Thursday, March 22, 2012

Alternative Spring Break

The past few days in Miami have been an eye-opening experience. Working at Charles Drew Middle School has really been a good experience and has taught me a lot. My favorite part of the service has been seeing the positive reactions from the children and teachers around the school and really showing their appreciation towards us when they see us working on different projects around the school. I have been very shocked by some of the behaviors of both the students and teachers in the school. I personally have never attended a school where a teacher is out in the hallway yelling at a student at least two times a day. I also thought it was bizarre how some of the students conducted themselves throughout the day. A few of the students ran through the hallways to get to class on time while the majority of the students had to be told by the school security to get to class. Overall, I have really enjoyed helping out at the school and making an impact on young kids lives.

-Brian Farbman, Towson

Day 4 reflection

Today we volunteered at the Middle School for the second consecutive day. Instead of building benches we were painting murals in the hallways. As we were making the murals we were able to interact with the students as they walked by. A lot of the students thanked us and complemented our art work. On the contrary, there were a few students who made interesting comments. One girl said "That's really pretty, but someone is going to mess that up." Its sad that a child so young thought that her peers would vandalize their own school. Low and behold later in the day, a student walked by and told us that she was going to mess the mural up. It really makes you wonder what type of role models these children have.

Adam Hayet
The Towson University

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day 2

Good morning world! Brett Richman here in beautiful and sunny Miami, Florida at Hillel and City Year Alternative Spring Break!!!

I am amazed over and over again at how much I am able to learn on these Hillel and City Year Alternative Break trips, this being my fourth one as a participant, especially when having the opportunity to return to the community that I volunteered in just a few months back in January. Yesterday (Monday March 19, 2012) the group went back to the cemetery where we had done service prior. Seeing the transformation from just a few months ago brought back great memories as well as pushed me to do more to make an even bigger impact this time around. We planted numerous new trees around the border of the cemetery and raked leaves away from otherwise unnoticed grave-markers.

Hearing from other participants on the trip of how they "uncovered markers that the grounds-keeper did not even know existed" lends me to believe we made that greater impact this time around. I am sure that between this day of service, combined with what we were able to accomplish in January with Hillel Alternative Break, made a lasting impact on the cemetery, the staff of the Temple that it is adjacent too and the citizens of Miami and other areas who use the historic site (the first cemetery in Miami), especially when the grounds-keeper made it clear that they only plant trees and pull weeds about once a year, otherwise the cemetery goes heavily under-maintained.

After lunch we regrouped to view a mashup of "Waiting for Superman" and another documentary that shows the other side of the story. I think a majority of us had seen "Waiting for Superman" or had atleast heard of it and what the directors goal was with the movie. We all knew that there was another side of the story but seeing both sides in film form together was much more eye-opening than I had imagined. It instilled and reaffirmed a greater sense of duty in everyone on the trip that this week we will not just be beautifying these schools but will be making potential lasting impacts on these students' lives to urge them to not drop out of school, to not give up on the public school system and to strive to go to college and gain higher and higher degrees to be able to better themselves and their existing communities.

Today (Tuesday March 20, 2012) will be our first day working with the Middle School students in Miami. To my understanding we will be continuing to do some great work with City Year by building tables for a lunch area, touching up some older paint jobs and also painting some new murals for the school. In the afternoons some of us will head to another local Middle School to do participate in after school programming whereas the rest will stay and do the same.

I am 100% certain that this Alternative Break group will leave its lasting mark on the city of Miami and the schools it will begin to work with this morning. As for the PT with City Year I am really hoping they bust out the 'Peel the Banana' and 'Our Boots are on Fire' stuff this morning, always a great way to start a day and bring back some of the greatest memories I've had in my undergraduate University experience.

Brett Richman

Friday, January 13, 2012

Day 5

Today we started off our morning with a little pump up music and the promise of another rewarding day at Allapata Middle School and Dunbar Elementary School. I found myself thinking of how this was going to be our last full day of service on the trip. I began to wonder how the trip had gone by so quickly. But I didn’t really have time to continue my thoughts because we had arrived at Allapata Middle School. After dropping off the lunch in the correct classroom we began our daily “firing up” exercises on the basketball courts with the city year staff, where we learned a new exercise. This new move consisted of lunges, spirit, and a lot of weird clapping. Soon after our group began to take on our first task of the day: painting the courtyard area in off-white. Weused a combination of rollers and smaller paint brushes to cover every last inch of the walls. After an hour or two of painting, parts of our group started to paint some of the murals that had been stenciled onto the wall, while others began to stencil words such as: persevere, imagine, and create onto the pillars of the courtyard. As I was stenciling the word “persevere” onto the wall, I began to picture future students walking through the courtyard. I wondered if they would notice the words that had once been painted onto the pillars by a bunch of college students, or if these words would simply blend into the background like I imagine the previously cracked paint and faded messages once did. I then thought of how I used to feel inspired by a poster from my high school that read “perseverance is one of the biggest keys to success.” This poster used to make me feel motivated every time I passed it, no matter how bad a mood I was in.

After lunch, we watched a film called Waiting for Superman. This film taught us of the many flaws in America’s education system including: bad teachers, lack of funding, tenure, the lottery system for entry into certain schools, and the tangled web of the federal government’s ideas of a good educational system versus the state. When discussing the film with the group, I think a lot of us were shocked by how complicated the educational system of America had become. For instance, a child could fail a test in one state, but he/she could then drive down an hour to another state and take the same test, and their score would be considered a passing grade! Signals were clearly very mixed up between states concerning the fundamental standards of passing versus failing. Another idea that struck me was that a child could be stuck in a horrible public school, simply because they lived in a bad neighborhood. Furthermore, they could potentially have the chance to switch to a better public school or charter school; however, 1000 kids could be applying to a school like that when there are only 100 spots available! So these kids’ entire futures could be riding on one lottery number. I found this to be completely baffling.

Nonetheless, we continued to Dunbar Elementary School after the movie and were instructed to lead the class that we had been working with in a few field games. My group played a few basic games including toilet tag, the human knot, and leap frog. One moment that stood out to me was when we decided to join the kids in creating a human knot of arm and legs. The kids were able to free themselves of the knot in a matter of seconds, but once the bigger college kids got involved, the whole game got a lot trickier. It took us several minutes to untangle ourselves from the knot, and when we did, for some reason we ended up with two separate groups (which is not supposed to happen) and all the college kids were like “oops something must have gotten messed up.” But the kids had a completely different reaction; they thought they had done something extra special that had led us to make not only once circle but two. They were so pleased with themselves that they were high fiving each other and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to tell them that it was in fact a mistake, since they seemed to be so proud of themselves.

It was hard saying goodbye to the kids I had worked with at the end of the day, but despite my sadness, I feel pleased that I was able to connect with these kids on a pretty deep level, even if I had only known them for three days. I was reminded of how younger children are so willing to share things about themselves and how interested and curious they are to learn about others as well. All in all, it was another tiring, but mostly satisfying day in Miami.

Katie Shepard, University of Binghamton

Day 4 was a day to be Superman

Originally posted: Thursday January 6, 2012

Today was our third day at Allapattah Middle School. Just as the other days, they had us doing manual labor in preparation to beautify the school. This would hopefully make the atmosphere of the school a better learning environment.

We worked on building benches, picnic tables, and shelves. Because of the nice weather, we were outside and it was really great. As we worked, we listened to music. Listening to music and laughing with friends, we really developed a sense of community. It was an enlightening experience because together we realized how much we were helping others while still having a great time. Although we did not finish these projects, we progressed at a good rate.

After lunch, we started to watch the movie, “Waiting For Superman”. It is a documentary about a few kids in different school systems throughout the country. These kids were all struggling with getting a proper education because the schools in their districts were failing. This means that the majority of the students in the school system were not getting a good education therefore failing the standardized tests necessary to pass each grade. The students in this movie were looking for a better place to attend school. Unfortunately, the different charter and prep schools they could attend with either no cost or very low cost only had a small number of spots for incoming students. The way that students to attend in the next year were chosen was through a lottery. Therefore these children were forced to leave their education to chance.

After the movie, we went to Dunbar Elementary School for the last time. We all truly loved the kids we were able to work with. These kids were hardworking and motivated, and they all seemed to enjoy the time we were able to spend with them. On this last day, we played different games with them outside. In the 45 minutes we had with them we were able to play three games: Sharks and Minnows, Baby I Love You, and Red Light Green Light. We all had a great time, however all too soon it was time to leave. As we were saying goodbye, many were asked if we were coming back tomorrow. It was heartbreaking to have to tell them that it was our last day. We all made a connection with the children we were working with and no one wanted to leave. It was truly amazing that we were able to get so close with these fifth graders in just a few hours.

After Dunbar, we took some time to debrief with the City Year people. In a circle we talked about the different things we learned from the experience. Many different questions were asked including: when is it okay to give up on a kid, what ways do you think the school systems can be improved, and what can we do to make the level of learning improve in failing schools. The answers that everyone gave were very interesting, and we realized that there were many things that we could do for kids like these.

Samantha Susson ‘15, University of Delaware

Welcome To Miami

Welcome To Miami
Posted by: Meredith Abel (originally) on: Tuesday, January 3, 2012 at 12:00am

“If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” On the first official day of not only 2012, but also of Miami Alternative Break, the president of Temple Israel of greater Miami offered this proverb. This quote truly has meaning to me especially considering I can still remember it at the end of the day. What it signifies is very simple, yet also very profound: together we can. One person may not have the resources to accomplish a goal, but when band together as a community of any size, anything is possible.

Aside from poverty and social justice, one core theme of this trip is community. What is it? How do we get it? Can we create it? If so, how? Even the term community service has the intrinsic value of “community” built in it. Among the myriad of activities we participated in today, we began with community service in one of Miami’s prominent graveyards. I personally contributed by raking leaves around the graves and disposing them in garbage bags. When looking back on the morning, however, I don’t necessarily think about the physical work, but rather the symbolism behind it. I worked with people I hadn’t previously spoken to, and by fusing two rakers together and two bag holders together, this service in itself helped to create a small community for myself. It wouldn’t have been as significant if we hadn’t worked together to accomplish the task. By starting the trip facing death, I am more encouraged to enhance life.

Later in the day, after basking in the sun for a little while, we were confronted with a speech by Doreen, a speaker from the organization faces of the homeless. To keep things brief and light, her story basically resembled the reality of an episode of Law and Order: SVU, except that her story took place over thirty years rather than a single hour. After hearing the horrific story, and asking many questions, my immediate thought was what am I going to do about this? There were so many deeper concerns, thoughts, and frustrations that overwhelmed me. No one should ever go through what this woman went through. Although, I am glad I heard this story, because it was just the piece I needed to inspire me for the rest of this week. Her story helped explain the reason why I am here.

Beyond all of the ice breakers, beautiful weather, and delicious meals, this trip is about making a difference to both those we are helping and also to ourselves. How can we help them and how can helping them help us individually? This day was full of questions, full of sun, and full of fun. It was a fantastic beginning to what I believe will be a very meaningful week.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Day 3

Another early morning and chilly weather had our energy level low as we boarded the bus to head back to Allapattah Middle School. While we were all excited to be continuing our work, we needed a serious enthusiasm infusion. Upon our arrival at the school, the CityYear staff greeted us with the spark of energy we needed. Our morning warmup, though we were reluctant to get moving, was fast-paced and got us active. In an odd twist, the “Peel the Banana” exercise got us laughing and smiling. They had us go through motions of peeling, chopping, smashing and eating bananas, and had us ending off dancing around “going bananas.” It gave us the drive to get out and work, as silly as it sounds.

We got engaged in a large variety of jobs, helping to beautify all areas of the school. While some groups painted the walls of the school, started to reorganize a storage room, the Montreal and Delaware group got busy repainting the basketball court. The old and faded court lines were making for a rather somber athletic environment. We used some bright colors, blue and banana yellow to be specific, to give the court some new character. As the morning went on, we had the good fortune of watching our hard work culminate into a visible change in the school. The colors kept our spirits high, and kept us motivated to work harder and harder to make the school increasingly beautiful.

After lunch, half of the group went to Dunbar Elementary School to have a field day with the students. We organized three stations; math bingo, educational jeopardy, and some outdoor games to keep them active. The outdoor games got not only the kids, but also the Hillel students, running around the field, and ended with us being out of breath. Getting engaged with the elementary students on that competitive and entertaining level created a personal connection between the groups. The educational games allowed the Hillel students to watch the elementary students engage with their studies, and allowed us to get an inside look at the educational system.

Our students left the day’s activities with a new connection with the community they are volunteering in. We got the chance to see a real change at Allapattah and forge concrete links with students. This real change created powerful discussion over dinner and among the student campuses, who also managed to create meaningful relationships between each other. We ended the days feeling empowered and prepared for another day of work, though exhausted from the work we have already done.

Daniel Etcovitch, Hillel Montreal