Tag Archives: teaching

Brainstorming, gift-seating, and crafting at mid-year retreat

11 Apr

You’ve heard it before, especially from people who are much older and wiser than you– every year seems to go by just a little bit faster.  This year’s been no exception:

Our Public Allies term is more than half over!

Whoa…I guess times flies when you’re having fun (and working hard)!

To mark this event, all of the Public Allies from the Twin Cities gathered at our Mid-Year Retreat in early March.  To be honest, I was not looking forward to this retreat.  I highly value my weekends and my down time, so knowing that I had to be “on” for most the weekend was a little daunting.  As always, though, I enjoyed myself once it was over.  Here are some highlights:

Re-defining innovation – One of my favorite workshops was on rethinking the innovative brainstorming process.  “Is it always that the boss is going to have the best ideas?  Unlikely.”  If you want to replenish those creative juices, take a look at this video from the innovators at IDEO:

Gift Seat – Each of us got to give feedback to the other members in our team service project.  At first it felt like this could turn in to a modern-day episode of “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” but the process was really enlightening.  We don’t celebrate each other enough!  The gift seat process was a perfect opportunity to tell each other our appreciation, as well as things they could improve upon, that’s not always offered in everyday life.

Arts & Crafts!  – When was the last time you got to sit down and do like they do in elementary school?!  That’s right – we got some arts and crafts time.  We sat down with old fashioned scissors, glue sticks, and colorful paper to make a scrapbook of our Public Allies experience so far.  What a great bonding experience (and a large mess to clean up…)!


Ending the day with gifts to each other – We started these things called “gift bags” at the end of our core week training at the beginning of our service year.  We each decorated our bags, and put little notes in each other’s gift bags with encouraging words, compliments, and other uplifting things.  The bags travelled with us to our retreat!  Below, Shameika takes a few moments to fill up her fellow allies’ bags to end our weekend.


Objects With A Story: PANY 2nd Years Team Service Project

9 Apr

Fellow Public Ally Harley Jones at the Queens Museum of Art wrote a fabulous blog post on our TSP project, and I really could not have said it better myself. Check out the below to read her words on the exciting art exhibit we have brewing in May. And stay tuned to see the final products.

Queens Teens Create Objects with a Story

Harley Jones is a Public Allies 2012 fellow at the Queens Museum of Art, working as a School Program Educator as well as a Family & After School Programs Assistant.

Every Wednesday that school is in session, our Queens Teens travel from Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Astoria to the Queens Museum of Art. Around 4 pm they materialize, with backpacks, cups of ramen and massive donuts from a bakery in Forest Hills I’ve never heard of. An incredibly reflective and (too) smart (for their own good) paid corps of high school students, they work alongside Tim Miller, Manager of Family and After School Programs, and me, Family and After School Programs Assistant, engaging families with QMA’s permanent and rotating exhibitions in the museum’s galleries and art studios.

But for the next two months, their focus is primarily their own art. Each Teen will create a series of two and three dimensional mixed media works for a month-long May display at the Flushing Library. The inspiration for their pieces: a Queens community member whose story intrigues, influences, and inspires them. School Programs Assistant Pema Domingo-Barker joins us for the project, entitled Objects with a Story, as photographer and my team co-captain.

Below you’ll find an interview excerpt by Queens Teen Yocelyn Zare of community member Errol Quest. This Wednesday, we asked the Teens to identify the interview answers they found most compelling. From there, each Teen created a big, bold, preliminary project sketch; they mapped out their first concept, a literal and metaphorical rendering of one interview characteristic on either side.

Yocelyn’s first concept sketch. She literally illustrates Mr. Quest’s unrealized life experience on the left, and figuratively interprets his actual personality on the right.

YZ: Why did you want to become a teacher?

EQ: My mom. I was inspired by my mom, who was a teacher, and my grandmother was a teacher, and my aunt was a teacher, and a couple cousins. I think I was destined to be a teacher because I grew up among teachers, and I loved what they did, and I loved working with kids.

YZ: How did you want to influence kids with science, your subject?

EQ: Science is everywhere. Science is a part of our lives. And in other countries, they stress science more than in this country. I’m trying to encourage students to study. I’m trying to be a role model from the African American community, to show kids from my community that they can strive to become anything. If you look at the stereotypical scientist, it’s not me. It’s the old guy with the white beard and the white lab coat. I’m just trying to influence students to achieve.

Quinn Hu

Peter Keehn

Selena Matos

Miriam Jovanovic

Megan Basaldua

Aubrey Miller

Ian Tousius

Mid-Year Retreat

27 Feb

Public Allies Connecticut spent February 16th and 17th at the Wisdom House in Litchfield, Connecticut for our Mid-Year Retreat! The theme of our retreat was Relaxation, Reconnection, and Reflection.

Public Allies Connecticut is divided into three teams centered in the cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford. First-year Allies work most closely with other first-year Allies in their city’s team. All first-year Allies attend Continuous Learning Fridays 3 or 4 times a month, but second-year Allies participate in separate Continuous Learning days once a month. So, while we are one big happy Ally family, there are members of our program that we see much less frequently than others. The retreat brought us all together again and allowed time for reconnection between our first-year Allies, second-year Allies, Program Managers, and Program Director!

Part way through the first day, some low clouds rolled in and gave us some light snow. Our Scavenger Hunt team posed for this photo around a Peace Pole at the Wisdom House… so peaceful and relaxed (and a tad cold)!

Our Hartford Team decided to do a skit that reenacted some of the funnier moments of our term thus far. Reflecting on those moments produced the laughs seen below.

Thanks to the Public Allies Connecticut Staff for a great retreat!

Philip Drew – Hartford, CT

Retreat from the City

10 Feb

Allies at Camp Greenkil

L to R: 2nd years Harley Jones, me, and Juliann DiNicola, 1st years Chui-Hung Wong and Kate Shaffer at Camp Greenkill. Photo Credit: 2nd year Ally Cea Weaver.

A chance to escape the bustle of New York City is always welcome and that’s exactly what we got to do when 54 Allies journeyed up to Lake Hugenot, New York for our Mid Year retreat this past weekend. Connecting with nature is always my favorite part of these trips since this was my third (yes third!) retreat with PANY. As a second year I thought it might be repetitive, but getting to walk around the frozen lake on a partner walk with everyone in that photo was actually a great time to relax and enjoy the company of fellow Allies.

The trip was also a big reminder that I’m a second year Ally and the experience is completely different. The second years were able to facilitate an Ally-Led Station – workshops where we get to share our interests – examples being Salsa classes, portrait photography tips (which I helped Kate above in blue to do), art making, and yoga.

Teaching photography

Teaching Photo 2

Teaching photography tricks with Kate. Photo Credit: Max Chang, PANY Program Manager.

We as 2nd years decided to create a workshop in self care and de-stressing, which turned into a big sister session for the first year Allies in answering their questions on how we were able to juggle our work at Partner Organizations, our work with Public Allies including trainings and Team Service Projects, and oh yes let’s not forget our personal lives.The main thread that I took away from that session was that if you want something to change at work, or if you are overwhelmed, be proactive about it! Yes your Program Managers are there to aide you on your journey but you have to help them help you in your anxieties and try and help find solutions. It makes sense but we forget this sometimes. And if all else fails, just host an awesome spelling bee like all of us in Cabin #4 did (below)!

Photo Credit: Janine Mascari, Public Allies 2011-2012.

I would love to know for anybody juggling many things at once: How do you manage to de-stress and take care of yourself?

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. 

Farewell 2011

3 Jan

 The Accomplishments, Surprises and Frustrations of Year 2011.

And Yes, Public Allies was the highlight of my year. Enjoy.

JANUARY: “I want to move Oklahoma”

I grew feelings for a guy I went to college with after my move back from Thailand.
The reality: he lived in Oklahoma. I bought a plane ticket to Tulsa to see if it I should move to be with him… Another reality: No job in place, no money in my bank account…minimal family/friend support.

I look back and think, yikes – Erin, wakeee uppp! I mean, he was wonderful. He was smart, always involved… a complete sweetheart. Not to mention, we shared a common passion: Education (He was in Teach For America). What was not wonderful was the risk of moving with only a relationship to arrive to. It just didn’t feel right. Obviously, I stayed in Pittsburgh.  Ironically, I applied to Public Allies while waiting in the airport for my flight back to Pittsburgh.

A heavy heart, but no regrets.

students tulsa

A visit to a Tulsa classroom.

FEBRUARY: NYC here I come!

I interviewed with NYC Teaching Fellows. NYC swept me off my feet. The lights, the culture, the people…Well, I ended up being waitlisted for NYC Teaching Fellows, then rejected. Devastated, but things happen for a reason.

At least I got to eat some grade A street cannolis in Little Italy, walk Times Square and visit with some close friends in the best restaurants. I love Pittsburgh, but Public Allies NYC, I am jealous!


Relaxing in Central Park after my interview

MARCH: My first job offer! … Family, I am moving to Jackson, Mississippi . . .

I ended up landing a position to be a community organizer for Planned Parenthood Southwest.  Last minute, I did not end up taking the position. I was so torn. My family is my biggest supporter, but not with this decision. I also was not sure if I was ready for a year in a campaign lifestyle. I felt horrible. Last but not least, I feel a big part of the decision was knowing that  I would be hearing from Public Allies pretty soon.


Planned Parenthood Campaign prior to Public Allies

APRIL:  “And the waitress is practicing politics . . .”

The end of March I decided to coordinate a county Sheriff campaign while bartending on the side. The regulars asked me frequently for any updates:

Erin, where are you moving now? — Not moving.
You want to teach??  — Yes, but none of the four teaching programs accepted me… (eek!)
Politics?! Are you a democrat or republican?  — starts to walk away…
You want to be in the nonprofit sector?! — I want to make a difference.
Do you know you will never make good money?! — sighs, some people just don’t get it…

That was the point where I thought I would be serving bar food and alcohol for the rest of my life. Ahh! 😦

MAY: I was invited to Selection/Interview Day!

Finally, something was going in my favor. I was going to Public Allies Selection Day! I knew there was a reason why I was not in Oklahoma, NYC or Mississippi and was still serving ribs at a local grill.

All I can remember from this eight-hour (?) selection day was completely breaking down during my one-on-one interview. The interviewees were asking me questions that required me to reflect on the last year. Thinking of all that happened, I started crying (Campbell, I hope you are reading this). I was so embarrassed.

On Election Day … of all days … I found out I was invited to the second interview process. I remember running out of the campaign headquarters, screaming and jumping up and down. Finally.

JULY-PRESENT: I was placed at The Education Partnership as the Volunteer and Community Outreach Coordinator. 

Over 300 volunteers and 2,300 service hours later, supporting students and teachers in our community … I feel that I made the right choice!

Fall Distribution2

Teachers with cars full of free supplies!


Students excited about receiving their "power tools"

2012 … Now what?

It’s sad to know that the program will end in June, and I have to do this application process allll over again: Second year in Public Allies? Try again and apply to other teaching programs? Teach abroad? What about my boyfriend? …uh oh…

I will keep you updated…

Learn to love to love people: An interview with Robert Burkhardt

13 Dec

This month, we have asked the ALLY SNAPSHOT bloggers to describe someone inspiring they have met in their Public Allies experience. Here’s one of the posts on this theme.

That's Robert in the green vest and stocking hat addressing students and staff at Morning Gathering.

Wise. Caring. Motivating. Strong. These are only some words to describe Robert Burkhardt, Head of School at Eagle Rock School, where I work as an Ally. Robert has been with Eagle Rock since the planning phases in 1991, and he welcomed the first students who arrived in 1993. Eagle Rock is a Honda-Motor-company-funded residential school for youth who are in danger of not graduating high school. It’s a place where people believe in these students and provide them with an alternative education that is designed for them to grow both academically and personally. When I think about all that I love about Eagle Rock, it is mostly owed to Robert. Not only does he guide the school, but he participates in every facet possible, from music to sports. He loves to learn, and he transfers that love to students. Robert inspires me because he is someone who remains committed to his vision despite the ups and down. He doesn’t lose faith in himself or other people. So I decided to interview him, thinking that maybe you could catch some of his energy and see why I find Eagle Rock School to be such an amazing place.

Stephanie: What gets you up in the morning?

Robert: Well, sometimes the alarm clock. Almost always what gets me up in the morning is I absolutely look forward to working with staff and students here. And whether it’s teaching a class, or we got jazz improv that day, or it’s intramurals, I just enjoy this. Also, morning exercise. It was 1° this morning and we ran and it was fun. It’s nice to have students realize they can actually live through something like that. So the job and all that the job implies gets me up.

Stephanie: What do you believe is the connection between service and justice?

Robert: I don’t know that service is always connected to justice, but many times it is and can be when we give of ourselves to help others and we ameliorate situations of unfairness, or injustice, or poverty or degradation of any kind. And we give ourselves to turn that around, then we move, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, toward the arc of justice when that happens.

Stephanie: What do you love most about your job?

Robert:  I’ve been teaching Hamlet this fall and it’s wonderful. The kids have really taken ownership of this performance, and they’re gonna knock peoples’ socks off on Saturday night and I helped to be part of that. Look at this incredible view [points out the window to a view of mountains and snow]. Lizzie [Robert’s wife] and I went for a walk in snow the other day, the campus is beautiful, so there are all these many facets that remind me that I’m incredibly lucky. Honda’s gift to America is just utterly amazing, it’s staggering to think how much money they invested in this place so we can offer hope to people. Those are just a few.

Another picture from Morning Gathering at Eagle Rock School

Stephanie: Every Wednesday morning at Gathering you give away books. What’s the importance of reading?

Robert:  Well I can’t experience what’s going on in Bhutan right now. I don’t know what it’s like in Patagonia, Northern Finland, Namibia. There are these places I have not been yet, so I can read about them and I can see pictures, I can read about other peoples’ experiences. And in order for me to understand other people I need to understand as best I can the experiences that other people have had accomplishing something or being defeated at something. I just read a terrific biography about JFK by Chris Matthews, and a book about the history of the construction Eiffel Tower. I get ideas, I get inspiration, I get insight, and it helps me be that much more effective inside myself and in my interactions with other people

Stephanie: Two things I think I admire the most about you is that you love people, or more accurately, you love to love people, and you believe in them — especially the students here. How important a quality do you think this is for people to have?

Robert: Well suppose I were to say to you, “You know Steph, your haven’t got that much.” What kind of message does that send to people? It’s true that we all rise to some extent because others recognize us and help us with things. So it’s important for me. I like people, I love mixing it up with students a whole lot, teasing, challenging them. I love it when they develop and grow themselves ’cause that gives me inspiration to push myself further … If someone has done something really really dumb and they do it a bunch of times, it’s OK to say, “Hey, excuse me, what? Are you thinking at all?”

For the most part the folks here, the kids here, want to succeed and they want us to be their cheerleaders. Too many of them have come here without cheerleaders or with insufficient cheerleaders, and we get to say, “Come, you can do this, you can do this.” This morning when Issac and Taber [two Eagle Rock students] — the song they sang at the Gathering was really cool, an original song. I want to be the midwife to events like that, and I think that is part of my role here at Eagle Rock.

Stephanie: What advice do you have for people who would say the world is too far gone?

Robert: Get out of my way. That’s such a shortsighted thing. The world has been going to the dogs for a long time. You think the world is going to the dogs? Go back to 1939, September 1st, the start of World War II. Go back to 1929, when the stock market crashed. Go back to the American Civil War. We lost 600,000 Americans. There have been much tougher times than we have right now.

I think people are inconvenienced; they have been fed this pablum that life should be easy and all should be well. It’s not quite that way. Life is struggle, and we have to constantly create ourselves, create our conditions and reshape things so we can move the planet forward. If you’re going to give up … tell that to what’s going to become a butterfly and it’s locked inside in this chrysalis, and it’s trying really hard to get out and it doesn’t listen. And it says, “I’m going to be a butterfly.”

I want Eagle Rock and all of us who work here to give the message to people that we can make a difference in our own lives and the lives of other people. I can’t do anything about the economic situation in Italy, Greece, and Spain right now. There’s nothing I can do about that. What I can do is hope that the experience that students get here in their daily interaction with you, me, each other, help them become that much more effective in the world so that they can be independently healthy of mind and body. And then, world, do your worst; they’re still going to survive and thrive.

Stephanie: How do you assess your impact? How do you know you’ve done something?

Robert: When Matt Casper [former Eagle Rock student] decides to sail around the world. He’s called me up three or four times from his boat, I’m so honored he’s called me …  When Calvin King [another former Eagle Rock student] graduates from Morehouse … I was there, I know Calvin King’s story. He should be dead or in jail. It is the sum of the individual achievements of staff and students, when former fellows go off and start an organization … we made a difference in their lives, so that it’s possible for them to say, “I can do this.” It’s all that human achievement that is my most significant indicator.

Stephanie: Batman or Superman?

Robert: Superman, easy. Because although he has an Achilles heal, which is kryptonite, he wanted to be mild mannered and just wanted to report on things as Clark Kent. He wants truth justice and the American way, but he really just wants to help people in need.