AmeriCorps Project CHANGE were part of a special excursion day at Kemp Mills Elementary today where, led by member Diane Rubio, the team accompanied the Grade 4 and 5 classes to the University of Maryland, on a science adventure. The kids were all so excited, after months of anticipation and so were the team, after months of planning by Diana and the Kemp Mills staff.
The kids first went to the Observatory, to view the sun through the large telescope, and learned about the planets and constellations. Then they they took a campus tour, and visited the wind tunnel. One of the kids said at the end of the visit that he started the day thinking that he wanted to grow up to play soccer, but after the wind tunnel, he told the professor of engineering, “I’ve changed my mind. I want to do whatever you are doing, so that I can have as much fun as you have, and be paid for it.”
Thanks to the Kemp Mills kids who were so well behaved, and thanks to their teachers and parents and staff for allowing the day to happen, and the hosts at University of Maryland. And a special BIG shout out to Diana Rubio whose idea it was, and the AmeriCorps Project CHANGE team who were the support team on the day.
What Project CHANGE members are about is to enhance the students’ experience as learners, at school and beyond. Our stated performance measure ED27A has the formidable label “academic engagement- attitudes” but learning is much more than an academic affair. It is not confined to the classroom or dependent solely on any one teacher’s lessons. Life continues to teach all of us in the various situations and relationships we have to negotiate and resolve, no matter where we are, no matter who we are.
In the professional world, the latest trend is for managers to have life and career coaches. We have stolen that idea and apply it to our members, training them to act in the capacity of what we call Learning Coaches. (LC) What is an LC? It is someone who radiates to kids a sense of excitement and engagement, someone who models resilience and displays empathy, and someone whose confidence is infectious. AmeriCorps LC’s work with an unshakable conviction that every student can become a successful learner, not just for school but for life.
The excursion to University of Maryland exemplifies that belief.
Founder Judy Lapping ran the team through the process of using the Education Award and then, we were joined by over a dozen illustrious alumni from as far back as 2004-5. The current team introduced where they serve now and what their plans were for Post Project CHANGE. Then the alums shared where they had served, where they are now, and what stood out about their service and if they had any advice for current members.
It was amazing to hear about Jeanne who in 2005 lost everything in Hurricane Katrina and was evacuated from New Orleans to Washington and signed on to AmeriCorps as one way of bringing some stability back into her life. It did so much more than that, she said. Her advice to the team was, “Be Open, and be prepared to struggle for what you really believe in, or what you really want.” Jeanne was enrolling into Med School as a mature student and reached out to Divya, our current member, who starts Medical School in NYC in the Fall.
Jermarkus is currently working in the DC office of AmeriCorps and is about to take up a new post as Volunteer Coordinator of Martha’s Table, in DC. His advice, not to give up.
Ashley, who served at the YMCA and is there now as a program manager said, when she was on AmeriCorps she was so inexperienced and ignorant and at the same time, so entitled. She said AmeriCorps taught her a much needed humility and how to be teachable.
Greg had come down all the way from NYC to attend, and he said, after his AmeriCorps year, his family life fell apart with deaths and illness in his family and it was a long while before he even had a chance to process what the year meant. His advice was to let the dust settle first before you draw any conclusions. For him, the whole year of service gave him professional skills and personal confidence that he did not have beforehand.
Cynthia said she left AmeriCorps with her heart set on a graduate program in Social Work, and after two semesters, realized she was in the wrong program, and that she had to learn again what CHANGE had taught her, to be open and to be flexible.
Emily moved into various management positions after leaving AmeriCorps and said that it was important to never lose touch with your core values and not be tempted to obsess about what something seems like, as distinct from what really mattered. She said she had just written a large grant to fund an after school program in DC and was looking to hire AmeriCorps grads interested in that field.
Julian shared his time at MHP and saying that he was very new and very young and was not even sure he contributed much to the site, but it launched him on his path, working now as a paralegal and also, writing and publishing his own books of poetry. His advice- that what you at AmeriCorps do really matters and is deeply appreciated, even if the supervisors don’t always take time to express that. What you do is critically important to so many people, and you should never forget that.
David served at the YMCA Einstein High School and he said that this experience was both hard and inspiring. It stirred within him a deeper desire to want to give back and for that he is grateful.
Judy said she felt like a proud Mom, seeing how all her graduates in the room had gone on to careers that made significant contributions to their communities, and how they credited Project CHANGE with making a decisive difference to their lives. There are plans to build on the positive energy of today and plan another re-union over the summer- this time as a pool party at Judy’s place.
The energy in the room showed me the level of interest and engagement. Current members were making connections and asking alums to mentor them, while alums were asking what training was offered to current members. I heard Justin say, they had training in community mediation, and storytelling and peer to peer coaching and Financial Literacy and Social Styles. The alum said, “Wow. All that? I am jealous now.”
Thank you Judy. Your legacy is amazing and precious. Thank you alums for being there for the team, and sharing your wisdom, not just about AmeriCorps but about life. And thank you to my august 2016-17 Project CHANGE team for all that you do to make this world, this county and this country a better place.
Today at training, Project CHANGE was treated to an expert financial manager, Maria McElhenny, former Chevy Chase bank manager and entrepreneur. Maria did not pull any punches and said her passion is to scare young people into facing financial realities, the realities we so often avoid.
Rule number one was “Credit is King” and rule number thirty is “Credit is King.”
Maria told us how things look from the desk of a bank manager and how little people know about how to handle their money. She gave ideas to the members how to build good credit and how to avoid the “dings” to your credit rating. She insisted that the two debtors you cannot ignore are the IRS and Student Loans. Before you pay off anyone else, be sure you pay these debts off. She insisted “Never co-sign on a loan for someone else.” When some of the members said that this was the only way they could take out a student loan, having their parents co- sign, she still insisted on her rule.
The team were engrossed as well as shocked, to learn about the hidden life of money and credit and how moving from an address and not knowing you owe 15 dollars on your credit card can do severe damage to your credit rating. The financial history we are making now, Maria said, lasts 7 years in your credit file and a good credit rating is worth its weight in gold. It means the banks trust you enough to loan you money and not insist on huge regular repayment amounts.
Thanks Maria. As the director, I always enjoy our faculty when they come to teach, but I must admit today that I left as shocked as the members at what I did not know.
Of course, there are challenges but not once did I hear a Supervisor say that the member was not achieving success working with the kids in their particular program. This an amazing testimony.
Here are a few samples of the feedback I heard from the Supervisors:
*She shows great empathy, enthusiasm, even though she’s been sick, the kids miss her
*He is a great with planning, creative, takes initiative, a great team player
*She is a great instructor, a well thought out course and students are performing, she likes teaching
*She has great project management skills, has a real teacher presence, organized, efficient,
*The kids look up to him, he is really connected to them and to the community,
*She brings great energy and handles the difficult kids, and she cares about their progres
*She has real strength of character and brings structure to the class, very dependable
*She takes initiative and is self-motivated and driven, organized and efficient.
*She keeps me on task , and shows great empathy, and is heading up the student groups and writing the student facilitation manual
*He has great communication skills, with that vital one on one relationship with these high needs students, and he is very patient. Having him there makes me a better teacher.
*She has great relationships with the students, shows flexibility and commitment, and excellent work habits.
*She has great customer service skills, and she designed the new web site, and she can multi-task, and she asks questions so that she can learn.
*She is a good planner, knows how to instruct, has good ideas, and getting better at using the tools, and a good facilitator.
*She has the organization skills and at the same time, can go with the flow, and she has great relations with the students and is a strong team player.
*She has a positive attitude working with the kids, and pays attention to detail, and she is reliable and displays great team work.
Always good to hear the good news and feedback from the front lines of the service- from the Member’s Supervisors, who met today at GBTLA -Project CHANGE offices, to catch up and review the last 6 months. Here are some of the comments about members that we overheard today.
“She has become part of our GES family”
“She was shy at first but now she knows just to jump in and try new things.”
“This is a fantastic opportunity for us- having an AmeriCorps member”
“Having her there has made a huge difference. When I am not there, I know she is, keeping the place going.”
“Its a pleasure to know her.”
“She is smart, and she takes charge and she organizes me.”
“She is smart, organized, she takes control and is very determined.”
“She is a very good teacher.”
“She has amazing skills”
“She is an excellent advocate for us and our work.”
“She keeps mus all organized.”
“Students rely on her, and are elated to see her.”
“She may come across as shy, but she is great with the kids.”
“We could not run the place without them.”
“She is able to listen.”
“She’s an angel.”
“She is adding her own activities to the groups and they are working brilliantly.”
“Families are sending their kids because of her.”
“She arrived pretty shy but how she has grown.”
WHY THE APPROACH?
Our students these days are used to being tested on a regular basis. Critics would say, they are tested more than they are taught. The teachers and the test givers obtain the students’ scores, share them with parents, and those scores drive the assessment that people make of the school’s success, and not just the individual students within it. A student knows quite clearly how his teachers and parents feel about his or her educational endeavors.
SOMETHING IS MISSING
Of course, some testing is always necessary so that teachers know where the gaps are, and who is excelling. But something seems missing that is equally important. How do we gauge how successful the students themselves think he or she is doing as a learner? Do they think they are doing better or worse than what others say? If there is a disconnect, the consequences can directly affect their motive and efforts.
INSIDE OUT AND NOT OUTSIDE IN
Most of the time, the student is being invited to assess themselves from outside in. They are being graded as honor/ pass/fail students, not just students whose work reaches or fails to reach some required standard. What if we had an instrument that sought to create more room for self-assessment from the inside out?
THE HIDDEN CURRICULUM
And what if this self-assessment was about the informal rather than the formal curriculum, focusing on the basic life skills that are equally if not more predictive of learning success than a high mark in math or english or calculus.
FIVE CORE LIFE SKILLS
What if we knew how the student felt about
-their level of confidence
-their level of excitement about what they are learning,
-their ability to work with others,
-their resilience when things get hard
-their overall happiness about how their life is going?
This is not about what we think, or what the teacher thinks, or what their parents or peers think, but what they, the students think, how they assess themselves, their internal conversation as to how well or how poorly they are doing. This is why we call it MYSCORE.
HOW WE ARE DEVELOPING THE INSTRUMENT
This is the genesis of MYSCORE, a practical instrument currently being tested and developed through the day to day voluntary service of 16 members of Project CHANGE, Montgomery County MD’s premier AmeriCorps program.
WHAT IS ACADEMIC ENGAGEMENT?
Project CHANGE is engaged in increasing “Academic Engagement” (Performance Measure E27A) of the 600 K-12 students they serve from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. In the past, “academic engagement” was narrowly interpreted as “How the student was liking school.” The problem with that was first, that many struggling learners find school anything but conducive to their success. Second, the intervention of the members was not an intervention that occurred at school necessarily, given that many members work in after-school programs. Thirdly, measuring satisfaction with school was not directly tied to what the members were doing in their service hours.
SERVING WITH BUT OUTSIDE THE SYSTEM
The value add of the AmeriCorps members serving this needy population is that they are not directly part of the school system. They are not teachers and they are not bound by the mandatory system of tests and scores. An AmeriCorps member is there for the students, period. And the strength of that interaction is the basis of any impact the member is likely to have.
ATTITUDES ARE INFECTIOUS
The member may or may not have the requisite skills to be an able Math tutor but what always translates is the attitude of the member to the student, and the student to the member. Attitudes are infectious.
If the member champions the student’s successes, and is there as the support team through her struggles, the student gains a sense that they are recognized, that they matter at least to one significant other. They have a mentor who can inject the magic that contributes to the student feeling more confident, more excited about what they learn, better equipped to work with others, more resilient in dealing with setbacks and experiencing a level of happiness that motivates them to continue to strive to be their best.
That is the promise of MYSCORE. Watch this space for updates.
When I simply Listen
I am more conscious of what the speaker is saying
I get sleepy
I feel I am doing what I am meant to do
I seem to lose focus and need to catch myself
When I simply Listen
I learn a little bit about a person
I am more engaged in the story
I got more understanding
I hear what isn’t said, and become intuitive
When I simply Listen
I hear what is said and I acknowledge it
I become part of the story.
When I simply Listen
I feel connected with the storyteller
I feel grateful
A whole new world opens up from a whole new vantage point
When someone truly listens to me
They understand the heart of the message behind my story
I fulfill them with richness
I feel anxious and sleepy
When someone truly listens to me
I feel empowered
I need interaction from them, not silence
They can see things that I don’t see in myself
I feel more comfortable and confident
I feel as if my point was made and I was engaging.
When someone truly listens to me
I see that I am heard
I am comfortable being expressive
I feel like my story is important
I feel important
I feel powerful
When someone truly listens to me
I can tell
AmeriCorps Project CHANGE Team
January 27th 2017 Noa Baum Story Training
In between her book tour and her performances, Noa Baum stopped by Project CHANGE today to share her skills. Since our program believes so much in the power of narrative to help us deepen our experience of service and to turn it into memories to inspire for the rest of our lives, Noa is a wonderful member of our faculty.
A story establishes a relationship between the Listener and the Story and the Listener and the Storyteller, Noa teaches. The power of a great story is that it invites the Listener to create their own story, and to imagine the character and the plot in their own terms. A story that tells you everything does not give you room to interpret. So the gaps in a story are crucial, gaps for the listener to fill in.
Noa went on to explain that a story leaves you free to make your own meaning, in contrast to a story that dictates the meaning. That kind of story is more of a sermon or even worse, propaganda. Having given a little bit of theory, it was down to practice and the team pairing up to experiment with “Listening with Curiosity and Delight” and finding a story of your AmeriCorps year to share and craft.
SOME SAYINGS FROM THE DAY
“Not hearing is not as good as hearing, hearing is not as good as seeing, seeing is not as good as knowing, knowing is not as good as acting; true learning continues until it is put into action.” (Confucius)
“the quality of the story always reflects the quality of the listening”