Thursday, May 20, 2010

We can't ignore this problem.

As educators, we encounter a lot of difficult situations. We interact with a large group of children every day, and unfortunately, a lot of kids have pretty difficult lives. I work with kids in foster care, kids whose mom or dad is in jail, kids whose mom or dad (or both) live in a different country. These kids are not carefree, not in the slightest.
Recently I learned that one of my students was removed from his home because his parent was hitting him. He now lives with his grandparents, who live almost an hour away. They have worked it out so he can stay at our school for the rest of the year - his life is already disrupted enough without having to start a new school in May.

I simply cannot comprehend hitting a child. 

I wish I had something profound to say, but that's it. I simply cannot understand it.

According to many news outlets, including CBS, child abuse has been on the rise in the past few years, due to the recession. Parents are stressed out, out of work, and take their frustration out on their children, and additionally funding for abuse prevention and counseling services is being cut.

Want to really feel sick? read the Child Welfare Information Gateway's 2009 report on Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalaties. According to the report, 

"The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS) reported an estimated 1,530 child fatalities in 2006. This translates to a rate of 2.04 children per 100,000 children in the general population. NCANDS defines “child fatality” as the death of a child caused by an injury resulting from abuse or neglect, or where abuse or neglect was a contributing factor." has some statistics that bring tears to my eyes, not the least of which is the graph showing child deaths due to abuse or neglect per day. The number has gone from just above 3 per day in 1998 to almost 5 deaths a day in 2006. Five children died, on average, every day in 2006. More than 3 out of 4 were under the age of 4.

This is not something that is unique to the community I am working in. We can't say "well, Rosie, you work in a "bad" school in a "tough" neighborhood." No. Child abuse occurs in all cities, in all socioeconomic groups, and within all ethnicities. Just because this is the first time I've been confronted with the reality doesn't mean I haven't worked with other kids who have been hurt by people who are supposed to protect and care for them.

These are our babies. Our children. And instead of protecting them, we are cutting programs to prevent abuse. Child Protection Services across the country are understaffed and dealing with higher caseloads.

I can't be eloquent right now, I just need someone to explain to me what makes it ok to ignore this problem.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Calculators at the Grocery Store

Today, I was looking for cooking inspiration on one of my all-time favorite blogs,  Gluten-Free Girl and The Chef. I went back and read Shauna's entry about when she and her family did the United Way Hunger Action Week in January. I wrote about it then, and I'm bringing it up again, because there are good lessons to be learned here. Good lessons that I still need to learn, probably.
I may have mentioned that I ran out of food stamps two weeks before they were set to be renewed. So, for the past week and half, I have been doing two things I hate to do: Buying non-organic fruits and vegetables, and using my "for fun" money to do it.
Clearly, I am still working on this eating for $200 a month thing. I make excuses that it's because I am on a special diet, and need to buy gluten-free foods, but if Shauna and her family can do it, then so can I.
My food stamps get reloaded on Thursday, and I'm going to start taking a calculator to the grocery store. I am allowed to spend no more than $50 a week. I'm going to start planning my meals in advance so I don't go to the store, hungry, at 5:30pm.
My wonderful Grandma sent me an Amazon gift card for my birthday, so I am stocked up on Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Whole Grain Bread Mix, and an exciting assortment of gluten-free flours. I am taking a baking class tonight at my awesome local Community Food Co-Op. So, even though I made the awesome discovery of gluten free bagels this week, I probably won't be buying any. The Bellingham Farmer's Market (recently voted Best in the Northwest!) is open, so I will be getting awesome local spring veggies every Saturday. I planted lettuce seeds and they are starting to sprout - although it will be a while still before I can harvest salad greens right from my porch. This summer I will be helping out at our school garden, which hopefully means fresh produce for me!
I can do this. I don't need frozen pizzas or meat more than once a week. I can make hummus and salsa. I can find recipes and plan meals in advance. I can eat healthy and enjoyable meals on a budget. It's all about the beauty of simplicity, right?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

What comes next

The days are getting longer, the farmer's market has opened, the children are getting restless... all signs that spring is here, and that summer is fast at its heels. There is less than seven weeks of school remaining. After that, three weeks until my term of service is over.
Holy crap.

I have no idea what I'm doing next. I moved up here with the express intention of starting a children's theatre, and I still want to do that. Unfortunately, that won't pay the bills right away. I've been looking for jobs here, in Seattle, and all over, and there's not much out there.
This is the kind of things that give me nightmares. I hate major changes in my life, and I hate not knowing what the plan is.

What I do know is this:
I love working with kids
I love theatre
I love books
I love Washington state, my family and friends, and the whole Pacific Northwest attitude

So, if I can't find a job at a theatre, maybe I can get a job in a bookstore? Or a library? I really don't have any sort of "recession-proof" job skills. Not very good with computers, and I am definitely not skilled in the construction trade - which the radio always tells me is the best job market.

I have come to the realization that I might not find a job which includes all of those things. I have found some jobs out of state that sound amazing. I am applying for jobs that don't have anything to do with theatre. But I worry, if I keep saying "someday I will have a job that makes me completely happy," what happens if that someday never comes?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Simple Rewards

Today I got a good reminder of Why I Do This. Which I needed, I've been feeling very overwhelmed lately.
One of my second graders has been working really hard on our reading program, and her fluency and comprehension has increased a lot. I started working with her in February, and she wasn't writing complete sentences, she was skipping words and losing her place when she read out loud, and she wasn't motivated to get any better. Since then, I've watched her get excited as she reaches a goal reading rate (usually about 100 words per minute), and she's gotten to see her own growth on the graph we keep.
Today she completed her twelfth story and I sent them all home, with a "Super Reader" certificate. She was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of showing all the good work she has done to her parents.
I was a little hesitant to send home a packet like that - the certificate asks the parents to read and discuss the stories with their students. I was hesitant because I so often hear "Oh that kid's parents are never home," "That student has no support at home," and, most often, "No one at home speaks English." However, I did it, and will continue to do it, because I want to offer families every opportunity to be involved in their child's education. Even if parents don't speak English, I will encourage my students to talk about their reading with them. It's all about reading and understanding, it doesn't matter if the discussion is done in English, Spanish, or Pig Latin.

In other news, I have less than $10 in food stamps to last me until the 6th of May. Oops. There will be some creative cooking these next few weeks.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Finding Balance

It seems that in the past month, I have been doing a lot of serving and not quite enough surviving. I've been extremely sick twice, finally using up all of my sick days - this is not good, as there are about 2 and a half months of school left. I haven't been exercising, I haven't been sleeping, and, worst of all, I haven't been blogging. These three things are probably the most beneficial things I can do for my self, for my my mental and physical health  and by neglecting them I have been neglecting personal sanity. Not good.
March seemed to go by in a blur of motion and noise. March 2nd was Read Across America Day, in celebration of Dr. Seuss's Birthday. My awesome team of Alderwood WRC members spearheaded an effort to have a combined, three-school event. We recruited the other two Bellingham teams back in October, and had slowly been working on the event since then. We contacted the Mayor Pike and Sherrif Elfo, asking them to read their favorite Dr. Seuss books at the event. We got donations from several local businesses. We sent out press releases to local media. And on March 2nd, it finally all came together. The turnout for Alderwood was great; we had over 200 people show up. The other two schools didn't have quite as much luck, but we hope that this is just the beginning and the three Bellingham schools with WRC programs will continue to host events like this.
Also on March 2nd I was told that I was not selected for an interview for Teach For America. I was bummed, but I am excited to find some other opportunities, closer to home.
March also saw the final stages of our school garden planning, and on the 27th, a work party of staff, students, and families showed up to make those plans into a real garden. Thanks to a Starbucks grant, we got money for every volunteer that showed up. Money to spend on soil, seeds, and worms! I wasn't there, but I hear it was awesome, and I got to spend most of last Friday in the garden, and am very excited about the future of it.
Why wasn't I at the garden party on the 27th, you ask? Well, I was up at the crack of dawn to drive my Girl Scout Troop to Seattle. We (along with Jenn, another awesome AmeriCorps member), trekked to The Univeristy of Washington and Seattle University to tour the campuses. When you have a troop of teenage girls, you get to do the fun stuff. We had an awesome time, and talked a lot about the girls' plans for their futures. We also talked about everything from boys to the health care bill. It's nice to know that there are teenagers out there that I can relate to and have great conversations with. I feel really lucky to have gotten hooked up with this troop. Jenn and I are trying to convince them to go camping this summer, they so far are not very excited about "sleeping in the dirt." (Crazy, right?)
The day after our college tours, I got sick. Sicker than I have been in a very long time, and sicker than I ever want to be again. The kind of sick that makes you lose ten pounds. That put me out of commission for several days. When I returned to school, several of my students told me how they or their siblings had "puked a lot" that weekend. Thanks, guys.
Luckily, I recovered soon enough to celebrate my birthday. Yes, as of last week I am over a quarter of a century. I celebrated with my friends at trivia night, then dancing, then karaoke the following night, and then celebrating with my Seattle friends on Saturday night. I'm a big supporter of Birthday Week.
Now it's Spring Break, and I am relaxing on the beach. The fifty-degree, windy, stormy, San Juan Islands beach. I'm also applying for jobs and working on a drama program to present to the fifth grade teachers at my school. Hopefully this week allows me the time to relax and remember why it's important to both Serve AND Survive.

Sunday, February 28, 2010


Sometimes I think ADD is contagious.
I spend all day with these kids who can't pay attention to what they are doing, who can't sit still for two seconds, and when I get home I discover that I'm in the same state. I go to yoga and the whole time I think about stuff. Things of no importance, or things I have no control over at this moment. What I might say to the Teach For America interviewer. Where I might live next year - not what city but specifically what I want my apartment to look like. What kind of thing I might cook for breakfast if I had the time. Whether or not my co-workers like me. And then I remember I am supposed to be focusing on yoga and my breathing. Then the cycle repeats.
So, at least I have sympathy for my students. If I can't be still then how can I expect them to be?
The the same thing goes for interrupting. I hate it when people interrupt me, and I daily tell my students that it is rude. However, I find myself doing it all the time when I am talking with my friends, co-workers, and family. It's a habit I am trying to break myself of, because it is rude. It's like saying "what I have to say is more important than what you have to say," which is just another way of saying "I am more important than you," which I (usually) don't believe.
And again, if I can't stop interrupting, isn't it hypocritical of me to expect them to be quiet while I am talking?

Remember how I said I was feeling burnt-out? Well, last night I slept for over twelve hours. I fell asleep on the couch while watching a movie, woke up at about 9, brushed my teeth, went to bed, and didn't get up until 9:30 this morning. I think my body is trying to tell me something. Perhaps "don't stay up past midnight and then go to yoga the next morning at 8."
 It's pretty amazing how good one feels after twelve hours of sleep. And since I went to bed fairly early I have had all day to get things done. Maybe my mom was on to something when she wanted me to go to bed early as a kid. Just maybe.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

End of February Blues

I've been feeling really burnt out recently. Tired all day but can't get to sleep, exhausted by the end of the day, frustrated that my apartment is messy, terrified that I have four and a half months left in AmeriCorps and very little idea what I will be doing next.
The sleep thing - it's stress, I know it. I should be exercising every day but I'm not. I should be getting in bed by 10 every night but I'm not. I know I will just lay there for hours, thinking. So it seems to make more sense to stay up, read, watch a movie, clean my bathroom (really. I did that the other night.).
Yesterday, 3:00pm, I came close to crying. I was exhausted, both physically and emotionally. I realized that Teach For America will let me know if I have made it to the first round of interviews in less than a week, and the whole process (if I make it) will be done in two months. We are having a large, 3-school event for Read Across America day on March 2nd (the same day as invitations to TFA's interviews are sent), which is coming together very slowly. I am turning 26 in four weeks. Life suddenly seemed very heavy.
Luckily, I had volunteered to stay for a school garden meeting. At 3pm, staying at school an hour extra didn't sound like the best idea, but I got to sit and talk with people who are passionate about gardening and community involvement and creating an educational environment with dirt and worms and compost and plants. There are teachers and parents really excited about bringing this program to our school, who won't quit until it is done.
Possibly the best part was talking to one of the younger teachers at my school before the meeting. She is close to my age, and I was telling her that I was trying to remind myself that when I am a "real" teacher, I won't be working with 27 students from grades K-5 in groups of 1-4 over the course of the day, and will be worrying a lot less about being able to pay my bills and still have money left to put gas in the car. We talked a little bit about the money issue, and she said to me "I have friends who are extremely well off. Like private jet well off, and I often can't even imagine what their lives are like. And then I sit back and realize that that is probably what a lot of my students families feel when they look at me."
That is so true, and I think it's fantastic that she realizes that disparity is there. She (along with most of the teachers I am lucky enough to work with this year) is totally aware of the differences between herself and her students, and tries to work through them.
Another big contributor to my 3:00 meltdown is my 5th grade boys. They are the last students I see every day, and they are by far my most difficult students. One of them wants to talk and ask questions about everything except what we are reading, and the other simply wants to know why I don't bring him candy.
We sit in the hallway directly across from a 4th-grade room. This class goes to specialists at the end of the day, so the teacher has planning time while I read with these boys. She often overhears our sessions and gives me tips and encouragement. On Tuesday, after a particularly difficult session, she complimented me on my patience. It's good to know I at least still have the appearance of being patient, even when I feel like my head is going to explode.