Tag Archives: education

College access in Baltimore

7 May

Since October I have worked with the other second-year Allies at Public Allies Maryland on our Team Service Project (all the Allies at Public Allies Maryland are split into teams ranging from 4-6 people to work on a community service project in Baltimore utilizing the Asset-Based Community Development model) to address the issue of college access in Baltimore.

We know college access is a HUGE issue, so we looked at the assets Baltimore already had around this issue and decided to partner with a wonderful organization called Upward Bound. The Upward Bound Program provides Baltimore City Students with exceptional college preparatory services, emphasizing academic excellence, individual expression, and service to school and community. The program assists them in developing the academic and social skills necessary for success in high school and matriculation in post-secondary education.

When we met with Upward Bound’s Executive Director Greg Hunter we asked “What is the one thing you would do if you had unlimited time and resources?” And he said that he would put on a College Access Fair for Baltimore students not only in his program, but other organizations that work on the college access issue as well.

So, on April 14th, we hosted the first annual Upward Bound College Access Fair!! Our fair included representatives from local and out-of-state colleges, breakout sessions for parents and students presented by Bank of America and The Maryland Higher Education Commission, and all students received a free copy of From US to U: An Inside Look Into College from Those Who Know Best… College Students, thanks to a generous donation from the book’s author, Samantha Zipp-Dowd.

This was the first time I had planned a large event or fair before and I am already using the same skills at my placement site at The SEED School of Maryland for an upcoming service day. I never would have had this opportunity if it wasn’t for Public Allies. It was challenging and stressful at times, but at the end of the day I felt amazing knowing I had not only built capacity at a nonprofit, I had made a difference in the lives of Baltimore students.

Here are some pictures from the event:

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Our Kids Can Lead

2 May

“I believe the children are our future,
teach them well and let them lead the way”
~ “The Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston

Group photo

On Saturday, April 28th, 2012 I had the privilege of volunteering for PA Chicago’s “Our Kids Can Lead” event in Oak Brook, IL. We were there to introduce service learning to youth grades 4-9. About 22 youth attend the event. The youth worked on one of four themes: Health/fitness, Education, Environment, or Animal Welfare.

I helped six 4th-6th grade students develop the Animal Welfare project. They had a lot of great ideas about our topic: Endangered animals, adoption, homeless animals, animal cruelty, pigs, marine animals, and giant pandas. We ran a vote and animal cruelty had the majority (5 to 1). The youth then decided what type of animals should we focus on within the topic of animal cruelty: It came down to endangered animals or pets. Pets won.

Then the youth talked about what they wanted to do to raise awareness about the problem of animal cruelty. They really wanted to spread the word and suggested the following: make fliers, put ads in the newspaper, get the news involved, word of mouth, host a party, have a rock concert, and run a carnival. They also identified some organizations and individuals they could work with on the project: animal shelters, pet food/supply stores, animal care and control, pet owners, offenders (of animal cruelty), ex-offenders, and other youth.

The group decided to do a skit for their project called “Animal Rescue.” It starts with the narrator introducing the skit and two pet owners (one good and one bad) walking their dogs in the park. A police officer sees the bad owner and takes his dog to the animal shelter. From there, the youth put up fliers raising awareness about animal cruelty and we finish with a song called “Pets Need This” by the Puppy People featuring the chorus of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley. Here are a sample of the lyrics:

“What do pets need?
Pets need love.
Pets need caring…”

…Don’t worry about a thing,
Cus’ every little thing gonna be alright.
Don’t worry about a thing
Cus’ every little thing gonna be alright.”

I loved working with my group. They were very bright and enthusiastic. I know they are great leaders for their communities. Here are a few more moments from the day:

Starbucks providing snacks.


The youth getting to know one another.


volunteering poster


Free Rys Rice

Team Free Ry's Rice's Education project presentation.


Inspriation 1

Youth talking about inspiration.


More photos at Public Allies Chicago Facebook Page.

Food for Thought: What was the first time you volunteered like?
When did you realize you wanted to help others?

Exploring the world, one page at a time

15 Mar

A few weeks ago a representative from FHI360 called me at my partner organization with an interesting proposition. He was working with the State Department to bring a group of five female Iraqi playwrights to America. They had a 3-stop tour planned, DC was their first destination, and he wanted to know if we were interested in organizing a visit with a teacher in a public high school.

I e-mailed Sarah Elwell, head librarian at Bell Multicultural High School right away. She got back to me and within hours the visit was set for March 7th with students from her lunchtime book club.

We had hosted several visits with the book club before. Ms. Elwell is a complete expert: always setting the visiting author at ease, thoroughly preparing her students (who consistently ask incisive, interesting questions), and providing ever-important snacks. But, in most cases, students are prepared in advance of every visit. They have read work by the author, discussed it extensively, and, in the case of Ms. Elwell’s students, usually prepared beautiful art projects expressing the central themes of the book. This visit was different. Because the writers write in their native Arabic or Farsi, the students did not have material to read in advance.

The playwrights answer student questions

But from the first moment, it was clear that the students and writers connected. As each writer shared her personal struggle as a woman writing in a male-dominated industry and living in a male-dominated society (to put it delicately), the students sat riveted, nodding their heads with understanding, commiseration, and sympathy. I don’t think that I can state it better than Reyna Rios, a senior at Bell, did in a blog entry on my partner organization’s website: “They constantly had to fight to live a life they loved. They were inspirational women and they didn’t deserve my disrespect.”

The playwrights pose with students in Ms. Elwell's book club

Personally, the visit hit home for a different reason. After one of the students asked for advice on how to become a better writer, one of the playwrights responded by encouraging the students to not only read, but to also read a diverse range of books. “You have to learn about the world,” she said via a translator. “I walked les Champe-Elysées in the pages of a book, without ever going to Paris. I want you to walk our streets, learn about our country.”

I read a lot. Like, multiple-books-per-week a lot, but I don’t usually step outside of my comfort zone and read literature that is not Western (i.e. from a “developed” nation in North America or Western Europe). As a New Year’s resolution, I resolved to read from different genres — it used to be all fiction, all the time — but I still gravitate towards the familiar. There are so many corners of the world to explore, and even more great books  by fantastic writers. It’s hard to know where to begin, but I do know that I will be taking recommendations!

Ed Tech, TechTalk 2012, and digital learning

23 Feb

“Work it harder, make it better,
Do it faster, makes us stronger.”
~“Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk

Technology is an integral part of today’s 21st century learner. My department, Virtual Learning, is part of the Educational Technology Group at Chicago Public Schools. The Educational Technology Group focuses on student well being by providing schools with tools that can create a successful environment for all. Below are two events which help promote 21st Century learning.

TechTalk 2012

On Friday, January 27th, 2012, the Educational Technology group put on their annual TechTalk conference. The conference featured 80+ sessions and 1000 participants. The focus was to showcase innovative technology, connect participants with vendors, and introduce new resources for schools.

Session topics varied widely from social media to iPads in schools to city of Chicago initiatives to web 2.0 materials. My supervisor and I also co-presented on Online Courses. You can view the conversation from the conference on Twitter by searching #cpstt. Also, here are two videos from the TechTalk Conference:

Alan November at CPS TechTalk ’12 from CPS Educational Technology Director John Connolly on Vimeo.

TechTalk Lunch Keynote – Jennie Magiera from CPS Educational Technology Director John Connolly on Vimeo.

Digital Learning Day/Month

February 1st, 2012 was the first ever National Digital Learning Day. Over 33 states, 1 million students, and 18,000 teachers participated in the celebration. The day had three main themes: showcase success, start a conversation, and try one new thing. The CPS Ed Tech Group decided to have February be Digital Learning Month. So far, three big events have occurred. First, many within CPS have submitted videos of their “What technology means to me””Your 3 Words”. Catch my supervisor and I 2:46 seconds in.

CPS Digital Learning Day – Your 3 Words from CPS Tech on Vimeo.

Second, CEO Jean Claude Brizard celebrated Digital Learning Day by teaching 400 students about astronomy using an iPad app. Finally, CJ Watson of the Chicago Bulls recorded a video about online safety for CPS students. Here is that video:

CJ Watson Message to CPS Students from CPS Educational Technology Director John Connolly on Vimeo.

Power tools

8 Feb

“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities, because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.”  — John F. Kennedy

Students gave thanks for receiving their donated school supplies:


MLK Day of service part 1: the parade

6 Feb

Here in DC our day of service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. began early.  We gathered in Southeast, layered in wool socks, long underwear, and our new Public Allies hoodies and prepared to take part in a local tradition: the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday parade.

Though the parade is a long-standing tradition — dating back to before the third Monday in January had even been designated a day of memorial for the late Dr. King — it has not always been held on MLK day, and some years it was not held at all.  An article in the Washington Post perfectly captured the atmosphere that morning, a mixture of reverence for the legacy of a hero and a sense of unity in celebrating the homecoming of a beloved tradition.

I could sense it, too, as my fellow allies and I walked the parade route, which traced Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from St. Elizabeth’s hospital to Leckie Elementary School.  Everyone, from the hundreds of people that lined the parade route to the many groups who had patiently lined up hours in advance in the frigid weather hoping to honor Dr. King’s memory in their own way.  I was struck by the sheer number of participants in the parade.  We marched right between a local small business that organizes birthday parties and a group of students from Sasha Bruce Youthwork who were gaining some service hours by marching.  There were marching bands, drum corps, cheerleaders of all ages, traditional Bolivian dancers, and, of course Public Allies DC.

The experience wasn’t perfect.  It was a cold day and our brand new sweatshirts, though incredibly stylish, were not the warmest form of outerwear.  But, after a little reflection, I remembered an anecdote that Dr. King told after his 1965 march from Selma, Alabama to the capitol in Montgomery.  He recalled a 71-year-old woman who, during the Montgomery bus boycott refused a ride:

one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, “No,” the person said, “Well, aren’t you tired?” And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, “My feets is tired, but my soul is rested.”  And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, but our souls are rested.

Granted, Dr. King marched 54 miles over 5 days, while we only walked 2 miles.  But the sentiment is definitely valuable, both for me reflecting on my experiences on MLK Day, and for all of us who experience setback.  That morning my feet were tired, but through walking in the parade, being a part of such a powerful tradition, and realizing that my presence was felt, I hope that my soul got a little rest.  Since then, I have tried to approach my work in a way that, even when my figurative feet metaphorically hurt, I keep my rested soul in mind.  My Public Allies experience has and continues to empower me to do work that I am truly passionate about, and that has to mean my soul (if not my body) is resting well.

Are you curious about how Public Allies DC spent the afternoon? Stay tuned for part 2 of my reflection on this years MLK Day of Service. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service

24 Jan

We asked our bloggers to reflect and report back on their MLK days of service. Expect to read more from each blogger about our various service days around the network!

Monday January 16th was a day ON not a day OFF for Public Allies New York. I had the pleasure of helping to plan the art component of our day of service much like last year’s. We hosted 250 kids at IS 218 in Brooklyn along with the Police Athletic League for a Reflect and Act day of service. Inspiration for the stenciled t-shirts and wall mural projects came from the words of Martin Luther King Jr., and everyone was able to have a great time creating art and reflecting on the meaning of leadership, service and community.