Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Semester of Service

As the semester winds down and final exams get closer, it is still hard for me to believe that I have almost survived my first few months as a college freshman. Sometimes it seems like the first semester has gone by so fast. But when I stop and think, I realize how much I have gone through and how much I have grown as a person. Not only have I reflected on my own life and experiences in the past few months, but I have gained a grater perspective of the community around me. Being a part of this service learning course is such an enriching experience. We are not just reading about the social issues; instead, we go out every week and interact with those who have lived most of their adult life illiterate. We are the ones helping these people earn their education.
My leaner, T, has shown tremendous growth since her first day at CFL. She has learned so much already that it makes me very excited for the second half of the year. I can’t wait to see how she impresses me next. I have seen a change in her in both the way she interacts with me as her tutor and the way she approaches problems. In the beginning, T was apprehensive to ask questions. She never really stopped me to tell me that she didn’t understand what I was saying. Now, I have accommodated to this and I make sure to ask if she understands what I am trying to explain as we go along in the material. I have noticed that she is not afraid to ask questions anymore. The last few sessions, she will stop me and ask questions like “does this mean I do this step every time the fraction is an even number?” She has shown me that she is not just taking what I say and putting it on the paper. Instead, she listens and thinks about what I say and how this applies to other problems.
About three weeks ago, I noticed a change in T’s learning. We were working through fraction problems, specifically reducing fractions to lowest terms. This was something that she had struggled with early on, but I saw how much she has improved. So far, each problem had taken a little longer to do because she took many steps to get to this final answer. But, this week she skipped all of the intermediate steps and proudly said the answer. I was amazed that she did not need to take the little steps in between anymore. I told her how great this was and her confidence was immediately boosted. She now enjoys tackling these harder fraction problems because she can arrive at the final answer quicker and more easily. I have enjoyed not only seeing her excel and being a part of her improvement, but also seeing how proud she is when she gets the answer to a hard problem correct.
Besides the improvement in her learning, T has also opened up to me about herself and her family. The first day that we met, she did not really talk that much about her family besides the fact that she had eight kids and was pregnant. After a few sessions, T began to talk to me about her children and her husband. I was glad to hear her talk about them because I could tell that they made her very happy. Our bond has grown tremendously since the beginning because she now tells me how her children are doing. She talks to me about her daughter who is in her first year of college, what she wants to study, and how she is not enjoying where she is currently, so she wants to transfer. T also shares with me how difficult it is to be the single supporter of her family. Her husband cannot work because of the multiple surgeries he has had on his back. I can tell this is very hard for T to deal with because his doctor said he may even need to have another surgery. I’m glad that she is now able to talk about her family and that she feels comfortable with me to tell me these things. I hope our bond continues to grow the rest of the year.
Overall, I am very impressed with T so far. The last session, I began to photocopy all of the worksheets and exercises she completed in her workbooks. I couldn’t help but be happy for her as I made copies of all of the pages she completed to document in her portfolio. When I came back from photocopying her work, I noticed her sitting at the table flipping through the pages of the workbook, admiring what she has already learned but also looking to see what is ahead. I know that she will continue to improve her skills, but what I am most exciting to see is her new-found pride and self-confidence. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Object at Service

For the past few weeks that we have been going to service, one of the objects that I look at the most is the clock. It is a simple black analog clock that is hanging on the back wall. During service, the time always seems to go by so fast. Once my learner and I get started working on the exercises in her books, I am always so surprised by how great she does. I don’t even realize how much time has passed and that we should move from math to writing. Planning the sessions, I always need to be aware of the time so that my leaner can get the most out of the three hours a week that we meet. I want to plan my lessons in the most efficient way possible, but also make sure that we either mix games into the work we are doing or take breaks and just talk.
All of the learners at CFL are here to improve their reading, writing, and math skills. Although I cannot speak for every learner, many of them are probably here because they were pushed along in the school system and dropped out of school. For whatever reason they did not complete their education, it has limited their opportunities in life. They have had to adapt to living in a world where they can’t read or understand everything they see. Years passed and as adults they still did not have the proper education. The hardest part is that they cannot get this time back. Instead, each of them is here today to learn and make up for the time they lost unable to read and write to their full potential.
I have also begun to realize how important time is in my learner’s life. She has a very busy schedule and has to get up at 5 am every morning. She barely gets to go home after her day at work before coming to CFL. So I know that this is very important for her and she shows a lot of dedication. She has to take care of eight children and is the only supporter of her family because her husband is unable to work. He has had three surgeries on his back for a medical condition that has prevented him from having a job. As I have been getting to know my learner better I am realizing that she truly is a selfless person, as a mother and a wife. My learner does not get much time to relax or take a break because she has to take care of her children and her husband. She doesn’t get time for herself. Everything that she does is for someone else. That is what makes her time spent as CFL so important and I hope to make the most of it in the next year. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Midterm Reflection

           At this time last year, the stress of senior year was overwhelming. Balancing the workload of AP classes with completing college apps was an unfeasible task. It seemed scary to think I would be starting college soon and I had no idea where I would be. Deciding which schools to keep on my list seemed impossible. I applied to twelve schools and did not have a favorite. SJU was never at the top of my list but as May 1st came around I found myself more and more attracted to what the school has to offer. For a long time I hoped that SJU was the right choice.
Before I knew it, it was the end of August and I had no idea what to expect. The first few weeks of college I was caught up in the combination of anticipation, stress, and excitement. I didn’t really have the time to stop and think about what I was doing, I just did it. Reflecting of the past three months has given me a new perspective. 
Being in college has forced me to think differently about the future. It all seems so real now. I have finally settled in and gotten into the swing of things at SJU. It recently hit me that I am going to be here for the next four years. It seems so intimidating to know what is in store for me in the next four years, but have no idea what the future actually brings. Even though I am only a freshman in college I cannot help but think about the next step of my life after I graduate from SJU and enter the real world. It seems only natural to be curious about my future now that I have begun this new chapter of my life as an “adult.”
I use the word adult because yes, technically I am 18 and I do not live under the supervision of my parents. But, really I am just trying to figure this whole thing out. It is a lot more difficult than it seems to be independent. Often, people just think of the freedom they are given and don’t recognize the responsibility that comes with it. It has taken time to learn the skills of time management and I know that I still have to work on starting assignments earlier and being more productive. Procrastination was always a weakness of mine in high school, but I’ve noticed on the past three months I have improved. In high school I would rely on my mom to wake me up and here an alarm clock is a necessity. Something as simple as going food shopping becomes a hassle. Overall, I feel like I have gotten more responsible doing things on my own and not relying on others. In college, you don’t really have a choice; if you don’t do something then it doesn’t get done.
The environment at SJU is completely different than my high school. Competitive does not begin to describe my school district in my hometown. It was a ruthless environment where students always compared grades with each other after tests or big assignments. Here, I do not feel that pressure. I still work my absolute hardest, but I do it for myself and my own benefit. I don’t feel the need to prove myself anymore. It is refreshing to learn in this type of environment and I hope that this continues.
I would not have imagined meeting the people that I have here at Saint Joe’s. I feel lucky to have made close friends with girls on my floor. It is weird to think that we know each other so well and only met three months ago. My perspective has changed by meeting new people and learning where others have come from. It is harder than I thought being away from my family. Some people don’t like to admit it, but I miss my family. I miss the simple things like eating dinner with my sisters and hearing my dogs bark out the window. It is definitely an adjustment to live away from home in a completely new environment surrounded by new people. But, this type of change is good and it is exciting. After reflecting on the past few weeks at Saint Joe’s, I can’t help but anticipate how I will continue to grow within the next few years.  

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Rosa Lee

Rosa Lee leads a life similar to many others in the urban underclass. Her story is shocking and reveals the truth that many, including myself, are completely unaware of. I cannot help but feel mixed emotions as I’m reading through the chapters learning about Rosa Lee’s past, her mother’s past, and her family’s entanglement with drugs, shoplifting, and prostitution. It saddens me that Rosa Lee and her family are in this situation, using their welfare checks to buy drugs, being in and out of prison, and frequently staying at the hospital all because they are trapped in the addictive cycle of drugs. At the same time, it angers me to read how Rosa uses her own grandchildren to ferry drugs on the street corners. So far, this book has completely opened my eyes to what really goes on.
The quote that stuck out to me while reading about Rosa Lee was something that Ben, Rosa’s eldest brother, tells Rosa about her stealing habits and survival behavior. After hearing that Rosa has robbed churchgoers of money from their coat pockets during mass and feels no remorse or guilt Ben remarks, “Girl, you are going to be a survivor.” He continues, “Anyone who can walk in and out of church and not feel anything. Sis, I don’t see a frown on your face. You’re just as cold-faced as ever…Rose you’re cold.” Rosa started stealing when she was only nine-years old. It became a routine, it became a part of her life, and it became a way to survive. At such a young age, Rosa didn’t know right from wrong, so she did was she knew could get her by. She wasn’t given the best opportunities as a kid, but she did what she thought she had to do.
Rosa adapted to the life and the family she was born into. There was no escape; the only option was survival. Rosa now survives by going to the methadone clinic and paying off the debt her children owe to drug dealers. She has managed to get by not knowing how to read and only being able to recognize a few words. This mirrors the survival skills we witness at service. Just as Rosa was not provided with the best environment to grow up in, our learners were not given the proper education. We see how these adults have coped their entire lives with having minimal reading, writing, and math skills. Our learners may have dropped out of school and received very little education. However, they have managed to survive in this world and get by with familiar words and phrases that are necessary. Rosa’s childhood had consequential effects on how she lives her life, just as the environment our learners grew up in affected where they are now as adults. We see similar circumstances between the life of Rosa Lee and the stories of our learners: both have learned to survive. 

Sunday, October 9, 2011

First Day at Service

As the first day of service got closer, I was filled with anticipation. Now that I knew what the building looked like, what neighborhood it was located in and where I would be tutoring for the rest of the year, all of my anxiety was focused on my learner. I was curious to find out what my learner would be like, how much he/she would know, and about his/her personal background. Being carsick on the ride there didn’t help my nerves either. Needless to say, I had butterflies in my stomach on the way to CFL.
When my classmates and I arrived, about half of the learners were sitting at the tables already. I couldn’t help but wonder which one of those women would be my learner. Mark greeted us as the rest of the learners arrived and he began reviewing everything we had learned at training. Some learners seemed quiet, but others’ excitement and motivation were apparent. He then called out the names of the tutors and learners who would be working together for the rest of the year.
Once I met my learner and the suspense was over we began to get to know each other. My learner is an African American woman with eight children and one on the way. She currently has a job but is looking to improve her reading, writing, and math skills so that she can find a better one. Her goal is to become a nurse. Immediately, I found this somewhat comforting because my mom is a nurse and I am very interested in the health care field. So, within minutes of meeting each other we already had some sort of bond.
Now came the hard part, we actually had to start teaching on the first day. I was particularly nervous because I had no idea about her past education. I doubted myself that I was not prepared and that my skills were not adequate. I feared being unable to give her the opportunity she fully deserves to become literate. It didn’t help that one of the first questions my learner asked me was if I had experience doing this. I shamefully admitted I had only tutored children before and that this would be new to me.
She proudly pulled out her GED books, as her long-term goal is to earn her GED. We began with some reading and writing basics and moved on to her weakness, fractions. While going through pages in the workbook, I realized she knows a lot, but we also have some things to work on. I found out she is very independent despite not having the best education. She is able to do a lot of things that I hadn’t expected and she is a very hard-working woman. I was inspired by her love for reading the Bible. Her religion is very important to her and I was very happy to hear she is able to enjoy the Bible despite not being the perfect reader.
My admiration for my learner only continued as she shared with me her goals. She has several goals for herself and her family and she told me about a wall in her home where she has her goals written down. These goals range from the next few months to the next several years where she hopes to move her family into a new house. I became more determined to give her my best every session and help her learn as much as possible. Although it is a little intimidating, I am proud to be able to help her achieve these goals and I hope that she gains more confidence in her abilities along the way. I hope that our bond only continues to grow because I am truly excited to be able to change her future and the future of her family.  

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Imagining Service

It is difficult to express my expectations going into my first day of service at the Center for Literacy. It is a completely new experience for me, along with most of my classmates. I have never traveled to this area of Philadelphia and I have never tutored adults before. This will be an entirely new environment and I expect to be filled with mixed emotions. Tutoring adults to learn how to read, write, and do math will be a truly rewarding, but challenging experience. I feel privileged to have the opportunity, but at the same time I am nervous stepping into CFL for the first time.
As we are dropped off at CFL, I imagine we will be in an environment completely different than what we know. We are all so familiar and comfortable with the SJU campus, that stepping outside of the van will be a completely new territory. We will most likely be in an impoverished neighborhood. Our surroundings might be dangerous and I imagine people wandering the streets glaring at us and judging us on our appearance. I will feel like I do not belong, but I have to remember that we are there for a reason. I am going there to change an individual’s life.
I feel that there will be a lot of pressure on the first meeting with my learner. I am worried that I will say something wrong or that I will not be able to do what I am supposed to do. I know that there will be a lot of thoughts going through my head but the most important thing is to create a bond with my learner and allow him or her to open up and feel comfortable. I expect the learners to be somewhat apprehensive and of course nervous themselves. What I have to keep in mind, is that this will be an incredible experience. I have heard amazing things about service and I cannot wait to experience it myself. I know that this experience will be inspiring and life changing for both my learner and myself. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taking Your Education

As I was walking around campus, I was more observant of my surroundings instead of just chatting with my friends or wondering what they were serving for dinner at Campion. I noticed things that I had never noticed before. I stared at everything from the noisy construction to the beautiful nature. Although I was taking in the campus, I could not find something that represented “taking my education.”

I thought about the discussion on our education system and how schools are like factories producing children who cannot think for themselves. Also, I considered how most schools employ the "banking model" of education, silencing each students' voice. With this type of environment, it is necessary to take it upon myself to learn. I need to engage myself in my own education and not be suppressed by the system. Therefore, it is my own responsibility to not get lost in the shuffle of students who are simply “receiving their education.”

Something that I felt exhibited this attitude was the “One Way” sign I passed on Lapsley Lane. It reminded me of the factories our schools have become and how kids are dragged in one direction and taught there is only one answer to everything. Students are instructed that there is only “one way” to do something. But when you take your education, you think critically and think beyond. You discover that there is more to life than what is right in front of you, than what is simply given to you in school. But, you have to take a new way to find it. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

12 First Impressions of SJU

1. The people here are exceptionally nice. Everyone on campus is very welcoming and here to help one another. No one will be downright rude to you in your face, at least as far as I have experienced. And the sense of community is evident, which makes for a comfortable environment and easy transition.

2. Sharing a bathroom with 40 other girls is absolutely disgusting. Some girls think that they can rinse their dishes and leave pieces of food in all of the sinks, leaving the rest of us repulsed as we brush our teeth. I do anything possible to not touch the walls of the shower, which always seem never to be cleaned and always covered with hair.

3. The Internet at SJU is very unpredictable and annoying. It seems that whenever I am trying to do work, or anything for that matter, the wireless on my decides to not work. I find myself clicking “Turn AirPort Off” then “Turn AirPort On” more times than I can count throughout the day, which as you imagine can get extremely frustrating.

4. I have free time in college that I don’t know what to do with. So far, I am still getting used to my schedule and I’ve been getting into the swing of things. But, adjusting to my daily routine here is very different. During high school, I was always so busy at school all day, then sports after, and homework all night. College life is a different story.

5. Naps will be my best friend. I was always a “nap-person” in high school, but that was when I actually never had time for them. Here, I frequently take naps, and it is the best thing ever. Luckily, I get done my classes pretty early so I don’t have to worry about sleeping through a class.

6. The best thing to do on campus is get involved. I felt like I heard that from everyone I talked to that went or still goes to St. Joe’s. But, it’s true. The activities fair was somewhat overwhelming and I signed up at a lot of tables. So hopefully, I will achieve the “getting involved” aspect of SJU once all the clubs get started.

7. I got used to walking around campus quicker than I expected. I thought it would be really hard to find all of the buildings and rooms my classes are in but I already have a really good sense of the campus and where everything is. I expected to feel like a little freshman, lost on campus and I was surprised by how fast I became oriented with SJU.

8. The campus is perfect. It is just the right size, where you don’t have to take a shuttle to class but you don’t recognize every face walking around. I love that SJU has its own campus but is in a city. It is like we have the best of both worlds. For me, Philly is the ideal place to be. Some people don’t like having to walk around, but I love it. The campus is pretty, especially with the old buildings.

9. College classes start right away. Professors don’t waste anytime. In most of my classes I already have so much work. Even after the first day of classes, I was already assigned homework. I have also realized the majority of my work consists of reading. I find myself sitting down to read for hours on end, which is never fun. I was shocked to have a bio quiz on my second day of class.

10. Taxi drivers in the city are entertaining. Every time I have been in a cab the past two weekends the driver either completely creeps out my friends and I or engages in a funny conversation. From the music the driver plays, to the inappropriate or witty comments, the cab rides always prove to be memorable. Taxi drivers are characters, to say the least.

11. Everyone at SJU already has friends. One of the first things I noticed was that other freshmen were coming into college with tons of friends. I felt like everyone else already knew each other. It was intimidating considering finding a solid group of friends was a concern for me starting college. Soon enough, I realized there were other people here who didn’t really know anyone either, which was a relief.

12. Walking over the McShain bridge can get annoying. Since I am living in McShain I have to walk over the bridge basically anytime I leave my room or come back. It can get pretty redundant. After a few days, I discovered it is a much nicer walk to go down Lapsley Lane and enjoy the scenery and beautiful houses. It a nice change to take the longer way sometimes.