a styrofoam ice chest and a gift bag.

Completely surprised, I began reading the cards. Tameshia and Danielle (the culprits) came back from around the corner laughing at their ability to sprint down the hall so they wouldn't be seen.

I'm having surgery on Friday. Were they sending me well wishes before I'm out for a couple of weeks??

Nope...Friday was Boss's Day!

Wow! I had no idea!

They gave me the coolest cards, an amazingly cool coffee mug, my new favorite book (I Like Myself!), a photo book, and some grapes to munch on.

I was completely blown away. Especially considering that the only way I can be a great boss is because I have great employees.

Thank you, Danielle and Tameshia, for making my day GREAT!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Junie B. Jones, meet your counterpart

Friday afternoon, I ventured down to the After-School Academy to say hi. As I walked in the door, Hayzul jumped up, waving her arms in uncontainable excitement...then composed herself as she realized she needed to greet me first.

She composed herself long enough to look me in the eye, give me a firm handshake, and say, "Good afternoon, Ms. Janet." Then immediately started waving her hands excitedly, with her eyes squenched in excitement, and mouthing the words (that would have been a screech if she had allowed sound to come out), "We're going to see Junie B. Jones!!!!!!!!"

I love exposing kids to new opportunities. I love when they get excited as they discover something they'd never been exposed to before. Because of the Free Night of Theater offered by the City of Dallas we are able to do this with the kids.

Hayzul has been with me before so she knew what she was getting into...and she couldn't wait! We carefully chose our seats and Hayzul settled in. I watched her throughout the play. About a quarter of the way through the play I realized why Hayzul loves Junie B. so much. Hayzul *is* Junie B.!

Hayzul was so into the play, I don't even know if she realized she was rolling her eyes and sighing when Junie B. got sent to the principal's office for "no apparent reason"...as if she, herself, were the one marching to the office. I watched Hayzul growl in frustration and exasperation at Junie B.'s best friends. (I got the feeling that Hayzul felt she was watching her life being acted out on stage).

It was a great evening that we topped off by stopping by 1/2 Price Books. I had to find her an Anne of Green Gables book. I'm guessing Hayzul will be able to identify with "Ann with an 'e'" pretty well, too. She said she was going to start reading it this weekend. I can't wait to hear what she has to say.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Get out of your suits and come help!

I was unable to attend the Jim Wallis luncheon event last week. But I was told that Brittany, a college student who grew up in the Roseland TownHomes, had some well-spoken, but fairly harsh words for the people in the audience. "You need to get out of your suits and come down here to help. There are kids like me who want to do something and we need your help."

I'm glad Brittany said what she did.

Growing up in Roseland and the inner city, what Brittany understands is that the people who have the most resources, contacts, and connections do not and cannot feel her pain, know her dreams, or celebrate her successes. They can't because they don't know her.

Nearly every day I'm told that in order to get funding, we need "outcomes." Outcomes have always frustrated me. I see large organizations get amazing grant dollars...not because they have created a great program, but because they have learned how to write outcomes down on paper in a concise way that look good. I have listened to organizations tell me that they don't care if the kid stays at their program that day, but they want to make sure and count him/her so they can keep their numbers up for their reports.

Outcomes frustrate me.

As a director, my job often keeps me in the office writing grants, figuring out ways to write down on paper what we do, and writing endless charts about what we're going to measure. Just about the time I think I've got a handle on everything needed, I get a new email asking for more "stuff."

Over the last three weeks I have helped create two new educational programs--a library/bookstore and a Teen University--in the Roseland community...in addition to our already existing After-School Academy. (our Digital Connectors program will be starting soon!)

I am giddy with excitement as I watch Katrina (Roseland Library/Bookstore) teach the kids that visit the library how to greet in sign language. I have watched her gather a small group of kids together as they take turns reading a magazine together. I listened to a parent walk by the library/bookstore and ask Katrina if she would be open that day because she was watching three extra kids for the day and wanted them to have something to do (Katrina said people say stuff like that to her all of the time). I have received excited text messages from Katrina on Saturdays telling me how kids showed up all day to read and participate. And I can't help but be excited when she tells me how kids are scrambling to buy the books she reads to them.

I am in awe of Terrence's (Teen University) ability to draw in the Roseland teenagers. So far he has drawn about 20% of the 12-18 year olds in Roseland (which amounts to about 29 teens). I absolutely love walking upstairs to the Teen University unexpectedly and see Terrence sitting on the couch with a couple of them, helping them do their homework, while a few others are on a different couch looking up words in the dictionary. At the other end of the room there are kids playing Scrabble, and still others inquiring about colleges.

My heart warms as Danielle (After-School Academy) updates me on the daily activities and little progresses of the kids. I've seen some of our biggest challenges walk into the garden and completely transform as they dig dirt, water the garden, and check out the vegetables they've grown. I get excited watching Shawn working with our junior reporters, thinking that they will be writing for Dallas South News soon. I love walking in and seeing all of the kids busy on the computers working away.

The reason I get frustrated with outcomes is not that they don't exist in our programs; it's that "outcomes" cannot be written on a sheet of paper. Our "outcomes" are often not represented by a sharp increase in their reading or math scores. Instead, it's what we see and observe. It's the smile on Fred's face compared to the angry, furrowed brow when he entered the program at the beginning of the summer. It's Kevin talking through stuff instead of getting mad and refusing to talk to anyone. It's seeing the light switch go on in Raymond's head as he figures out how to ask a good open-ended question. Outcomes and improvement is different for each child.

I try to think of the kids in the After-School Academy like I would my own children. My parents let me try things out. They knew that letting me explore baton twirling, Future Business Leaders of America, choir, piano lessons, etc. would lead me to finding myself. I learned to discipline myself to work toward goals with the things I loved. I learned to value playing the piano, but also learned that practicing every day was not how I wanted to spend my time. If I didn't make huge gains, my parents didn't withdraw me. They expected me to do my best.

So, I want to encourage people to come be a part of what we're doing. Come see what the kids are doing. Come garden with them. Come work with them on a designated project. Watch the change for yourself. In Brittany's words, "Get out of your suits and come spend time with us." The outcomes that exist when you least expect it and are so much better than what's on paper.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Education and focus through the community garden

As I sat in my office trying to produce outcomes and documents, my phone rang. From the other end of the building, Danielle asked, "Are you going to come see the garden?" and then strongly encouraged, "You really need to see this garden!" I grabbed the camera and quickly went to the garden so I wouldn't miss the kids working.

As I rounded the corner to the garden, I slowed. I could see Ladaysha working so intently with Ms. Susie and I didn't want to miss that moment. I took a few pictures through the bars of the fence just in case they got distracted by me...but it didn't matter. Ladaysha was busy trying to cut the string that would hold the tomato stakes she was putting up. I overheard her say to Ms. Susie, "Man, this takes patience!" I snapped a few shots and then turned to see Niemen.

Niemen has become a favorite of all of ours, but he does present us with many challenges. Yet, Niemen was so intently working on pushing the new thermometer/rain gauge into the ground, he didn't see me either. As I watched, he knelt down to the ground and began packing the dirt around the bottom so it wouldn't accidentally tip over. After getting a few shots, I approached him and asked him to tell me about the garden. His sly little smile told me that he was really enjoying himself.

Ladaysha and Niemen are two of our "Garden Apprentices." Ms. Susie (Gleaning Network of Texas) has been absolutely wonderful! She comes every other Friday to do a Gardening class with the kids...but probably 2-3 times/week she pops in to grab a few Garden Apprentices to help chart the garden's progress, water, pick vegetables, and teach them how to do regular maintenance work.

As I walked around the garden, the Ladaysha and Niemen showed me the black-eyed peas, tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalepenos that are growing. You can see in the videos below that we still have a little work to do on telling the difference between the different vegetables (Niemen had me convinced that the bell pepper was the jalepeno!), but they are quickly becoming expert gardeners. Sometimes the foundations kids need go beyond reading, writing, and math.

Check out the two videos below to see our garden and what the kids are learning:

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What do you want to do before you die?

Wow...powerful stuff. See Shawn Williams' write-up here. Then watch the video:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Bringing books to our urban community

Katrina Hobbs has been dynamic since she was five years old. She was probably dynamic before then, but I didn't know her before then.

When Katrina was little, she and her sister, Lewanna, attended our summer Kids Kamp program. While other kids just showed up to attend, Katrina and Lewanna would go home in the evenings and turn cheers and chants into songs and activities and bring them back for us to do at Kids Kamp.

Katrina's family lived in Roseland Homes and attended J.W. Ray Elementary. They would always bring reports of winning different oratorical contests and straight A's on their report cards.

As they got older and moved to different neighborhoods, I didn't see them as much, but they still stayed in contact. Both sisters went to Townview Magnet and were determined to become educators so they could effect children's lives like their teachers had for them.

Katrina has now come back to Roseland to run the Roseland Library/Bookstore. She loves that she gets to work with kids on their reading. I love her excitement. She's doing storytime with the kids, but just today I watched her working with two boys on their rhyming words.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Digital Connectors...the wave of the future

I keep telling people that every day I become more and more impressed with the 20-something age group. They are innovative critical thinkers who know and utilize technology and want to change the world. And so many of them are on the path to do just that!

Tameshia is an African American Studies AND Latin American Studies double major. She has taken some time off so she can save up to finish her last year at school. Though I am definitely encouraging her to go back, I'm extremely glad we have her and want to find ways to keep her!

When we interviewed Tameshia for the After-School Academy position, she was very open about her passion and desire to change the world. I could tell it came from the very depths of her and was in no way a passing phase. We want people like Tameshia on our team!

Tameshia started off as a part-time Americorps member working in our After-School Academy, but because of her amazing skill and love for technology, we quickly advocated for her to run our evening Digital Connector program for the teens.

You can see an example of her work by going to the After-School Academy blog and see how she's now added tabs and redesigned the background.

When I asked Tameshia if she would be interested in being the instructor for the Digital Connectors program, Tameshia said she would. Because she's a fairly quiet person, I had no idea how excited she was. After walking out of my office and getting partially out the door, she turned back around and came back to say, "I just need to give you a hug! I'm so excited!"

Before we even knew if we could officially hire her, I handed her the 2" binder of the currciulum (on a Wednesday or Thursday). She emailed me that Sunday saying she had read the entire curriculum and had a few questions.

Tameshia has taken it upon herself (again, before we even sure we could hire her) to attend the Friday night and Saturday meetings with the Teen University. None of that is in her job description. She assured me that whether or not she got the position, she would still be more than willing to help. Tameshia believes in building relationships and already has 6-8 teenagers interested in the program. As I type this, she is in a meeting at North Dallas High School presenting it to some of their students.

I can't wait to see the results of the Digital Connectors program. For the last three days, my home internet has been down. I kept thinking, "Soon, I'll be able to hire some of our teenagers from Roseland to fix this for me!!" I look forward to that moment and will gladly pay them to do so!

In the meantime, if you work for a company that focuses on technology, have some connections to help us get the high speed computers and software needed to start the program, or are part of the technology departments of one of the local colleges, let us know! The program starts soon and we'd love for you to be involved as we move forward!

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Providing college-focused programs in the inner city

When we began talking about starting educational programming for teens, I was aware of the stories that getting teenagers to come could be challenging. But I also know that so many of our teenagers are eager to go to college and simply don't have the knowledge of how to be prepared and how to get through all of the paperwork. After interviewing Terrence for the Americorps position, I knew he was the perfect person for the job:

After only a week and a half of programming, Terrence is drawing about 13 teenagers an evening. After using my records to count all of the middle and high school students in Roseland, I figured out that is 10% of the teenagers! 10%...and I expect that number to increase! That's significant! What's even more significant is that they are being challenged educationally and they keep coming back!

When I went to check on the program, a girl was sitting on the couch reading what seemed to be a dictionary. When I asked her what she was doing, she rolled her eyes and explained that Terrence made them look up words. Despite the rolling eyes and seeming exasperation, after we chatted, she went right back to looking up more words.

In the comfortable, living room setting, Terrence was sitting on the couch helping another student with geography, while others were working on homework as well.

Off to the side, a group of students had the Scrabble board out and were getting a game started. When I took the picture, they wanted to spell out words to present themselves as great Scrabble players. We decided on "Intelligent Students," as you can see if you look real close.

Over the last week and a half, Terrence has engaged the students in dialogue about education, college, careers, history, and more. They have watched documentaries, practiced interviewing, and practiced speed reading to bump their reading skills up.

Terrence and I met with Raul Hinojosa to plan for our UTD students that will be helping. The rate Terrence is going, he's going to need the extra help. He's getting ready to start engaging them in researching careers and colleges to get them prepared for their future.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Opportunity is underestimated

The Roseland Library/Bookstore was a buzz of activity when I entered. Ms. Anna's class from the After-School Academy was there for their KidzLit reading class. They had finished reading the book and doing their activities and were all browsing the library.

I noticed a low-key rucus begining to take place. I looked over to see Randy rather upset. One of the kids had picked up a book and Randy was afraid he was going to buy it. Miss Katrina intervened, "What's wrong?" Randy, upset, tried to explain, "He's got the book I wanted to buy!!" Katrina calmly explained to Randy, "He doesn't have any money with him today. He was just looking at the book." The other child finished looking at the book and turned it over to Randy. Randy was then able to get his book and pay Miss Katrina at the check out desk. (I believe I heard a sigh of relief. :) )

After his purchase, I realized Randy had already bought three other books that same day.

Randy quickly settled into one of the library tables and began soaking in every word on the page.

The Roseland Library/Bookstore is open for kids, teens, and adults Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 3:00-7:30, Fridays from 3:00-5:30, and Saturdays from 10:00-4:00. Miss Katrina facilitates story times and book clubs for kids and teens. All books are available to read in the library or to purchase--25 cents for paperbacks and 50 cents for hardbacks.
In the past, we've given away books to the kids so they could build their library. It wasn't uncommon to see books laying all over the yard outside as kids dropped them in order to run and play and then forgot to pick them back up. Now that we have a bookstore in the community, books are going like hotcakes. And, as far as I can tell, not a one of them gets left behind. Miss Katrina has sold 24 books so far...and we've only been open for 8 days.

1) Charity is not the operative word; opportunity is. Affordability is the issue. Charity can be devalue opportunity. 2) When kids are given the opportunity, don't underestimate. Families want the best for their children and children love to learn. 3) How can we expect kids to love to read when there are no libraries close to Roseland (and many other inner city communities) and bookstores are cost prohibitive?

I am not surprised how the kids are responding. For 14 years I have been engaged with people who live in inner city communities who simply want the same access and opportunity as people in other neighborhoods. When that access is available, people respond.