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Friday, September 21, 2012

My Introductory Bio/Purpose for Joining Americorps

I got here through word of mouth and being passed over for a job as Youth Pastor of a local Duluth Church.  A contact from the church, Holly, who works as an AmeriCorps Supervisor at Ordean Middle School, told me about the AmeriCorps opportunity as we walked along the shore of Lake Superior on June 12, 2012.  It was a week before the monumentous flood that would overtake the city in biblical proportions.  It was a serene day and I felt privileged to have the chance to ponder working in a unique educational setting and have a job drift into my life so easily after surviving 13 years in the 2nd largest city in America.  I had already served 5 years in Los Angeles Unified School District as an English and Math Tutor and a student teacher.  I knew the ins and outs of LAUSD and the increased pressure on teachers to get satisfactory results for students.  My indoctrination into the school system started out gently as a bystander type tutor but it intensified as I signed up for a Math Summer Institute and I helped 1st generation Latinos into higher level Math and striving for achievement.  I worked with Project Grad, who gave $4,000 scholarships to would-be college bound, granted they passed all the class requirements for the program.   Although I endured the 90 to 100 degree heat of the Math Summer Institute and year round experience at L.A. high schools, once feeling a 6.5 earthquake in summer school on the second floor of the English building with a teacher from France, I longed for the pristine Minnesota lakes, fresh air and the nativity of my home state pilgrimage.  L.A. was a wayside rest, not a permanent destination.  I spent 2009-11 getting my teachier credential because I had a great housing deal, but once the housing gig was up I knew I had to leave no matter which state my credential came from.  Holly's subtle referral back to Cold Country was my ticket out of L.A.  It seemed like a blessing and spiritual intevention that a federal opportunity would arise in the midst of a middle age search for belonginess.
     I serve in the AmeriCorps because it seemed like the perfect transitional job from grad school to the full time world of education, coupled with America's dying vision that needs to be restored.  The media keeps hammering how the youth are lost, how the politicians are lost, how the world is slipping deeper into meaningless, ineffective wars.  This was a direct opportunity to shape the youth into a brighter day.  It seemed like a job where I could inspire, not just master test results or turn students into robots of high acheivement.  Many people from my generation come from the baby boomer post Vietnam revivalist era where our dreams didn't die, America just co-opted into a corporate, corpulent culture that left spiritual purpose behind and status quo intercepted "We are the World" mantra.  I became a Christian at age 4 and started reciting Bible verses in Sunday school and wanted to follow Jesus.  Jesus advocates we lay down our life for our brother.  My desire not to become a slave to capitalism and material wealth drove me into jobs and vocations that helped the poor, needy and gave a better path for the "people" of America.  I have served as public housing manager in Virgina, a social service agency in Illinois, with disabled adults in groups homes, child care for primary age kids and AmeriCorps was just another stepping stone of do-goodness I embraced throughout my life.  The idea of coming to Duluth East, a brand new school, on the top of educational food chain, and to give my 9th grade son an opportunity to go to high school in a state that was in the top 5 rated in America was a dream.  It was a double bonus.  I knew my job would consist of enabling students to a brighter, educational path and I was eager to serve and utilize my one year of teacher training.  I also did have a distinct connection to Duluth, my father and his 8 brothers and sisters grew up here and I would come up every summer until age 16.  My Aunt Fanny would fry us big hamburgers in her two story house and my Uncle Sylvio had telescopic lens where I could watch the boats coming in and out of the harbor on the high second floor bedroom that already stood on a hill.  It was a nostalgic rebirth into my past.  Duluth, a city of its own unique quality of granite rock, hills and the largest freshwater lake in America, was a geological paradise for anyone like me who was interested in landforms and the history of the earth's crust.  I feel home here despite Old Man Cold that will penetrate my Los Angeles sublime tan-lined skin in about November. 
At first, my co-worker, Alex Breilein and I thought our room would become an art museum with no human bodies to populate the room.  We spent three weeks turning our room into a pop cultural icon of pictures like Aretha Franklin, Leonard Cohen and Martin Luther King where the visual stimulation is more crazy than Kandinsky or Andy Warhol on a weekend binge.  But finally....about six days after we opened the room, UMD tutors started appearing on a regular basis.  A few teacher's dipped their noses in to see if we had what it took to run a tutor room.  Eventually, the teachers we got to know started sending their students, not just before and after school but DURING class time.  We were eager to help in any way.  Our job is to coordinate UMD tutor time with one on one tutoring and also make sure the time slots match up.  We also have National Honor Society Students who come in who attend East High School and they are equipped to help students in any subject.  I feel my purpose has evolved because beyond the logistics of matching tutors in subject to students in need, I also pitch in with tutoring.  I helped a struggling 12th grader yesterday who could not spell too well.  Its imporant to me as a teacher to not only assess a studen't educational process and possibility for improvement, I want to create strategies, worksheets and reinforcements to help this student.  This small capsule of one student and the plans I have to intercede and develop their academic goals is a microism of a bigger picture in which I will be focusing on 30 students and track their educational progress.   I have been working three days in a row in an English teacher's room, Ms. Hannula, and the interaction with over 40 students is a way to get my feet wet and see how the students respond to liason staff.  I feel I have a large capacity with my background to impact student academic growth because I am knowledgable in Algebra, Geometry, English, U.S. and World History, Geography and cuture.  I want to work with the theater advisor and write a pop culture play the students can produce with me.  I want to bring a hint of Los Angeles flavor to Duluth but more importantly I have seen that their kindness, generosity and proper upbringing has already tremendously impacted me and I hope to gain respect for the way Northern Minensota education is implemented.  I wrote an article for the Duluth News Tribune that will be published next week on the poster culture of Duluth East because I was so impressed with the student welcome committee who made posters for indivdidual athletes, student events and words of encouragement.  I hope to be the refelction of the inspriation I see around me where I don't have to ask students to be polite; here in Minnesota they respect adults, they treasure their educational and personal growth and they come willingly into our tutor room to improve themsleves.  If I can be instrumental in who they are and where they want to go, I will jump on the band wagon and offer them a whole slate of the knowledge I have gained over the years and what I can share to make them create their vision.  I have back up assignments in every subject - critical thinking writing exercises, finding the main idea, historical pieces to be examined, math reinforcements - if they walk in the door of our tutor room, they won'd regret it.

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