Thursday, January 21, 2016

$3,000 for your passion

By Nya Brooks, serving with Vincentian Mission Corps in St. Louis, MO

Prior to my year of service, I was aware that education inequities existed across the United States, mainly affecting low income communities of color. When I moved to inner city St. Louis, I quickly learned that this city has a polarized education system. Either you invest thousands of dollars into private, Catholic school, or your child can attend the free, yet low performing public schools. Public school is the reality that many low income families in St. Louis face because they cannot afford to send their children to private school. Fortunately, Marian Middle School is dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty by providing adolescent girls with holistic, faith based education.

I currently volunteer at Marian Middle School, an all-girls Catholic middle school on the south side of St. Louis, MO. Marian is significant to the St. Louis community because it offers quality and affordable education to girls from low income families. Not only does the curriculum prepare the students to be a grade level ahead, Marian incorporates educational activities, such as building robots and dissecting sharks, offers graduate support to help Alumnae throughout high school and college, and connects the students with professional women to serve as career mentors. Based on a conversation I had with a Marian Alumna a few months ago, “There are some things that you will only experience at Marian.”

One of the traditions at Marian is to share Wisdom Words each day during morning assembly. Wisdom Words are daily passages that are intended to motivate the students. With a background in Women’s & Gender Studies and a hidden feminist agenda, I volunteered to write the Wisdom Words for the month of March in honor of Women’s History Month. Often when learning about history in America, it is very male dominated. This is present throughout textbooks, media, and national holidays. I saw writing the Wisdom Words during March as an opportunity to educate the students about women in history.

One day, I wrote Wisdom Words about the importance of attending college. The historical figure I focused on was Dr. Susan La Flesche Picotte, the first Native American woman to earn a medical degree and become a doctor. One of the sweetest and most adorable 5th graders asked if she could read the Wisdom Words during morning assembly. I graciously said yes. This 5th grader has a tendency to be shy when talking to people. I knew reading the Wisdom Words would be a great opportunity for her to practice her public speaking skills and a great confidence booster.

The 5th grade student did not have much time to practice. However, you could not tell! In front of an audience of 80 people, this 5th grade student read the Wisdom Words clearly and with confidence. Afterwards, everyone clapped and cheered for her. I was extremely proud, for many reasons. One, public speaking is a very common phobia and like any skill, requires practice. (I still get nervous and I have been public speaking for 8 years.) Two, she correctly pronounced, “La Flesche Picotte”. Three, having a reading level below her grade, I was amazed by how this 5th grade student did not display an ounce of nervousness or stumble over her words.

Later that day, the president of the school stopped me in the faculty work center to thank me. I was unaware of it at the time, but one of the many professional women who voluntarily mentors for the 8th grade students was present during morning assembly. According to the president, her grandfather was Native American. She was so touched by the Wisdom Words that she offered to donate $3,000 to sponsor a student for an entire year.

The theme of this story is to live out your passions because they can inspire others. When we live out our passions, not only do we nourish our souls, but we can transform the lives of others. My passions are feminism and public speaking. When writing the Wisdom Words, my only intentions were to educate the girls about women in history and to provide a student with a chance to practice her public speaking skills. I had no idea my writing would create an opportunity for another girl to attend Marian. My Wisdom Words empowered the Marian community beyond what I could imagine.
I am extremely thankful for the opportunity to write the Wisdom Words. Similar to the students, Marian has fostered a place for me to discover and practice my talents. After writing the Wisdom Words, I learned that I am talented when it comes to writing and that youth enjoy learning about history if you present it in an interesting way.

It is not by coincidence that groups of historically oppressed people are rarely included in our history books. Our history lessons, whether in school or mainstream society, reflect who is deemed worthy in America’s eyes. In this case, it is white, heterosexual, able bodied, cisgender, men. In the future, I want to continue to educate youth about untold histories, specifically the histories of African Americans and women. This will give opportunities for underrepresented groups to have their stories heard and youth will be aware that history has multiple facets. When we unveil new knowledge to our youth, we unveil a new world.

To learn more about the Vincentian Mission Corps, click here

Thursday, January 14, 2016

What you need to know about international service

Do I have what it takes to do international service? Will I be safe? How do I choose the right program? Can I afford to serve overseas? How will I handle homesickness? If these questions sound familiar - please tune in to this webinar session focused on questions pertaining to international service.

What you need to know about international service from Catholic Volunteer Network on Vimeo.

Do you have questions that we did not address in this session? Just ask them in the comments section below and we will be sure to answer them!

Monday, January 11, 2016

What you need to know about faith-based service?

How do I choose the right volunteer program? Is community living for me? How will I repay my student loans on a volunteer stipend? Will I miss out on job opportunities if I do a year of service? If these questions sound familiar - please tune in to the recorded webinar "What you need to know about faith-based service."

What you need to know about faith-based service from Catholic Volunteer Network on Vimeo.

Did you have questions that we did not address during this session? Just type them in the comments section and we will be sure to answer them! Also - later this week we will post another webinar focused on international service - stay tuned!

Monday, January 4, 2016

Why Teachers Teach On

By Kate Ulfers, Mery Volunteer Corps, serving in Detroit, Michigan

Teaching is hard. As a student, I took my teachers for granted; I complained about the tactless and un-passionate ones, and mildly sassed the effective but boring ones. As a student, I had zero appreciation for the time and energy my teachers spent on incorporating benchmarks into their lesson plans, on creating tests and assignments, or on the never-ending grading.  Now that I have served as a high school teacher for the last 7 months, I have a whole new sense of awe for what teachers and educators do. That being said, one aspect of teaching has still eluded me… why do teachers keep doing what they do? How do they continue the momentum of teaching for 35 years? Essentially, I am at a loss as to why veteran teachers continue to persevere in the classroom, long after the glamour and new-car smell has worn off. It’s not for the great pay or flexible hours. It’s not for the prestige or celebrity status. So why?

I gained a small insight into this recently on a particularly grey and dull Monday. It was a Monday after a long weekend, and I was anticipating untamed and uninterested students whose behavior would range from barely able to stay in their seat to barely able to stay awake. I told myself the night before to give up on trying to predict how horrible this Monday would be… how uncontrollable and talkative the kids would be, how unprepared and incomplete my lesson plan was, how over the long weekend I had probably lost my classroom confidence. On evenings when all of these insecurities are invading my mind, I chant to myself:

“KT, there is zero point spending a whole evening stressing over just two hours of classroom time. You need to prioritize your time and energy, and dreading the unknown is not a priority.”

I felt pretty good when I got to work that morning and classes (as always) were fine. Sure, some kids were a little bit chatty, some a little antsy, but after the first 15 minutes, everyone was relatively calm. My lesson plan was also fine. Considering the kids do most of the work, it landed on them to be productive. My confidence trickled back throughout the class. Good day, all in all.

I was content with this. I survived and now the next 3 hours were to be spent preparing for the next day.

At lunch time, I headed downstairs to carbo-load and I ran into one of my favorite students. He has the lowest grade in both of my classes, and is at risk of not being able to graduate if he doesn‘t pass my class. The thing is, his attitude in class (and out) is funny, sweet and genuine, and he really does try hard in my class. This year he was diagnosed with a learning disorder which might explain a large portion of his academic struggle, but unfortunately he is under the impression that the reason he is struggling is because he’s ‘stupid.’ This drives me CRAZY because intelligence cannot be reflected in a grade; some random letter or percentage does not dictate anyone’s IQ.  But in a system where grades are given such emphasis, it is very frustrating that all his hard work does not reflect in his grade… is it any wonder that he is discouraged?

Anyway, when I bumped into him I congratulated him on his last test. He looked confused because he hadn’t checked his test grade online yet. When I told him he scored a 72% (the highest grade he has received on a test or quiz so far) he looked shocked, and then he just BEAMED. He thanked me (I am not sure why) and I told him that I didn’t have anything to do with his grade, that the 72% was all him and his hard work. He beamed all over again.

That look on his face, oh man,  THAT is why teachers continue to do what they do. THAT is why they still work even though they are paid next to nothing and work hours and hours at home. THAT is why they go into so much debt in order to get a teaching degree. THAT is possibly one of the most rewarding reactions that a student can gift a teacher with. THAT made my day.

To learn more about Mercy Volunteer Corps, click here!