2018 Week 2: Education
As the elementary and middle school year was ending, I had the chance to meet bright students, enthusiastic faculty and staff, and continue working on our projects. This week, I finished a critical step of the project: categorizing reasons of students’ long periods of absences from school. Working side by side with my supervisor Mr. Collick, we were able to meet with numerous teachers and “investigate” specific cases for students’ absences. These quick, serious meetings were challenging at first because I had to quickly build relationships with many teachers and ensure high levels of trust with their students. However, this internal obstacle was resolved through two very important skills- listening and questioning. By listening to what passionate teachers, faculty, and staff had to say, I was able to grasp the bigger picture behind school: this school is dedicated to building a loving, securing community between parents, teachers, and students. And by questioning, I was able to work with the teachers to figure out patterns of absences and indirect behaviors that gave clues to why students were missing at least 15 days of school.
One challenge in the data analysis was understanding the issues surrounding chronic absenteeism and providing solutions for the challenges. Often times, I had to really focus on what solutions are feasible and effective for the obstacles of students’ attendance. This was not an easy task and still continues to be a challenge. However, by working in a team and discussing pros and cons of solutions to the issues, I am able to clearly see the reasons for students’ absences and the solutions for these obstacles students face.
Later in the week, I met with the pastor of the Lutheran Mission Society Fells Point Compassion Center. The pastor and his organization has built a strong relationship with the school, providing parents, family, and the larger community with food, clothing, financial assistance, and grace counseling. It was truly inspiring to meet a young, humble pastor that cared about the community and was dedicated to the students at the school. During the meeting, we brainstormed ways to incentivize attendance for the upcoming school year. This meeting was essentially the highlight of my week because I had the chance to use creativity and my prior experiences to come up with fun ways to motivate students to attend school and feel welcomed at school.
This week, we finalized the plans for the youthworks site, starting this Monday. The first week will be most important for the community organizing program, since it will lay the groundwork for the canvassing, which will start Thursday (hopefully). The biggest challenge for me has been the uncertainty of planning; What will the weather be? Will we really make it through all these activities on this day? I’ve never run something as long term as this five week session, so it’s been a new experience to plan it out.
Tuesday was Anastasia’s last day, but I feel like she left me and Meera very prepared for the summer. It does feel like my safety net is gone a little bit, but I am ready for the responsibility. Additionally, watching Anastasia say goodbye to all the students and reflect on her time at The Intersection, was very touching. I am optimistic that I can build lasting relationships with them as well, and help direct their futures in a positive direction.
This was the last week before Squashwise’s summer camp begins on June 25th. The week was quiet in the office, as some of the staff member took days off, and my days were full of lesson planning and administrative organizing to prepare for the students. Throughout this week, I was also exposed to what happens at a small nonprofit when something goes wrong, and had the opportunity to see all the various “hats” that the executive director of a nonprofit has to hold in order for all operations to run as smoothly as possible.
The office has been having printer issues, ever since they got a new printer about three weeks ago, which has consumed many hours of various staff member’s time and created much frustration. On Wednesday, a fellow staff member accidentally called a fraudulent printer help line, and two of the staff’s computers were compromised. When I walked in on Thursday morning, the wifi passwords had to be changed, the computers had to be reset, everything needed to be reconnected, and all staff members had to change all of their passwords. The executive director had a very important board meeting on Thursday afternoon, and had spent the entire day on Wednesday dealing with the technological issues. She ended up working until about 1am on Wednesday night to finish what she needed to, and then also came in on Thursday ready to do whatever needed to be done to get the office back in order and get to her board meeting on time and prepared. This situation made it obvious that everybody in the office worked past their “job description,” and had to adapt to various issues or challenges that came up.
Vacuuming. It’s not glamorous, but it’s definitely necessary. For the past couple days, Mr. Manko and I have been vacuuming, sweeping, and mopping the 2nd floor of Liberty Elementary in preparation for the July summer enrichment program. I expected cleaning to be one of the more monotonous tasks I’d be doing this summer, but it’s been oddly satisfying. Vacuuming has been a great opportunity to clear my mind, particularly when this week has been filled with reminders of the frustrating, bureaucratic aspects of the education system.
Here are just a few of those frustrating things:
Missing choice letters: In the Baltimore City Public School System, fifth graders send in applications and receive choice letters notifying them of their middle school placements. The Liberty fifth graders had their celebratory closing ceremony over a week ago, but at least twenty students have still not received their placements. My heart goes out to the parents who have been frantically calling our school and the school district office as they try to figure out where they need to send their children in the fall. Mr. Manko has been emailing the Office of Enrollment since March, which has responded that the choice letters will be out by April, May, June 1st, June 15th…June 15th has come and gone, and (surprise) there are still no choice letters.
Campaign representation: Mr. Manko and I attended a meeting for an educational campaign. While there were many insightful findings that were shared, I felt that the discussion veered towards setting exceedingly high expectations for teachers. Some of the proposed solutions neglected to consider the burden of their current workload. I fully support the mission of the campaign, and I have no doubt that everyone at the meeting had the best interests of Baltimore students in mind. However, I could not help but feel that it was unfair that the conversation lacked teacher input, especially when only two of the people at the meeting worked in any sort of school setting.
Grant funding: Ms. Kim Truehart came by to discuss a grant application for the school and recreation center. Mr. Manko suggested including a creative solution for improving school attendance. He remarked, “This would probably be effective for reducing school absenteeism, but funders don’t like this sort of thing. Funders like seeing kids do yoga in classrooms.” Ms. Truehart included it anyway, so fingers crossed.
PTO dynamics: I knew that I’d be interacting with children this summer, but who knew that this job would involve mediating conflicts between parents too? After a tense meeting with the Parent Teacher Organization board members, Mr. Manko suggested that we put together a fun retreat to help them resolve any issues. After the retreat, I regret that I’m not sure whether they are better prepared to organize school activities as a team.
Although I have not mentioned them explicitly, this week had many highlights as well. In the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges within a complex system, it’s important to cherish these small, incremental successes. I suppose that’s one of the reasons why I’ve enjoyed vacuuming so much. At the end of the day, I can see the spotless rugs and shiny blue floors and look forward to another day of steady progress.
Week 3: “You can call me Keone.”
“What do you want the students to call you next week? Mr. Keone? Mr. Aliphios? Keone?”
“Keone is fine.”
Mr. Keone. Something about it sounded off. Those two words were not meant to be together. Not yet. But why? Was it the fact that I’m still in college? Was it because I still call my mom for advice on everything ranging from tax forms to how long broccoli can last in the fridge? Or maybe it was the fact I forgot to put deodorant on that morning. At the time, I couldn’t put my finger on it.
One week later and the next thing I know it’s the first day of orientation for the MERIT Scholars. As the students began flooding into the classroom, I approached the podium to take attendance and make my first impression.
“Hello everyone! My name is Keone. You can call me Keone, K, or even special K if you want.”
There was light laughter. Nailed it.
The rest of the day went as planned. We went on a tour of the medical campus and went over basic hospital etiquette. Everyone was getting along and having a decent time. Right before they were dismissed, my ears detected the same weird noise from a week ago.
“Mr. Keone. What time do we have to be here tomorrow?”
It’s amazing how many gray hairs I felt sprout from my scalp. It felt exactly like that time I went to Chuck E Cheese in high school. I felt old, and I didn’t know what to do.
Naturally, when faced with adversity, I called my mom. She would know what’s going on.
“Why is it weird to you?”
“We’re only like two-three years apart age wise mom. It’s weird to me.”
“Listen. If they wanted to call you Keone, then they would have. But they didn’t. So deal with it and roll with it.”
She was right. As much as I feel like a kid, I have to remember that I’m growing up and people are seeing this version of me. The “I wear business casual to work” version of me. Damn, mom does it again.
“So, while we’re talking, did you see the financial aid package? What does it mean?”
“Ugh”Tags: 2018, Baltimore Squashwise, Child First Authority, CIIP, CIIP 2018, Code in the Schools, Liberty Elementary, MERIT, Shepherd's Clinic, The Intersection, Week 2