Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tyler, boy wonder

Tyler brightened our days with his smile. No work was too hard, he accepted all tasks cheerfully. It was good having him on our team.

Angela's hard work

This was the result of several days of intensive labor. The danceroom floor was cleared of most of the boxes and the art closet was much neater than anyone could imagine

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bonnie and Elizabeth hauling a cabinet

We had to move these file cabinets, and hundreds of heavy textbooks, up two long flights of stairs at Ashe school. It was great to see the school getting put in order, on the threshold of the new school year.

Elli enjoys holding a baby

Elli enjoyed the infants' room at Royal Castle, as we can see, and she and I offered room-by-room musical programs for various age ranges.

Karen gives us our marching orders in the Bienville lobby

This was a daily sight - Karen gave an update to all the assembled volunteers, as other hotel guests tried to figure out what we were the hotel's "dynamic duo" facilitated - and patrolled - our breakfast feast!

just strumming along...

Linda on the St. Charles line

Linda smiles from the front of the crowded St. Charles trolley line as we head toward one of our work sites.

showtime at Happy Times

Kristin sings with the kids and staff at Happy Times.

Kennan moving ladder

Here's Kennan bringing a ladder into the small room that Karen described - the crew cleaned, painted, and decorated it in just a day and a half - creating a usable, cheery room where there was just a storage area.

The August crew, in full

This was the only time we were all together, and how nice. The edible garden is behind us, and it's really sweltering hot. After this, we all dispersed to our tasks in Ashe School.

Joey marks the spot

There was a shorthand code used to mark houses during the flood, and here's one Joey noticed. They told how many were found within, what condition the people and house were in, and whether there was live electricity, among other things. The whole town is still covered with these spray painted souvenirs, which keep the tragedy alive on a daily basis.

Karima and India consult

Karima worked in the classroom of India, a 2nd grade teacher at Ashe School. They found images on the web that were cut out and used as part of the decor of the classroom.

Janice working at Ashe School

Here's Janice, helping a 5th grade teacher get her classroom set up for business. They had a grand time!

Amelia goes piggyback on her dad...for the "last time"

Amelia (Mia) left her shoes in the van, and an obliging dad carried her portage style across the street. I captured the moment, which Fred said was "absolutely" the last time he would carry this 20 year old on his back!!

Here's Bonnie standing in Ashe School, where they have repainted and redone the badly flooded basement. The green and blue mark the water line of the flood, an upbeat but respectful way of reminding everyone of just how much water there was. Bonnie said, "In other words, it was over my head." Indeed!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Namaste, NOLA

Loosley translated, Namaste, means : "the beauty & godliness in me recognizes the beauty & godliness in you" I would certainly say that describes my experience in NOLA! Each and every person I worked with was remarkable in the way they gave of themselves during the trip. The work could be demanding and frustrating at times...but in the end - good work was completed! The transformation ofthe special ed room is my fondest memory. Working Yoga as therapy for a special ed nursery school student, will stay in my heart always...just a moment in time, but perhaps she rested more comfortably that day. Singing Gospel music w/ a homeless family on the street, to raise money for a hotel that night, is an experience I never could have anticipated...amazing week.

A group of strangers, soon became a group of friends. The spirit of the teachers I met is a testiment to teachers everywhere! The younger people of our group were so poised and shared so much of themselves...hope for future! The stories I heard from people on the street and other volunteers I met as I explored the city, will remain w/ me always. There is still so much to be done - it's hard to imagine in our America this is the I'm already starting to save for the next trip.

I extend a heartfelt thank you to my co-workers at Coldwell banker, and all my Yoga/massage students/clients for all their support and interest in the trip and the future of NOLA.

Karen, what an incredible job you do...kudos!!!!

Namaste, Phyllis

Friday, August 21, 2009

Service work has BIG rewards

The time in NOLA flew by and I can't wait til next summer. The highlights for me were meeting all of the various teachers. Teachers didn't look 16 when I went to school, this is a positive thing. Not only were the teachers youthful they were full of energy and passion. Ms. "P's" room will be a hit. She has such a awesome collection of history on Black America. I caught myself in her room reading a very controversial book about "crack" that was geared to promoting awareness to all youth. I really enjoyed Happy Times. Rocco, the director, is a man with a vision. I was greeted by very busy little people that took to me almost immediately, except for one who had to wait until after nap time to find out that I was not a stranger. I appreciated and respected the stories that Ms. "D" at Happy Times shared about her experience during the Katrina and where her life is at now. My closing day before departure I spent viewing the Ponchtrans Lake, boy is NOLA alive and well. Thanks Karen and family and all my new friends. I tell everyone I left with 20 strangers and came back with 20 new friends. I am forever grateful to share a piece of life with you all. Linda Fultz-Rockford, IL NLU class 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

There is so much more to do in NOLA!

As I read the reflections and look at the work of the 2 summer 2009 teams I am exhilerated, and yet also reminded that there is still so much work to be done in NOLA. I learned this trip that the New Orleans Public School District has plans to open up to 15 schools in the next 3 years. These are both newly Green constructed buildings and rehabbed older school buildings brought up to the new codes. Teachers usually have about a week to organize these classrooms. Some schools currently operate in temporary quarters, ready to move into the new school buildings within 2-3 years. This is both hopeful for the families and children of NOLA as well as the professional volunteers who learn so much from the relationships formed with NOPSD/RSD faculty and administrators though their service work.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

What we do for love

Work at Arthur Ashe and Green schools was physically challenging at times, however, the overall effect, schools ready for the fall term, made all our effort worthwhile. When we arrived at Arthur Ashe that first day, I didn't think that it would be possible to receive children in just one short week. However, by the end of the day, the building looked clean and cheerful with teachers and administration all eager to see their first students. There was more work to do and we went back there another day. I couldn't believe that they were planning to put a little girl in that awful closet so that she could have one on one education with a lovely special ed teacher. With rags, cleaning things, paint brush, and roller, our team transformed that closet into a charming little room in which any person would enjoy spending time. I wish I had had an opportunity to meet the little girl.
The last day of work, I was at Green school and was given the task of redoing the bulletin board for the Outreach program. Below is the outcome. I haven't been in a classroom of my own in many years so I was surprised that my bulletin board came out so nice. Of course, I had Linda working on it with me, so together we made it happen.
In all, this trip gave me a feeling of satisfaction that our time was well spent and we did something good.
I'd say, that this was a work of love. We all put our hearts in everything we did. I love this group. How lucky to have had this opportunity to be with "y'all" . Thanks to Karen, for everything, especially, your friendship.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

On the front steps at Ashe

Karen, Phyllis and Katy sit outside Ashe School, enjoying the art.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

This summer, NLU's Partnership with NOLA Schools Project organized 2 teams to New Orleans. I am just returning from the second week with our largest group to date in 3 summers of work in NOLA. 20 NLU students, alumni, faculty and "supporters of the service work" worked with teachers at Arthur Ashe and S.J. Green Elementary Charter Schools. These K - 8th grade schools were preparing for the first week of school, which begins August 17. NLU was in NOLA just in time. Both of these charters are managed by First Line Schools, responsible for hiring administrators, teachers and support staff. First Line Schools works with New Orleans OUTREACH whose work involves all afterschool and off campus activities for the children, as well as coordination of all community involvement, including volunteers to the 2 schools.

I am writing my reflections now, as the week has come to an end. I always have good intentions of writing daily, but the work is labor intense, and the walking to and from the schools from the streetcar in the August heat of the city is exhausting. It is not unusual to return to our wonderful accommodations at the end of the day and take a quick nap before we prepare for dinner together.

Day 1: 14 of us boarded planes on Sunday the 9th and arrived at the Bienville House, our "home" for 7 days. 6 traveled via Amtrack and van. After settling in, we had a full day to explore and become accustomed to the weather, the city and each other, as this was truly a diverse team. There were 4 sets of mothers and daughters (including mine), 2 sets of mothers and sons (including me), a yoga instructor, MAT students, current teachers, former teachers and school volunteers.

At the Bienville House Hotel we were welcomed by Gail Glickman, special needs teacher at S.J. Green Charter School, who moved from Chicago 2 years ago and is an alum of NLU. I met her this past June on my fligtht from Chicago to NOLA. She helped to arrange our work with Arthru Ashe and S.J. Green Charter Schools.

Day 2: All were ready to work by 9 am Monday morning. Half the team explored the Magazine bus route to Amelia street and walked the 4 blocks (everything in NOLA is 4 blocks away from something) to Arthur Ashe School. This old NOLA public school building will be a 2 year temporary site for this school as a new, "green" building is in the works. (These new buildings promise to be state of the art in many ways. I have been following the progress of these ecologically designed and developed centers of learning and NOLA will truly be a premier public school district when builiding is completed in 2 - 4 years. )

The other have half of our 20 traveled in my husband's van as he traveled to NOLA with tools for work at an early childhood center I "adopted" 3 years ago - Happy Times Preschool. At Ashe we worked in 3rd floor 6th - 8th grade Language Arts, Math and Social Studies classrooms. The teachers (2 from the Chicagoland area) required complete set-up - from moving in desks, chairs, filing cabinets and supplies, to organizing books, putting up bulletin boards, posters and labeling shelves for the children. New Orleans OUTREACH bought us our first lunch in NOLA.

We worked until the teachers were ready to leave.

Day 3: NOLA OUTREACH had scheduled our team to work with both schools - so today we arrived at S.J. Green. To get here, we traveled by streetcar to Valencia street and walked (4 blocks) to the school. Green is famous state-wide for its edible garden. The children in all grades work together to plant. nurture and harvest the extensive variety of produce. This food is then used in the daily lunch and snack program. The success of this project is also due to its volunteer public committee, headed by Emiril (renowned NOLA chef). The NOPSD board of education was so impressed with the garden that last year it allocated funds to Green to rehab the kitchen to become a working area for the children, I can't wait to return to Green next summer to learn more how nutrition education was integrated into the curriculum.

Our work here involved setting up classrooms and preparing folders for that evenings parent meetings, organizing the special education classroom, moving art supplies from the dance floor to the storage closet and organizing books.

While most of us were at Green, about 6 on our team traveled with my husband, Fred,to Happy Times Preschool. There they played with the children, modeling appropriate interactions for the teachers, only half of the staff having more than high school degrees. I have written about the school in previous blogs, and members of the July NLU team have also reflected on the needs of the children and staff. Fred was able to spend time with Director, Rocky. to prepare for the week's work.

Day 4: Each day we were divided between a K- 8 elementary school and a preschool. In the 3 years that I have been bringing service teams to NOLA, I have reached out to educators serving children birth through grade 12. I plan the summer trips in June during visits to these schools. The school with the most urgent needs are selected for the teams' work.

Wednesday, Tyler, Nina, Angela and Bonnie traveled with Fred to Happy Times to finish the construction work there, Linda, Elizabeth, Katie, Eli, Mia, Kristen, Karima, Kennen, Eunice, Joey, Judith, Phyllis, Alice and Janice and I returned to Arthur Ashe school. We were excited to do this because we promised the Ashe teachers we would help with specific projects. Laminting of posters and signs was completed at Green and transported to Ashe to be displayed on classroom walls. Hanging a hall-sized relief map of the world was the job of several of the team members. Others returned to the math and language arts classrooms to finish leveling and shelving books.

I, and 5 others, found ourselves working with the special needs teachers. On this particular day a newly hired teacher was informed that a back storage room was to be assigned her classroom for one child with severe behaviorial issues. The 6 year old girl had very limited vocabulary and her parents had been told she would not be included into the regular 1st grade classroom, but rather mainstreamed in part of the day. The girl would be assigned to Ms. Becky's backroom "classroom".

When Ms. Becky saw her space she (as well as members of the team) nearly cried. She needed help removing old boxes, shelves, cabinets, left-over, unused furniture. The walls,floor and windows were filthy. A small portion of the ceiling had collapsed. A corner of the room was partitioned off with metal shelf units, hiding the water system for the floor. It was impossible not to feel committed to this job. After clearing out the space, cleaning the walls, floor and windows. we began to paint the entire room with materials Becky purchased. The results were amazing. The fresh color and cleaned windows brought joy and life to the room.

Because of the humidity and heat, we could not finish 2nd coating the walls and windows. I decided to return to Ashe on Thursday even though we were scheduled for Green school.

The rest of the team successfully completing their work and the Ashe classrooms appeared to transform into real classrooms in just 2 days.

Day 5: Thursday I returned to Ashe with Tyler and Kennen. We finished painting the walls, window trim and I noticed that the floor had been waxed and a bulletin board and white board had been mounted to one of the walls. Although it was beginning to look like a classroom, I decided to paint a garden on the wall underneath the boards using paint from the art room. I hope these pictures show how we transformed this storage room into a little girls learning environment. My greatest joy was meeting the child who would share this space with Ms. Becky during the school year.

Today 6 of our team traveled to Royal Castle Kids Child Development Center. There Kristen Lems played her guitar and sang with the 3 to 5 year olds. with the help of Karima, Eli, Alice and Janice. Our yoga instructor, Phyllis, worked with the toddlers and Katie helped.

Fred and Mia returned to put finishing touches on the exterior door installed for the infant room.

Bonnie, Nina, Angela, Eunice, Elizabeth, Linda, and Judith worked at Green completing projects started on Tuesday. All felt accomplished. To celebrate the work of the week, several us met at our regular "hangout", Cafe Reconcile, in Central City, near KIPP Academy. You can read about this special Cafe in previous blogs. The Cafe prepares high school students to work in the food service industry. Wait staff, hostesses, even chefs are all in training to work in the cities extensive collection of restaurants. The food is excellant (you can watch your meal being prepared) and very affordablel. It is the hangout for NOLA volunteers who come from all over the US.

Day 6: DAY OFF ! This summer I decided to give the team a day to choose their own plans. Kristen Lems and her son and daughter spent the morning at Happy Times singing to the children. Others on the team (including my self with my husband, daughter and son) took time to explore the city. I learned from previous trips that downtime is important after working hared during the week. Friday saw many of us at museums, on tours to the Delta or plantations outside the city, sightseeing and shopping.

Day 7: Saturday - Our 5:00 pm flight allowed us some time to take streetcar tours through parts of the city we didn't get to see on our trips to the schools. We were lucky that the daily storms ended on Thursday making the moving around the city somewhat bearable.

As I reflect on this week, I am first grateful for the cohesiveness of this group. At no time did anyone find the work immpossible to do. Many creative stratgies were tested and accomplished. Each member came prepared to work daily and on time to leave. Each had a positive attitude and eager to meet and serve the needs of the teaching staff. The conversations were rich and flowing. We learned more about the NOLA public school district, about the charter schools and how people are surviving. NOLA depends on and is morst appreciative of its volunteers. I also learned that our NLUNOLA blogs preceeded us. Several adminstrators I spoke with had already viewed last sumemer's blog and were familiar with the work that NLU could provide. As 15 new schools are in the works for the next 5 years, there is much to do for the NOLA schools. I look forward to next summer.
Greetings all!
It seems such a short time ago since we were all together! I miss you all a lot. 
I wasn't sure what to expect when my daughter, Elizabeth, and I signed up for the NOLA trip, but everything turned out to be a new and enlightening experience.  Everyone was so nice and helpful and I felt like I acquired a whole new family.  How do you like this picture of us all? I think we look great! 

To me, the most meaningful part of the trip was experiencing the sharing and commitment for a service that we all so strongly believed in. Even though our group was so varied, we all bonded over our common goals and I felt very close to everyone, especially as we cut and cut and cut out laminated papers and posters, and sorted endless piles of books.  I'm sure they multipled overnight! As for the ABC books, no more should be said about them!

Even though there was still so much damage left from Katrina, we could see the hope and enthusiasm for the new school year. Everyone we met in New Orleans was very upbeat, especially KIPP's  faculty and parents.  KIPP's slogan will carry on in my classrooms: "Work hard. Be nice".

PS - Have a great first year in college, Emily!  I hope to hear from everyone soon!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Well I finally figured out how to blog after seeing the movie Julie and Julia! Our trip to New Orleans was a lot of work and a lot of fun. Every day we went to Kipp and worked very hard on the projects they gave us. I even dipped keys in liquid rubber! Yes that's right where most people dip strawberries in chocolate I dipped keys in rubber. The most fun was day we went to Rocky's day care. What a nice man. The children were adorable and I had a ball playing with the toddlers. Here are some pictures of the cutes kids.

Monday, August 3, 2009

New Orleans trip!!

Sorry for the delay in posting...but, we were very busy during our stay in New Orleans!

Day One: Good to jump in after the long day of travel...anticipation and energy are in the air! Unpacking new materials, sorting, organizing, navigating through a "sea" of books! The science lab was "ground zero" for our day's work...we couldn't help but stop and thumb through our favorite books, mine was Shel Silverstein's "The Giving Tree"! We had lunch at Cafe Reconcile which not only provided sustenance, but also a window into the training of those who were being helped to prepare for a brighter and better future. The food was classic New Orleans style; red beans, rice and sausage, jambalaya, favorite that day was macaroni which was elevated to new culinary heights!!
At the end of the day, we met with Jonathan and the teachers with whom we would partner for the rest of the week.

Long walk back to the cable car in oppressive humidity, but the good news is that this wasn't a beauty show and no one cared about the frizz factor...our priorities were straight and clear. Loved being with my daughter, Emily, (college bound in three weeks!), and her dear friend, Hayley, one of the loveliest and hardest working 18 year old girls I've ever met!!!!! We napped everyday upon returning to the hotel, showered, and enjoyed a late dinner before turning in for the night.

Day Two: Everything looks more familiar; the streets, sign posts, cable car route to our work site.
As I unpack beautiful shiny new materials, I imagine little hands manipulating the tools that will take them to the next step in their learning!

My olfactory senses are working overtime; the smell of new and old books, construction paper, paint...remind me of the excitement I felt at the beginning of the school year. Do you remember how your new classroom looked when you first stepped in? The bulletin boards seduce you to wonder....what will the year be like, what will my new teacher be like? What will I learn?

Our group of thirteen is bonding despite our many differences; we are stratified agewise, culture wise, life experience wise. We work next to each other which reminds me of parallel play observed in children.

I worked along side Joan today with Kipp's full time art teacher!! Can't believe this school has the luxury of a person who encourages kids to explore their creativity every day!!! It is gratifying to know that those planning for the education of our young students appreciate that art is more than drawing a is a wholistic experience which involves your thoughts, feelings, fine motor application. The art teacher seems to realize she is very lucky to work in a system that respects creative self expression in children!

Day three: We are off to work with Rocky at the Happy Times preschool. I look forward to spending time with the children; observing them at play, watching them at rest, and working one on one with those that need a person to talk to. I met a 4 year old boy who wanted to draw pictures with me....we spent many hours lost in fantasy...his and mine :)! Our bonding was a slow process; he waited until he felt he could trust me a before opening up about issues within his family. His pictures contained great detail and insight, these were his intricate interpretations of what he was experiencing and observing at home every day. At the end of our time together, he shared a personal story about something that happened to him in his family, it was touching, profound, important. I turned over his "portfolio" to Rocky so that he could share some of his feelings and experiences with the aides in the school. I felt sad as I said goodbye to him...knowing that with more time we could have "gone further"....and that I might have been able to use my skills as a therapist to help him feel less hurt and angry.

As Rebecca took our picture together, I remembered the sound of his laughter as he looked at one of my crayon drawings! He exclaimed, " what's that, is that an animal person...or maybe a person monster? that is a funny body"!

My inability to so much as draw a round circle for a head was finally revealed,....he on the other hand was a splendid artist who had great imagination, as well as execution. He made a lovely picture for me that I said I would proudly display above my desk when I returned to my office.

Days four and five: I've spent the past two days sequestered in a back office creating math packets for the entire school year!

The irony of this was not lost on me; I have a learning disability that is math based! It was the unit on story problems that caused me the greatest anxiety...I realized how happy I am not to have to struggle with math concepts anymore....sometimes, it's really good to be a "grown up"!!!

Our NOLA cohort is becoming more cohesive by the day! We are kind of like one big dysfunctional family......we even joke about this! Thirteen women together for one week in NOLA should be the next reality show!!

For me personally, experiencing a week with my daughter, Emily, while working side by side to help other people, represented a peak life experience! I got a glimpse of her that I hadn't seen for awhile...her ability to laugh at herself, with others, and to see the levity in the most frustrating and outrageous of situations! She loved hanging out with Joan, Cindy, "Mother Nea", as they cut laminate for hours on end while singing showtunes! Emily, Hayley and I developed such a sense of fondness and affection for our group and it's fearless and peerless leaders!

Day Six: There is so much energy and life to this city despite being ravished by the overpowering force of Katrina.

RESILIENCE IS THE WORD THAT COMES TO MIND when I think of the people we've met; educators, civilians, beautiful and innocent children. I am aware of the extraordinary kindness I witness between strangers on the street; I wonder whether it is because of what they experienced together as a community of survivors. Collectively traumatized, they are rebuilding their city one brick at a time....and thankfully, one school at a time, KIPP Academy serves as a wonderful model of what can be done when we work together towards a common goal.

I want to thank Karen, Adrienne, Rebecca, (our leaders), Joan, Cindy, "mama Nea", Elizabeth, Kathleen, Renita, Denise, Hayley and Emily for a truly worthwhile experience....can't imagine a better "cast of characters"!

Congrats to the 1st 2009 service team. Kudos to the 2nd

NLU's first service team to NOLA has returned (Aug 1st) and I have been "experiencing" the trip through the team members' blog entries, conversations by phone and emails sent to me. I want to congratulate Adrienne Waller and Rebecca Leung for being the group leaders. Both are veterans of trips to NOLA, Adrienne having the most experience working with the NOLA schools. The 13 participants worked hard at KIPP Central City Academy, Happy Times Preschool and Royal Castle Kids Child Development Center. I will be visiting these sites next week as I bring a 2nd team (20) of NLU alumni, faculty, students and supporters to work with S.J. Green and Arthur Ashe Charter Elementary Schools. As the reflections and photos get posted, it is important to remember that we are also building relationships while helping to rebuild New Orleans, one school at a time. Our second group will continue to submit their own personal accounts of their service time in NOLA.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

What an experience!

This was my first trip to New Orleans ever. The weather took a bit of getting used to. Truth be told, I didn't! I really looked forward to the afternoon lemonade and cookies back at the hotel. Taxis became by friend fast. Our hotel was beautiful and the staff very was friendly. The week was spent mostly at KIPP Academy where I helped move boxes of library books and science materials, laminated, cut out game pieces, put up bulletin boards sorted books, wrote names in books, folded and stapled A-Z books for the first grades. Basically what ever was needed we jumped in and did it. The teachers were so appreciative. Everyone was so friendly at the school. One day I got to take the streetcar through the Garden District to Happy Times Day Care. The kids were sooo cute at the day care center. We met with the director and discussed the wants and needs of the center. We left him with a long laundry list! There we cleaned and moved books. I took time to read to the toddler group. When I had finished, Michael put a Dora book in my lap that I had to read to the group. It was a fun time!
I even went out of my comfort zone and tried new foods. The girls in our group on this trip made it so much fun. Adrienne and Rebecca were wonderful fearless leaders!