Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Complex Realities

The first time I went to visit Ms. Drucker’s first grade classroom, students were turning in a project where they had to research and present on an inventor, describing why a specific invention is important in our lives today. A student named Kimmie was chosen first to present her project, and she was so proud when Ms. Drucker asked her to share her project with the class. As Kimmie walked to the front of the room, stood on the little green step stool with her project, and struggled to find the words to describe her inventor, I felt my eyes beginning to well with tears - it was the oddest (and potentially most embarrassing) thing. I think part of it was that I was visiting the school the Monday after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, and I had that on my mind while sitting among these 17 first graders in Ms. Drucker’s classroom. The other part of it was seeing how proud of herself Kimmie was. Kimmie, a small African American girl, was wearing big glasses and disheveled clothing on this particular day. As she struggled to describe what inventor she had researched for her project, I felt bothered because I began to think about the injustice in Kimmie’s life: Why was she born into this situation? What is her home environment like? Why doesn’t she have clean clothes to wear? Does she get enough food at home? Is she taking care of younger siblings? Will she soon be bullied in school for being the ‘smart kid’, the one with big glasses who succeeds in her academic pursuits? Will her educational success be stifled by the cruelty of other kids? I couldn’t help but think of all these things and fear for her future; with so much potential, how can there be the possibility that all of it will go to waste? I finally stopped my mind from wandering through the intricacies of Kimmie’s life and pulled it together, realizing that Mr. Kirsch would look like an absolute fool with tears running down his face shortly after meeting all these 7-year-old strangers. These complex questions and uncomfortable feelings, however, are things that I am sure won’t easily escape my mind throughout this semester… Has anyone else been experiencing something similar?

-Logan Kirsch

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

An Aching Reminder

As the TFA Corps members explained the severity of the Achievement Gap during the first week of C2C, I imagined tackling such a grand societal problem. I began to wonder whether everyone in the room actually believed the achievement gap and health disparity gap could be closed. Immediately, I realized the answer: Yes, they truly do. Each person in the room, including myself, be it hopefully or idealistic, believed that the achievement gap could be closed and health disparities eliminated.

It occurred to me how fortunate we are to be surrounded by such dedicated and motivating colleagues because both the achievement gap and stark health disparities remain pervasive. In fact, it is likely neither can be completely addressed without solving the other. Being in Molly’s classroom was an aching reminder of the health disparities already manifesting in students by the first grade.

Many children arrive at school smelling like tobacco or marijuana smoke, meaning students are likely exposed to other drugs without detectable odors to linger on students’ clothing. Hunger and nutrition are also urgent problems, as many students only consistently eat two meals a day on the days the school provides breakfast and lunch. Several of Molly’s students have vision issues, but cannot afford glasses or the problem remains undiagnosed. Finally, the cold and flu present issues for Molly’s classroom. Often, children cannot stay home because their parents have no sick days so, they come to school sick, spread illnesses, and remain sick for an extended period of time because they lack access to doctors.

However, in my first brief visits to her classroom, these health issues remained invisible to me. Extended time with her students allowed Molly to recognize such prevalent, often hidden health issues. Surely, a public health professional visiting may initially miss these issues. Thus, the importance of partnership between TFA and RSPH that C2C fosters became very clear to me

To my fellow C2C participants, what health issues have you noticed in your classroom and how do they inform the discussion on health disparities perpetuating the achievement gap? To my public health peers, how apparent were these health issues in your early visits to your classroom?

- Sara Millimet

I understand why people want to become teachers

On Thursday, I went Bethune Middle School to shadow my Teach for America partner, Nina, in her science class.  The aim of my visitation that day was to interact with the students, as they completed a science project on animal classifications.  I made sure to arrive early to assuage my slight anxiety.  As I approach the classroom, I take a deep breath, and Nina ushers me in.  It’s on.  I immediately notice all the bewildered pairs of eyes that outrightly stare at me in curiosity.  Just like Nina informed me in an earlier meeting, most of the children are African-American.  I take a seat at the back of the class.  A few of the students sitting at the back of the class talk rather loudly as Nina teaches.  While at first, I am taken aback at the seemingly blatant disrespect for the presence of an authority figure at the front of the class, I recall my days as a middle-schooler and how there was always one or two students who caused class disturbances.  A female student who later tells me unenthusiastically that I’m pretty stands up and kicks her chair as if in attempts to break it.  She kicks the chair repeatedly nearly across the room and then exchanges her chair for another.  Nina pauses the class momentarily to address the girl.  I wonder to myself how I would manage the scenario when I begin to actually teach a portion of Nina’s class.  As I consume myself with the thought, another female student tries to get my attention. “Pssst,  pssst.  Excuse me.  Hey.  Are you married?”  I chuckle to myself and motion for her to pay attention to Nina.

Nina gives the instructions for the class activity and project and the students begin to busy themselves.  Papers, books and coloured pencils everywhere.  I make my rounds to engage with as many students as possible by asking them questions about their assignment.  As I continue to interact with the students, I realize why people become teachers.  These children are bright, and wildly hilarious.  The job understandably comes with its frustrations – telling a student over and over to sit down cannot be enjoyable.  However, I see the moments, the potential that stirs in the room, and the desire of the students to get homework right, the desire to learn.  As I left Nina’s classroom, I was reminded of why people teach.  No child deserves anything less than the best education to inspire within them a will to pursue whatever it is their hearts desire.  

I cannot wait for next week!

- Uduak

Monday, January 28, 2013

Improv: nightmare or opportunity? Mindset decides

Perspective is everything. Victor Frankl, survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, once wrote "The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one's attitude in a given set of circumstances." Like attitude, we too are able to choose our mindset. Our mindsets color the lens through which we view the world, ourselves, and others and governs how we relate to each other and accomplish tasks. The book Mindset and our discussion on Thursday challenged us to look at failure not as a lack in ability but rather as an opportunity for growth.

Back in November when C2C applications came out, I remember thinking, "How cool! But that's definitely not for me," and I deleted the email. My fixed mindset told me that I didn't have the skills necessary. Being described as "painfully shy," my mind goes blank when I talk--making verbal communication anything but my forte. However, as a future pediatric nurse, education is critical for healthy child outcomes and depends on excellent verbal communication. Determined to excel in nursing, I had to adopt the growth-mindset in order to enable myself to work on this weakness—meaning that C2C was most definitely for me. C2C provided an opportunity right off the bat through improv.

Improv--Thinking on the spur of the moment, being spontaneous, not planning your next word—my biggest nightmare. Literally. But I knew I had to change my mindset. Not an impending disaster—unique opportunity to grow….some (namely me) more than others. End result? Lots of laughter and unique way to get to know each other better. Awkward human configurations of BLT sandwiches and confidence that we can solve any possible crisis with any one item, even a cow femur. After class, a friend asked “How’d you do?” I responded, “It doesn’t matter. It’s part of the growing process.”   And it was.

- Lauren Head, Woodruff School of Nursing

Thursday, January 24, 2013

C2C: What we wish we'd said the first night

We had our first session of Classroom to Community last week. It was great to meet all the new pairs and to see them start to connect with each other. Audra gave me a big hug as we put everything in my car after the session: “Back in the saddle again. Feels great.” I couldn’t have agreed more. For me, C2C is the uncontested highlight of my spring semester.

As usual for the first night of class, Audra and I probably talked too much. It’s the requisite information dump of here’s what you need to do and when and why and how. What I wanted to tell my Emory students was instead this:

Being in the classroom with these kids will change you forever. You will feel your heart warm with each smile, each high five, each time you help a child learn even the smallest thing. You will walk taller because you made an eight-year-old’s face light up by walking into the room. You will take these kids home with you in your heart and wonder about them when you go to sleep at night. You will wonder if they had a warm breakfast like you or if they got a hug when they left the house. You will wonder if they spent the night taking care of a sick little brother and if they had time to do homework. You will wonder if they took their medication or if they ran out and couldn’t afford more. You will hope that someone said, “I love you.”

In these first few weeks especially, you will spend a lot of time being outraged at the injustice and inequality. You will feel a lump in your throat when you actually see firsthand the health disparities you’ve mostly only read about. You will often feel helpless. You may be temped to cut your own classes and spend more time in the classroom. Some of you will want to quit health altogether and go teach.

For each of you, let the lump in your throat remind you of how much your health expertise is desperately needed in the communities in which “your kids” live. Remember that though each child is unique, there are thousands across the country living in the same conditions. Think about the leadership role you will play in making a difference because you actually get it.

For our Teach For America partners – Audra and I have been there too, seeing our kids struggle with physical and mental health issues, yet feeling powerless and inept to deal with them. Engage your Emory partner in these conversations – have him help you find community health resources for your kids and parents. Work with her on creating the health lessons your kids need on topics you know little about. Please come to see all of us at Emory as your go-to health resource. We are here for you, but we're also here with you. Audra and I certainly wish we’d had the same.

Tonight’s lesson is about mindset and its role in teaching and learning. We’ll conclude with an exciting improv workshop to help learn how to “wear your teacher pants” and also to build community in our group. Both are an experiment and we look forward to seeing how it turns out. I am always appreciative of everyone’s willingness to play along and try new things. 

-- Ariela

(Photos: Ms. Bryson's fabulous 6th graders)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

C2C what a great opportunity!

Last week, C2C met for the first time and it was a great experience. I admired how Emory students and their partners got along, and the introduction of the class predicted we are going to have a great experience. Personally, I thought I’d enrolled in too many courses and I was wondering how I was going to manage all these readings, homework, labs quizzes, and exams.

Before the first day I thought C2C would be another course and it would add to my school workload. Today, reading “mindset” (I have to admit I haven’t read all of it yet) and after I listened to our TFA partners talking about their students and their experiences at school, I found myself switching my mindset. Here is how: last semester I was focusing on my grades and I had bad day whenever I didn’t get the grade I expected (which was not due to a fixed mindset because I’ve always believe a person can learn and improve). This semester, I am focusing on how much I am learning and how much I am giving to other outside of school.

As a public health student I think being involved with TFA will help me to achieve the primary goal of my field of study which is learn, share, and help improve the world. I am looking forward to visiting my partner’s class on Friday. 

By Fodie Maguiraga

1st year Global Health student, Rollins School of Public Health