Thursday, December 30, 2010


Funerals are reminders. Reminders of the past. Reminders of good times. The little stuff doesn't seem to matter so much on days like these.

Today was Rock's funeral. He was 57 years old. He had heart problems. He had led a tough life.

I don't know all of Rock's story...and I'm not sure what changed him. I've heard he used to be a pretty big drug dealer, but I didn't know him like that. For all I know, maybe he was still selling when I met him. It wouldn't surprise me. I've learned that what people do doesn't necessarily define who they are. I have a hard time picturing Rock as the really major drug dealer that he was at one time. Instead, what I know about Rock is his phone calls, his tears, and his love for his grandchildren...his love for his grandchildren...his love for his grandchildren.

Rock loved, but he also wanted to be loved.

Funerals seem to wake me up. Maybe I need to figure out a way to remember those things on days other than funerals.

As I sat at the funeral today I began remembering things I'd almost forgotten. We used to go to Ms. D's for Sunday dinner. Ms. D complained incessantly about us being there (that was just the way she was), but she always invited Rock and usually some others she felt like needed something--whether that be friends, family, or food. Looking back, I guess I was one of those who needed something as well. I don't know that any of us looked at it that way. I'm guessing she probably needed us as well. We were all friends. We argued, discussed, played dominoes, teased, watched movies, and felt a part of something.

Listening to people today made me think that Rock was a networker. When Ms. J.R. got up to speak, she told about how Rock was her patient when she was a nurse at our Health Clinic. As she helped Rock deal with his own health issues, he coerced her into helping his neighbor as well. He wanted to connect his neighbors to the same opportunities he had been given. So he called her every time he or someone else needed something.

I chuckle. :) He did the same to me.

Rock knew I was an educator. He knew I had gotten all of these degrees in education. He was convinced I could help him, despite my own reluctance. Rock called me when he wanted to learn to read. He was probably in his 40s at the time. He called me when he was afraid his daughters weren't leading his grandkids in the right direction. He wanted to learn to read so he could read to them. He wanted to know what resources were available to help them do better than they were. This is where poverty gets complex and complicated.

If changing things were based on love and desire alone, Rock's heart and love for his grandkids would have wiped away his past and gave him a complete new start. Unfortunately, he had all of the baggage from his past that carried on to his children and affected his grandchildren. Rock had turned over a new leaf and would have done everything in his power to make that same change for his long-time girlfriend and his children. No matter how much he changed, though, he couldn't convince them to do the same. I'm guessing that's why he focused so much on his grandchildren. He wanted to make sure they didn't even start down that same path.

The two grand daughter's I know are now 17 and 18 now. Both have children of their own. A few months ago, Rock called me pleading for me to help them get on the right track and make sure they get what they need so they can go to college. We tried, but our program isn't quite set up in a way that provided what they needed. They needed childcare to go to school during the day. They needed to provide basic necessities for their children. They needed an education. It was complicated. They stopped going to school thinking finding a job was the answer. I didn't think it was, but I didn't have any other good solution either. I feel/felt so helpless. And now that he's gone, who is going to continue tracking me down imploring someone to help his grandkids?? Who is going to be the go-between to plead with them to do better while negotiating with someone else who can possibly offer the help they need??


Sitting at Rock's funeral today made me think about the complexities of the life of a person who made mistakes but desperately wanted to right the wrongs. But by then the deck was stacked against him. Then again, the deck was probably stacked against him before then...which is why he probably made the choices he did.

It's the Rock's of the world who challenge me to press forward and defy the people who say, "You can't change the world." I don't know what exactly I can or will do in the future, but I know I am going to constantly think about and try to figure out how to do more with adult literacy, education, and teen parents. Somewhere, somehow...

I'm glad I knew Rock. I'm glad I knew his love. In his memory, I hope to carry it on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Avid Readers

This has to be the greatest picture ever!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Progress isn't always immediately visible

It never fails. Just when I think we're not making any progress, I am proved wrong.

Danielle, our Teen U facilitator and Americorps member, has been working on planning this college trip for a couple of weeks now. She was determined to get a college trip in before the holidays. Because she was so determined, I cancelled my Saturday plans so I could drive the van.

Yet, this past Wednesday, Danielle called me to tell me once the teens found out what time we would be leaving, only one was still planning on attending. Absolutely unacceptable in my book. I told her to explain to them that it takes time and money to plan these trips. I told her to let her know that we all had other plans that we cancelled for them. I told her to threaten them...and I was only partially joking.

I'm not sure what approach Danielle took. I'm sure it was much nicer than mine. All I know is that Friday evening Danielle called me to say we had 12 teens going! I must admit I wasn't completely convinced. I asked her if she had talked to each of their parents. She said she didn't know she had to. My experience has told me the more you communicate with the parents (not how much they communicate with you), the more successful you will be in ensuring the kids follow through. So, although it was already about 7:00, Danielle and Veronica (our GO Center intern from UTD) immediately went to work calling parents and making home visits.

It all paid off!

Saturday morning, by 7:15 a.m., 5 teens, 7 middle schoolers, and the three of us adults who were chaperoning, were on the van ready to go. A completely full 15-passenger van! We've never had that happen before! I was so absolutely excited!

I don't know why I doubt. The reality is, our youth want to succeed in life. Sometimes they just need someone to push them as they move into the opportunities that are becoming available to them.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Americorps' Annual Pumpkin Festival

On a cloudy and potentially stormy Saturday, faithful Americorps members came together to set up the annual Pumpkin Festival events in J.W. Ray park across from the Roseland community. Families came to toss the bean bag through a hole, knock milk bottles down, get their face painted, karaoke, tour a haunted house, and eat hot dogs despite the on-again, off-again showers.

About two hours into the event, the storm couldn't be avoided. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped suddenly. As the tent set-ups began flying, Americorps members and community attendees went into action. Though several children and adults panicked and ran, Americorps members and even some children, quickly grabbed chairs, disassembled tents, moved tables, and picked up trash. Within 30 minutes, the park looked almost the same as before the event started.

As the rain subsided, some parents returned thinking we might continue the event inside. Unfortunately, we couldn't at that point. However, some Americorps members had the idea to continue the fun event in a fundraiser for the Education Department this Friday from 6:00-8:00 at our Teen University building. So, if you missed out and would like to join the fun, come visit us at 2101 N. Washington this Friday!

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Kirk Franklin Visits Roseland

Let me admit something. I'm not big on celebrities. My goal is education for children. Oftentimes, I think celebrities detract from that. Most of the ones I've met made empty promises (that they never kept) and the events seemed to be more about them than it was about the kids/families who were there.

So, when we were told to gather people to cheer for Kirk Franklin when he arrived, I must admit, I didn't have a great attitude. I didn't see the purpose. Kirk Franklin gets to hear cheering every time he walks on stage.

As often happens in my life, I had to eat my words (and, trust me, I have enough friends in my life who relish in making sure that happens). Yes, there was cheering when Kirk Franklin got out of his car. But he didn't walk but a few steps before he starting humbly greeting each person he saw.

He then sat down to listen to us. Yes, I said listen. Though he did talk, it was more of reflective comments based on what we just said. He then stayed for another hour or more touring our After-School Academy, Discovery Garden, Head Start, Teen U, Library (the Freedom Room), and Connect U. He listened. He talked. He reflected. He hugged. He did interviews.

He was supposed to leave at 11:00 sharp! ...but, instead, he left around 11:30. He's the only performer I know who has toured our programs before performing at our A Night to Remember. He challenged my stereotype by being entirely genuine and real.

Come out on Monday, October 25 to the Meyerson to see him perform.

Friday, October 01, 2010

After-School programs...a day in the life

Yesterday our Americorps representative came by to check in our members. As I toured her around, I had to quickly grab the Flip to capture some great moments. Check out what the youth in our programs are doing...

...and then feel free to contact us for a tour! :)

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"We have met the enemy...and he is us"

I truly want this quote to not be true. I want to believe that our poor education system is not the fault of those of us who work diligently with our children every day, but over the last week or two, I am beginning to wonder.

Waiting for Superman has stirred up all kinds of conversations around our educational system. The film has shown people that not all families and children have the same opportunities. It talks about the desperation of parents as they hope and pray that their child is chosen to attend a school that can offer their child a quality education. It speaks of and shows good classrooms and teachers, but it also recognizes that there are teachers and school systems who are failing our kids. The film talks a lot about charter schools that have done well, like KIPP Academy and Harlem Success Prep...schools that recognized children were failing and faltering and did something huge and immediate.

Yet, after the film was released...after Oprah did her segment...and after NBC has created the conversation about Education Nation, Twitter blew up each time with teachers screaming, "We're under attack!!"

First of all, no where has it said that all teachers are terrible. No where have I heard anyone say that a teacher's job isn't challenging. My conclusion is that these teachers who are screaming so loudly have never set foot in the schools I have been a part of...and I would bet money that they wouldn't put their child in a school like some of the ones I've been in. However, if they have been in those schools and still feel like defending all teachers, then yes, I think they should go, too.

I have never been a classroom teacher. I have after school programs. And just from the small number of kids with many different learning levels and different behavior needs, I truly respect a teacher who can engage the diversity of 25 students. I have seen teachers who do it. Some who win their kids over with kindness and some who show very tough love. They build relationships with the kids and their parents. They respect the kids and they respect the art of teaching. They go home every day and tirelessly work often until 10:00 at night grading papers, writing lesson plans, and trying to squeeze in some time to read about new ideas that can help them teach better. They have a love for the kids in their classroom and a desire to see all kids succeed. They deserve the highest honor and they are not compensated or acknowledged near enough...and no, the conversation shouldn't be that they should put more effort in. They are already doing that.

But we have to be real. The "bad" teachers create difficulties for the teachers who work so hard. Studies talk about kids who have three "bad" teacher are at a huge disadvantage. So after a few teachers haven't done a good job, the other teachers have to work even harder to pick up the slack. How is that an effective system??

So, what defines a "bad" teacher?

When I first started in the education side of our non-profit, I had (and took) a lot of time to volunteer in the schools so I would know how things worked. I spent many hours in a day at one school. I was there so often, I became a part of the school culture. No one changed their behavior because I walked through the hall. The little room where I tutored kids was a storage area behind a chain link fence in a little "loft" so I was able to hear what went on in other classrooms.

  • 4th grade classroom teacher-- "Stupid! If you were smart enough to bring your glasses, you would be able to see the board! Yes, move up here to the front so maybe you won't be so dumb."
  • 6th grade male teacher-- didn't speak Spanish, but had a classroom of bilingual students. Three boys made his life very difficult. They saw his trigger buttons and Spanish. After bursting out in a tirade (which I could hear from my area), he sometimes pushed them as if he were instigating a fight with them. I'm not sure why they never broke out into a punching match with him
  • 3rd grade teacher--talked on her cell phone during class. When a child didn't do well on their test or misbehaved, she called the child to the front of the class and called the parent in the middle of the classroom asking the parent to talk to her child about this or that behavior and handed the phone to the child in front of his/her peers
  • 2nd grade teacher--punished a child by making her sit beneath her desk for a couple of days. When parents got involved, the principal explained they really couldn't do anything. When I questioned the principal, she explained that it takes about 3 years to fire a teacher. (and that's *if* there's really good documentation)
  • pre-K teacher--as I sat in the hall waiting to tutor my next kindergartener, the pre-K class walked by in their straight line. They stopped in front of me to wait for their door to be opened by the teacher. Though I'm not sure what the little boy did, the teacher began slapping him back and forth on his shoulder in a flurry. When I took the information to the principal, his response: "Well, I've never had a complaint about her before and I've worked with her for 10 years." As far as I know, she was never even reprimanded.
  • 1st grade teacher--said her job was only from 7:00-3:00 and the principal was making her do more than she could get done. If they were going to do that, she was going to take it out of the time of her classroom. So, she sat at her desk grading papers while giving the kids busy-work to do during their "instructional" time. Sometimes, she would have me, a volunteer, work with small groups of kids so she could record grades or grade papers. She always left right at 3:00.
The first four scenarios were in one school during one school year. The last two scenarios were at another school during a different school year. I could give other the principal at a high school who tried to "let go" two teachers, one who was ineffective and one who was sleeping in the classroom, only to be told that the administrative office lost the paperwork so he had no documentation...and then the teachers sued for their jobs and are still working. I have others as well...but they are all second hand stories told to me by other teachers. Since they are not my personal experience, I won't bother sharing those.

I know the teachers have challenges. Even some of the scenarios I provided show that. However, it is our children who suffer.

Let's stop complaining about, "Teachers are being attacked," and, instead, talk about the real problems...getting resources...accessing technology...being forced to teach to the test instead of exposing kids to learning and systems that are too big...principals who can't or don't fire bad teachers...

Everyone is talking about privatization of schools and how that will destroy our schools. Though I do have some concerns about that, my question is, "Really?! Can it get any worse than 60% dropout rate?? Can we do any worse by our kids when many of them are graduating from high school with 2nd grade reading levels??" I don't know that Bill Gates, Cory Booker, Geoffrey Canada, and Mark Zuckerberg have all of the answers, but I'm willing to listen if they want to create the dialogue...and they have more pull than teachers to get things done (I know we don't want to hear it and it's not fair, but it's true).

The thing is, I've been in the inner city for 15 years. I have watched a generation of children get lost in a system that doesn't work. We don't have time for "with all deliberate speed..." I think we've ALL been waiting for superman...and at least some of us are waking up and figuring out that he isn't coming. We can't keep hoping and waiting for our school system to change. The kids and families in my community deserve better schools NOW. So what are we going to do?

I'm ready for the conversation. I'm ready for the battle. I'll fight for good teachers. I'm happy to look at quality public schools and quality charter schools (which *are* public, by the way) and let's figure out what is working. Let's figure out how the successful schools that are serving poor and minority children are doing it...because there are some that are. Let's do whatever it takes to create those same qualities--money, teachers, legislation, etc. in all schools.

Are you in??

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

CDM hosts Waiting for Superman screening

Click on the photo below to be able to read the invitation and go here ( to reserve your ticket.

Waiting for Superman...and believing in change

On Thursday, October 7, the Central Dallas Ministries public policy department will co-sponsor a showing of the Waiting for Superman documentary. Though we made the decision before all of the controversy, there is now a firestorm of strong opinions thrusting themselves into the media on both sides. It seems there really are no lukewarm voices.

I'll publicly admit that I was one of the major advocates pushing our public policy committee to show the film...and I am still strongly in favor of showing the film. I watched the Oprah segment and I must say, I was very impressed. No, she didn't have teachers on her panel...but she also didn't have parents. What she did have was socially conscious voices who are concerned about our children. See the film below:

What I truly appreciate is Guggenheim's willingness to recognize that he takes his own children past all of other other schools to ensure they receive a quality education. Because he can. And he recognizes that ALL children deserve the same quality of education that he is able to give his own children. His film forces us all to acknowledge that our education system is not fair and opportunistic for every child (believe it or not, some people don't know that)...and we need to change that.

I have read arguments that the cost of schools like Harlem Children's Zone and KIPP and other charters are exorbitant and not sustainable over time. To that I would say, if there is success there and that is what it takes, then we need to figure out how to make it sustainable! Why should we provide mediocre or less than mediocre education to all children because that's all we can (or are willing) to do??

I am not advocating for firing good teachers who have a bad day or two along the way. That doesn't make any sense...and I don't believe that is Michelle Rhee's purpose or mission either. I have taught teachers at the graduate level. I have had some plead with me not to "give" them a "C" because they've never received lower than an "A" (yet their final paper is filled with grammatical errors and shallow thoughts). In our After-School Academy, I have seen spelling lists our kids are supposed to practice laden with mis-spelled words...and I have challenged the school for the sake of the children in her class. I have seen teacher's "give" an 11th grade student a perfect 100% on a research paper that could have been written better by a 3rd grader. I am not saying that good teachers should be fired. I understand that we all start off at a place and continuously learn and improve. What I AM saying is that some people are not academically ready to be teachers and some teachers lower their expectations to the extent that it hurts our children. I do not want those teachers teaching my child.

I understand that the next thing a teacher will say to me is, "But the parents have to play a role." I completely agree. And I think we have to work on that as well. But I also understand that some parents do not have the academic background needed to help their children. I know parents who put their faith and trust in teachers and schools because they feel those are the people who have what they can't offer. No matter what a parent does or doesn't do does not justify a teacher to enter a classroom if they are inadequately trained or have lowered expectations of our children.

Believe me, I do understand this is NOT all teachers! For those who have entered the education field because they truly believe that children deserve the highest opportunity to succeed and are working 10-12 hour days making sure their students have new, innovative opportunities to learn and grow, THANK YOU! Keep pressing on...and I believe you do deserve a break and deserve to be compensated and you shouldn't be expected to be super-human just because you have chosen to enter a field that is often valued less than it should be.

Fifteen years ago, when the charter school movement had just gotten started here in Texas, I thought about starting my own charter school. After toying with the idea for a little while, I couldn't bring myself to pursue the idea. I grew up in public school and I believe in the concept. I wanted to do what I could do help make public schools better. I still do. However, in the meantime, too many of my kids are falling through the cracks. The large majority of my kids who go off to college have to take remedial/developmental classes. When I assess a pretty bright 11th grader and find out she is at a 2nd grade reading level, my heart drops. I believe in public education, but something has got to change...FAST.

"With all deliberate speed..." in 1954 comes to mind. This isn't a new problem and nothing seems to be changing in a way that seems to be closing the gap for so many children and families who want to see a better life but are stuck in school systems that are overburdened systems too difficult to change.

Yes, charter schools probably attract more parents who take the initiative to get their children in. People with money have been leaving public schools for years. Poor parents who want something better for their children deserve that same opportunity...and make that quality available for everyone! And I would argue that even "unengaged" parents are being engaged when they are standing up to say, "My child deserves better!"

To me, opening this discussion may be exactly what we need to challenge everyone to start thinking about our children and working toward dramatic changes to an agrarian public school system that desperately needs dramatic changes.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Leaders who believe in our kids...

O.M. Roberts Elementary is the school in my neighborhood. I volunteered there on a daily basis when I first moved into the community. At that time, the principal changed about every year and was a low-performing school year after year.

A few weeks ago, all of Central Dallas Ministries' Americorps members came together for a service day. One of the Americorps members who works in our Education Department was inspired by the commitment of the principal at O.M. Roberts and pulled out her camera to create this video.

I was very encouraged to hear Mrs. Ortiz, the principal in my community, talk about how much she believes in and has hope for the children at her school. I love that she thinks about, plans for, and prepares her teachers to send the elementary kids on a path to college. I'm grateful for leaders like her who commit to stay for the long haul.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Being a person of faith in a Christian nation


Why does my faith challenge me so much?

Is it because crazy people like Terry Jones use Christianity as a shield to schedule things like a Quran burning? Is it because Christians feel it is their obligatory duty to evangelize people and often make assumptions about what people do and don’t believe and how they should and shouldn’t profess and demonstrate that belief? Is it because the financially better off Christians often seem to want to help the poor, but don’t want to live next to them or be a part of their every day lives? Is it because people who claim Christianity feel it is ok to make disparaging comments about people?

I guess if I were Muslim my faith might be challenged in the same way. I would wonder why the extremists have to kill and I would be angry at the ones who take the Quran and use it to abuse women. I suppose that every religious sect has sections of people who seem to distort and then justify their message.  I also guess I have to realize that we are all flawed.

Some recent events have caused me to think about what and how I believe.

Eat Pray Love (the book...not the movie) caused me to reflect on my own internal faith--what I believe when no one else is watching. Realizations: Faith is my own spiritual journey. When I focus on myself, it radiates out. Not through evangelism or piety, but in how I interact with others. Faith is internal that results in horizontal relationships with people and a vertical relationship with my God. My hope would be that my horizontal relationships and interactions with people would cause others to seek to create these as well…which would cause them to begin to find their own vertical relationship with God or, if they already have a relationship, they would reflect and continue to seek to improve. Eat Pray Love helped reinforce the conclusion I was already moving toward. It’s not about my evangelism. It’s about changing myself from the inside out.

This morning, I finished A Lesson Before Dying (by Ernest Gaines). Toward the end of the book, I found myself reading quicker, wanting to figure out what the “lesson” was going to be. Mr. Grant Wiggins seemed to have faith struggles much like my own. He had stopped going to church. The preacher, his aunt, and the other ladies in the community constantly raised their eyebrows and shook their head, yet never thought to seek an understanding of what he did believe. Their judgment didn’t make him desire to go to church, but reinforced his decision not to. The irony of this was that Mr. Wiggins had a better ability to create a horizontal relationship with other "unbelievers"...the ones the preacher and the church-goers desperately wanted to "save." 

Alternately, though the book reinforced my belief that “church people” can often be over-bearing to the point of turning people away from Christianity, it also challenged my thoughts of why we all need to be grounded in faith. Our faith is often not about us. Our faith is often conciliation. Sometimes we demonstrate our faith by doing conciliatory things for others...and sometimes that means portraying faith in a way that helps them feel comfortable.

In our world today, it also has other implications. Our conciliatory nature can be to accept and allow Muslims to build a mosque at ground zero...because conciliation doesn’t mean expecting others to make the compromise. It means that we (because of our faith) make the effort. It doesn't matter how others respond and whether they do something for us in return. Christianity...and many other faith about what we we respond to situations more so than church attendance. Church and prayer is what keeps us focused on how we're doing and what we still need to work on.

Faith reminds me of integrity…what I do and how I act when no one else is looking. Every day I have new things to work on.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Photographic memories of "At-risk" youth

Ahhh...finally a little down time this week. The summer program is over and we are ramping up for our After-School programs. No light task, but it does allow for a slight reprieve.

To allow me to procrastinate the planning I need to do for the Education Department training week and ensure I'll be working under a tight deadline for no reason, I decided to change offices. It's a bigger office with more windows and more wall space. I can get all of the papers off of the floor and organize a little better.

As with all moving jobs, it allowed me to sift through stuff, throwing away the pointless, old stuff and discovering treasures I had forgotten about long ago. Some of the treasures were photos I'd enlarged or printed on regular paper and stashed away until I could find frames or reasons to use them. Now is that time.

After a few days of cleaning, sifting, and moving furniture, I began to hang photos. I found some frames that had been donated...but others were hung simply with "tacky" directly on the wall. Once I completed the move and had all of the photos hung, I looked around and realized the framing definitely gave it a little "umph," but it wasn't the frames that I was going for when I printed the pictures. It's the meaning behind each one.

As I look around my office, I see...
  • a high school graduation picture
  • two young girls playing and grinning from ear to ear
  • a little boy dressed in a clown suit 
  • friends and cousins jumbled together for a photo op
  • elementary girls helping each other by explaining the homework assignment
  • a little boy on Santa's lap
  • a "cool" teenager posing for a picture
  • boys playing bingo
  • a group of teenagers that are unlikely friends, but bonded because of they all live in the same housing development
  • a hand-drawn picture that says, "God made us equal. And his love too."
But, I also see...
  • a young boy who dropped out of high school, had a baby, and is now married but still has no desire to finish school
  • a young boy who wants to go to college now, at 19, but is struggling because he made a decision to drop out of a college class and now has to pay financial aid back before he can enroll
  • a couple of kids who, despite their best efforts, are quite a challenge to handle when it comes to behavior issues
  • a boy who never wanted to be associated as living in the "projects" and always saw himself as better than the rest of the people there
  • a little girl who has grown into a young teenager with college aspirations
  • a girl who was prostituted by her mother so she could buy drugs
  • a young man who was shot and killed at 21 years of age as he sat at a bus stop
  • a college student in her honors program who will probably finish college in 3 1/2 years
  • kids who now frequent the library/bookstore
  • a little girl who has a very loving grandfather raising her because her mother can't
Each of these pictures...and the stories behind them...remind me of why I exhaust myself at times by over-committing to projects, demanding high expectations from my staff and the kids they work with, looking at school work, accepting weekend phone calls from college students, assisting with college paperwork I know nothing about, and trying to be a good balance of love and accountability. I realize that I have been blessed with college degrees, the ability to connect with people, and resources. Though I do not believe that our works save us, I also realize that not using what I've been given is a waste of what God has provided me.

I love that I can now sit at my desk and reflect on each of these moments that I've been a part of over the years. Each of the youth in the pictures are extremely special to me.

The more devastating situations make me realize how far we have to go....

...and the celebratory ones make me realize how much is possible.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The value of a teacher--$320,000

Those of us who take jobs as teachers, educators, and social workers know what we're getting into when we sign up for the degree and the job. We sign on to higher salaries than people without an education, but lower than most degreed people make. But, for the most part, making the big bucks is not our intent.

In fact, the longer I'm in education, the more my job becomes a day-by-day battle to ensure children are receiving the best education possible with the resources we are given and the systems we are working against.

I've often said to people that it amazes me how quick we are to slash an education budget. I wonder who the highly paid people slashing or voting for slashing public education budgets think they received their intellectual abilities from and if they realize they probably wouldn't be in the place they are without a teacher and a school system that pretty much raised them.

I was delighted when I read a New York Times report on The Case for $320,000 Kindergarten Teachers and how an economist has actually been able to put a dollar value on how much a kindergarten teacher is worth. Though I don't anticipate this knowledge being put into practice any time soon, it is good to know that at least someone out there is quantifying the actual monetary value of what a good teacher does for a child and how it lasts for the rest of their lifetime.

Welcome back to work, teachers. You are extremely the children you teach AND to the rest of society!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Hiring Americorps Members--Immediately!!

The Central Dallas Ministries’ Education Department is looking for dedicated, committed, and creative individuals who wish to be a part of a program that moves youth forward by focusing on social skills, college, careers, through incorporating innovative technology, doing projects (like gardening, blogging, reporting, etc.), providing fun reading activities, and creatively interacting with academic-type classes.  

There are 8 part time (25-30 hrs/week) and one full-time (40 hrs/week) position available: 

Part-time positions require a high school diploma with a preference given to those working on or already having a degree in Education. 

Full-time position (40 hrs/week) require a high school diploma with an ability to oversee programs, write curriculum, organize staff scheduling and working directly with students in a variety of areas. 

If interested, please fill out application at and forward application and resume to Janet Morrison at or fax to Janet Morrison at 214-824-5355.

Multiple Program Coordinator

Full-time position--40 hours/week (Sept. 1-July 30)

Position to be filled 8.31.10
Hours: 12:00-8:00 Monday-Friday (some Saturdays)

The coordinator is in charge of developing, overseeing, and helping implement all programming in the building and ensuring the program maintains a focus on programming that develops education, college/career, and social skills. He/she will monitor the youth's academic and social development, communicate progress with each child's parents, and work with each program to adjust curriculum accordingly. The Program Coordinator will be responsible for recruiting volunteers and ensuring any curriculum they use maintains the program focus. In addition, the coordinator will ensure program data is collected and reported.

After-School Academy Teacher

Part-time position--25-30 hours/week (Sept. 1-June 3)

Position to be filled 8.31.10
Hours: 1:00-6:30 Monday-Friday (some Saturdays and later evenings)

The ASA Classroom Teacher will be responsible for planning, creating, and implementing activities in a project-based approach to teach Kindergarten through 5th grade students. Teachers must maintain a strong focus on "going green," and will assist with creating lessons for their students in the Learning Garden, Farm Stands, Library, and Computer Lab. Teachers are expected to focus students on improving social skills (caring, manners, and greeting), college and careers, critical thinking, and project-based learning within their classroom. 

Part-time position--25-30 hours/week (Sept. 1-June 3)
Position to be filled 8.31.10
Hours: (varies slightly) Monday-Friday 3:00-8:00 and Saturdays 10:00-2:00

The Librarians will work together to create programming and facilitate reading clubs for elementary, middle, and high school students. The Librarians will ensure that money is collected for the sale of books and create strategies that draw people of all ages into the library and ensures all Roseland neighbors know the library programming, hours of operation, and location. The Librarians will also oversee behavioral management of library participants and engage volunteers.

Teen U and Mid-Teen U Facilitator
Part-time position--25-30 hours/week (Sept. 1-June 3)
Position to be filled 8.31.10
Hours: Monday-Friday 3:00-8:00 Saturday 10:00-2:00 (hours may vary depending on activities)

The Teen U (9th-12th grade) and Mid-Teen U (3rd-8th grade boys) Facilitators will supervise and assist with programs to prepare middle and high school students mentally, socially, and academically for college. The Facilitators will assist with homework, connect youth to programs/events that further their stated interests, and collaborate with other organizations to offer programming with the goal of preparing youth for college and post-secondary life. The Facilitators will establish relationships and partnerships with the parents to help them understand and be able to assist their child in preparing for college/post-secondary. The Facilitators will recruit volunteers as needed to facilitate programming and will develop programming that includes evenings, weekends, and summer.

Technology Facilitator

Part-time position--25-30 hours/week (Sept. 1-June 3)
Position to be filled 8.31.10
Hours: Monday-Friday 3:00-8:00 Saturday 10:00-2:00 (hours may vary according to other staff schedules) 

The Technology Instructor will supervise and assist with programs to prepare elementary, middle, and high school students mentally, socially, and academically for the world of technology. He/she will facilitate the Digital Connectors program that combines leadership development, digital education, and community service to prepare youth, ages 14-to 21 years old, to build the technical proficiency of their respective communities, and serve as a bridge to digital opportunities. He/she will also create educational technology opportunities for elementary, middle, and high school students.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

ASA Learning Garden needs a Pepsi Refresh Grant!

For the last year, we have partnered with The Gleaning Network of Texas to create an After-School Academy Learning Garden. We started the garden after receiving approval from the Dallas Housing Authority to use a fenced in plot of land behind the After-School Academy. We were given approval in June of last year. If you know anything about Texas soil, you know June is not the smartest month to start a garden. But, with the perseverance of Susie Marshall, Executive Director of The Gleaning Network, the garden was under way.

It has taken some time for the kids to get used to the garden. But they have taken ownership of the garden and often beg to go water, dig, look at the worms, or "cook" the compost. You can see the progression of their garden experiences here:

Here is a past article written on my blog: Education and Focus through the Community Garden

The Gleaning Network has provided their services free gratis for the last year. It takes a lot of time, effort, and research to continue the garden...and we couldn't continue it without their help. (trust me...if you saw my garden at my house, you would understand)

So...please vote for us!! You can vote for other projects as well. You get 10 votes a day. You can use one to also vote for The Gleaning Network. Please vote for us every day! Here is our link:

Pass it on!!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Build a Better Dallas

This is why I'm proud to work at Central Dallas Ministries:

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Committed people make change possible

About a week ago, one of our Americorps members emailed me explaining her experience this summer:
When I was attending training for Americorps and I heard many of the speakers tell me my life would forever be changed after this summer, I had a time believing them. But, three weeks into my term, I know they are right. When I started three weeks ago, I was sure of my career path. But, it has quickly been changed.
I was sure I did not want to work with younger kids for several reasons. I felt as if young kids had too much energy. I also thought I wanted students who had a certain amount of knowledge about a particular subject before they entered my classroom. Lastly, I have always thought there needed to be more focus on secondary education because it appeared to me that older students were often left to fin for themselves if they were not at the top of their class by the time they entered high school.
But after this week, my mind has been completely changed. I was working with two boys on Tuesday who are entering sixth grade. It became apparent to me for the first time this week they could not read.  I was shocked that it took me three weeks to notice this. Not only have these boys been failed by the school system, I felt as if I had failed them too. I kept asking myself why did it take me so long to realize they could not read. How did I not pick up on the clues? I realized that every time they told me they did not like to read, it was really because they could not read.
Even after I got off of work, I could not stop thinking about the boys and how many more there must be like them in our community. I also thought about when I was their age and I did not like to read either. If it had not been for my parents sending me to tutoring and enhancing my reading skills, I never would have learned to enjoy reading as well.
I learned this week how important it is for young minds to be enriched with a solid foundation. So, when they do reach high school they will have the fundmental skills they need to futher their knowledge. I am positive that I want to be one of those people to help build their foundation.
Though this Americorps member will graduate in December with a major in Political Science and a minor in English, as she sat in my office she explained, "This program is amazing!" And went on to tell me her desire is now to enter the non-profit world and create the same type of learning opportunities in another after school program. She recounted commented on all of the learning opportunities the kids have on a daily basis.

Hearing her talk about kids who are upper elementary, middle, and high school who struggle tremendously in reading makes me very sad. However, it makes me proud to have a program that is so intentional and working so diligently on providing educational learning and growing opportunities for kids of all ages. It also makes me proud to have a staff that is so committed to move children forward who have, in the past, missed the foundational principles they need to be successful.

The Americorps members and social work interns we have been able to recruit (as well as the two staff members) have provided us with above-and-beyond commitment that is immeasurable...not for program, but for each individual child...and that's what matters.

Thank you to all of you who make it happen each day!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Becoming young entrepreneurs

Every day I find out a new cool thing going on in one of our Education Department programs. 

Our theme for our After-School Academy (ASA) this summer is Environment. The teachers have done absolutely amazing things with the kids. The last time I walked into the ASA, I wondered aloud why there were a series of about six 8 1/2" x 11" pieces of paper stuck to the low ceiling. I was quickly told that the papers were the kids' effort (guided by Mr. Chris) to Google map Dallas to China so they could begin to understand their ecological footprint.

Another one of our teachers, Ms. Danielle, is working on teaching the kids about nutrition, healthy eating, and gardening. She's done some cooking classes with the kids that are combined with literature, nutrition, and the different academic skills that go along with the cooking. The ASA has also started a walking club that involves families in the program. They are even working with our own Dr. Rhonda (pediatrician) to measure their BMI and such to start seeing improvement as the summer progresses.

So, when the farm stands started this week, it folded in wonderfully with our theme and the teachers' lessons. Danielle Evans (different from Ms. Danielle the teacher) has gotten community members involved to oversee the farm stand every Wednesday from 9:00-3:00. Plans are in the works for our Mid-Teen University boys to begin working with the police department on a service project that would take orders from the seniors in the Roseland Gardens high rise and then deliver their produce on Wednesdays. 

Since we are about education, learning, and knowledge...and since we have a theory that part of the reason people in low-income communities don't eat as many fruits and veggies because of lack of access and/or low-quality and high price in the stores, it was very exciting to me to hear that the kids and teens from our different education programs pulled their quarters together to go buy a bag of 4 apples for $1 so they could have a snack for later in the day. (knowing this is leading us to make plans to have the farm stand later in the day once the school year starts so kids can buy healthier snacks once school lets out).

Finally, it was very exciting to me to walk into the building after lunch on Thursday to see Mr. Chris's class with printouts of fruits and veggies on the tables. I love that Mr. Chris took the idea of the farm stand and created a simulation for the kids to learn how to operate the farm stands (which will lead us to our next project of getting the kids to run their own business and operate the farm stands themselves). You can hear them all discussing how the farm stands work, giving me the pitch to sell their fruit and veggies, and learning ways to make extra money.

Our ASA this summer absolutely amazes me every time I visit. Thanks, crew!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

It's about "WE"...

Lately I've heard a lot of "those people" statements. Maybe the people who make them really don't understand what they're saying or how divisive two little words like "those people" can be.

I was in a meeting not too long ago that was made up of business leaders, non-profit workers, and community members alike. As I listened to the speakers, several times I heard "they will improve by..." or "our goal is for them to..." Though I understood the comments, I couldn't help but think that some of "those people" were sitting right in the room with us and I wondered how they felt. I truly believe the comments are meant with all good intentions, but good intentions don't always prevent the harm or hurt of words that sometimes betray our true feelings.

I wonder what would happen if we saw ourselves and referred to ourselves as "we" in our communities. Instead of talking about what we will do to improve "their" community, what if we talked about what we need to do to improve "our" community? What if we thought about and talked about people in ways that assume that we are all responsible for the demise and improvement of a neighborhood? Because the reality is, it is not just the parent's fault or just the community's fault that a child doesn't succeed. We all play and have played a part in the demise of a neighborhood--sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly.

The reality is, we do what's best for our own interests. We move our children out of failing schools...we vote to put/keep tax dollars in our own pockets...we commute so we don't have to live in poor neighborhoods...we work to keep homeless people hidden from view...we create businesses that help our own bottom line. It's what we're taught to do in our society.

We talk about how "those kids" (referring to urban neighborhoods) need to improve their skills...yet when people visit our education programs and are welcomed with a firm handshake, good eye contact, and an assertive, "Good afternoon! My name is ________. What's your name?" and then a, "How is your day today?" by an 8-year old, I get comments from people about how they wish their 18 year olds need to learn that skill.

Yes, there are many situations in *our* neighborhood that could be improved, but rather than thinking about how "they" need to change, it seems to me like we're all on a continuum...we all have things we could improve on. My learning should not be separated from your learning. If I look at it like that, then we can all be in the same boat and we can all work together to improve our neighborhoods and communities.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Call for Legos!

Thanks to the Dallas Housing Authority (DHA), we were provided space that allowed us to operate our Teen University, Library/Bookstore and Connect U technology lab in the Roseland community since September of last year. Conversations with residents (youth and adults) over the years had told me that our communities didn't have access to the educational opportunities people want and need in order to be successful. Though we had an After-School Academy, it only allowed us to reach kids up to 5th grade. So, I was very excited once we were provided with the space to expand our programs.

Despite our 300% increase in number of programs, we realized about halfway into the school year that we were still missing something. The middle schoolers weren't fitting in to our 6th-12th grade Teen University concept. They just weren't old enough for it to work for them. So, Terrence, one of our Americorps members, branched off on his own to create Mid-Teen U for the middle school (and sometimes younger) boys.

What he found was that the boys wanted to learn "how to." They wanted to figure out how to build structures. They were interested in knowing how things worked. So, the staff started researching and found some curriculum on aerodynamics. They started dropping things from the bannister to see how fast it would fall. They let the boys experiment. They looked into building wind turbines.

As a result, instead of the boys being on the outside of the building getting into trouble with their friends, several of them began going inside and using their brain power to think about educational concepts. You know that saying, "The idle mind is a devil's workshop"? Over the years, I have begun to understand that if we challenge our kids to think and work with them in our programs on things that cause them to leave for the day still thinking and wondering about how they can do something or what they can create next, their brain power is used up strategizing what they can do next. As a result, they know how to use their brain to create and construct instead of destroy.

Investing in these young men takes staffing, time, effort, and lots of emotional energy. However, not investing in them ends up taking much more staff, time, effort, and emotional energy in a much more negative way.

So, this summer, we have worked to try to continue the program two days a week. (We hope to have it 5 days a week this fall). We invested in Lego Smart kits for each kid with the goal of entering Lego competitions in the fall. The boys have begun to take an interest and now want to create a community with Legos. The only problem is, the Lego kits only have about 15 pieces each. So, we need more Legos!

If you or anyone you know can donate retired Legos (tubs, kits, etc.), we would love to take them off your hands...and maybe when the young guys get their city or other structure built, you can come see it....or at least see them in process.

Fewer Low-Income Students Going to College

A recent report shows a decline in college enrollment and graduation of low-income students.

I know what a lot of people say..."Not everyone is college material." and "We need all kinds of workers...not just those who work at jobs with college degrees." and "People can make a better salary working some of the 'trade school' type jobs." And I agree with all of those statements.

However, I feel that every person deserves information and a choice. So, I feel a personal obligation to provide that information to the people in my network of friends and in the community where I live and work. If, equipped with the information, people choose something different than college, I'll completely support that decision.

So, the latest information out is that there are fewer low-income students going to college. Of course, when you add to that the graph I've attached at the top that shows income is directly related to education, this new report causes me great concern. I don't get the feeling that the drop in numbers of low-income people attending and graduating from college is leading to higher paying jobs for those who don't attend.

The other disturbing factor to me is my many conversations with young people who explain to me, "I can't go to college. My mom is a single mom and she can't afford it," or other misnomers that have led to low-income individuals moving on a path that doesn't involve college and usually ends them in dead-end jobs.

I understand that this report was based on 2004 numbers and that things may look different now--six years later with an economic downturn that has led even high-degreed college graduates to sit at home drawing unemployment. However, I would think an over-qualified, out-of-work executive would be much more likely to land any job (if they would be willing to take such a pay cut) over someone who was much less qualified and less skilled. Personally, I would rather be the one with the resume that demonstrates my education and experience.

To counter the myths out there about college, our Teen University at Roseland has begun doing College 101 classes. You can see the topics here...and feel free to let anyone in the Dallas area know about it. If they are willing to get there, we are willing to include them.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

So much work to do

Our kids have a lot of potential. They're bright, inquisitive, and active. The problem is, when there isn't something for them to do, they get restless and work to find a way to fulfill their need to do something. Unfortunately, this often results in them "experimenting" with things like, "What happens when I throw this paver (that was supposed to go to our garden) to the ground?" or "How hard do I have to throw this rock before it breaks that double-paned window?"

I don't think they have a clue that what they're doing are physics experiments. In their minds...and most times in ours...I think they're just vandalizing property...which is extremely irritating. But the reality is, whether they know it or not, they're experimenting. Our job is to channel that experimentation. And that's not always easy.

I want to say that parents should be more involved and aware of what their kids are doing. But during my social work internship, I was told that, "You can't 'should' all over yourself." So, instead of "should-ing" we've got to go to work.

We have a building that is not conducive to kids' programming...but it's a huge, nice building that we're extremely grateful for. Because of the way it's designed, kids run up and down the halls without us being able to monitor them. By the time we get to them, they've run out one door and in another. When there aren't very many staff people, we have to lock the door so we can monitor who comes in and out...and that doesn't even work very well.

Yesterday, when I walked over to the building, some kids were standing outside complaining because they couldn't get it while another kid was inside antagonizing by making faces at them through the window. The Community Center was closed so the kids who wanted to run around and play didn't have a place to go. Instead, they were wreaking havoc on the staff trying to conduct educational programs (a true testimony of why we need all kinds of different programming in a single community).

Though some of the kids know me, the one at the window did not. When I walked in and asked him to leave, he refused. I usually have great relationships with kids and they respect me even if they don't like what I'm telling them. But he didn't know me. After probably 30 minutes of refusing to just let him slide, he finally walked out the door...but not without commentary.

As he walked down the stairs, he mumbled loud enough to make sure I heard him, "Stupid white lady. You can just go back to Whiteville." Though it's not the first time something like that has been said to me, it hasn't happened in a long time. And though I didn't want it to bother me, it did.

I tried to write it off thinking, "I don't have a relationship with him. He doesn't know me. It's understandable."But the other side of me was saying, "That shouldn't matter. Kids should demonstrate respect no matter who it is." I was irritated that some kids show absolutely no respect for themselves, peers, property, or other adults. I addressed a few more situations in the building, then started to head back to the After-School Academy.

When I left the building, he was sitting outside. Knowing that my job was not done, I went over and sat down beside him. He didn't get up and run off when I sat down. We had a rational conversation about what had happened...well, mostly I talked and he listened.

At one point, another boy his age (about 10 or 11 years old) who knew me came up to me with a big smile and greeted me. I could see the other boy's eyebrows raise as he gave me a side eye like, "You know him??" and because this kid was his friend, I could tell he was thinking, "Wait! You like her??" I could tell my "stupid white lady" status was starting to break down.

The two boys gave each other their special handshake. I engaged the boy I knew and convinced him to teach me the special handshake...which he explained I could only do with about 4 other boys. My coolness factor was starting to come back. I convinced the boy I knew to leave so I could finish my conversation to which he then asked, "What did he do?" if he was hoping to find out so he could help me out, go tell his mom for me, or somehow reprimand him for me.

Once I convinced him to leave us for a minute, I finished my conversation. By the end, the kid I was talking to wasn't angry any more and explained that if he would've done what I said, the girls he was antagonizing would have laughed at him. He was trying to save face.

Ahhh...point well taken. So I could have approached the situation differently. We discussed what I could've done differently and what he could've done differently and ended by shaking hands and agreeing to both do better.

The whole situation wore me out. It made me start thinking about how we can structure our programs in a way that doesn't allow them to get to the point of that kind of behavior, but also to figure out how to teach them not just to respect the person they've built a relationship with, but to learn to respect the people and things they don't have a relationship with as well.

I know of one kid who was that trouble maker all through junior high and high school with everyone but me. People said he was just wrapped around my little finger. Perhaps he was. But I also know that I pressed him to be respectful and we had many conversations on how to respond to people even when he didn't like their reaction. Now, at 25, he has worked at the same job for 6 years and tells me about situations he deals with in a positive way in spite of what he wants to say or do. So, I know that what happens when they're 10...even if they only show respect for one person right now...can eventually affect them if they are continuously taught and coached.

It's a big job that takes a long-term commitment and effort. The short-term is frustrating at times and, despite the successes, doesn't seem to reach every kid. Maybe I shouldn't have to play the role of the parent. Maybe I shouldn't have to hire male staff to play the role of the male role model because so many fathers are absent. Maybe I shouldn't have to get such a large number of staff to handle the types of emotional and behavioral outbursts we have. But, again, it's not about the "shoulds," it's about working toward creating a society where we *all* feel safe. We have that opportunity. It's challenging...and there are many people who don't see the need to fund it. But think about the alternative...not just for the kids themselves, but for us as a society as well.

The kids deserve to see themselves in a different light...and the rest of society needs to see what they have to offer. We have a lot of work to do, but creating a sense of hope is never easy.