Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons Learned

So if decide to do this again next summer (or teach) I can remind myself of important things:

  • Start out strict. The transition from strict to lenient is smooth, but harder to go the other way. How?
  1. Add 30 seconds to 'silent time' when they are talking while you're talking.
  2. Write their names on the board when they misbehave in class. If they get to 3, they leave the group for the rest of the day.
  3. If they curse, they write a short essay about why cursing is inappropriate and uncreative.
  4. Have them brainstorm a list of agreements in the first few days.
  • Bring in special guests as much as possible. Find friends who specialize in something or have an interesting hobby. New faces with new ideas keep the kids engaged and interested.
  1. Kevin Young, AKA Greatest Dad ever, did two workshops. One running and one mountain climbing. Both awesome. He brought a mountaineering backpack with 3 tents, brought in books with big pictures, and told his climbing stories. Then we went on an expedition around the school - Agustin even went up the climing wall with the backpack!
  2. Julia , my amazing artist friend attending Cal Arts for animation, brought in her sculptures for inspiration and then helped the kids make their own. We painted them the next day.
  3. Jeni , hula extraordinaire, did a hula lesson and Hawaiian history lesson.
  4. Chi and Zac came and let a talk about the environment and then we did a little flag project. Even if they don't have something planned, the new energy works.
  • Engage the community. Reaching out to businesses yields educational field trips and usually free food. Don't ask for the free food up front, they will usually offer if you polite.
  1. Blenders, free small smoothies and talk. Get dropped off near Dolphin Fountain and walk up.
  2. Dominoes, 3 large pizzas. Learn how to make pizza, hands on.
  3. McConnells Ice cream. It helps to have family connections.
  4. Orange Picking at the Backyard Bounty program for the Food Bank. Free fresh oranges, yum!
  • Get a class set of books before the camp starts so we can do reading together.
  • Don't make assumptions about kids before you really get to know them. The 'hardcore' ones have soft sides, and vica versa.
  • Try to outlaw complaining from the beginning.
  • Realize that they are just kids and not going to be grateful for everything you plan. Cherish every small 'thank you'
  • Be patient and have fun.
  • Realize that not every day is going to be great, but relish the great ones and remind yourself that there are more to come.
  • Realize that you are not perfect and you will make mistakes, but your successes outweigh your mistakes tenfold. Don't dwell on your mistakes. Instead celebrate your successes.
  • Find a balance between friend, older sister, and teacher. This is so difficult. I am good at being the fun counselor, playing games, interacting, laughing and singing, but the classroom orderliness does not come as naturally to me.
  • Use positive reward systems:
  1. I have strips of paper with the different character counts pillars (responsibility, respect, trustworthiness, caring, citizenship, and fairness) that I pass out when I notice them do something good. Ex: "Thanks for picking up the paper that I dropped, that was so caring of you." Then you give him the piece of paper and have him tape it on a class chain.
  2. Give out awards at the end of the week to kids who did something outstanding.
To be continued...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Success Story!

For the first few weeks of camp, I noticed Ricardo isolating himself from the rest of the kids. (I'll call him Ricardo but that isn't his real name.) I could tell that he could integrate himself if he wanted to, but he chose to keep separate from most of the other kids. I was extremely worried about him, and tried my best to help him out. I had him be my helper/assistant in the classroom, helping me gather the journals strewn across the room or find the pencils stashed in the oddest of corners. I played frisbee with him and invited other kids to join in and then left so they would play together. One day, Brian joined my group, and it seemed like Brian and Ricardo would be friends. I was so happy for him to have finally found someone! However, Brian never returned to camp after that day. Apparently he had some family issues and was not able to come back.

So Ricardo was alone again. I noticed the other kids reach out to him and try to include him, but he would recoil, afraid. I was really impressed with the other kids' compassion towards him, but Ricardo did not usually respond. Ricardo is a little bigger than the other boys and not very excited about soccer, the obession of the other kids his age.

Every day we write in our journals about various topics - If you had a superpower, what would it be? What makes you angry? If you could have any animal as a pet, which would you choose? The first few weeks, I let them each write half a page which took them 20 to 30 minutes. Then one day Tere came into the classroom. Tere is the parent advocate at camp, she works with the kids during the school year so they know from personal experience about her strict reputation. In my usually rowdy classroom, she had them silent in a second and writing an entire page in their journals with no talking. Then she had each of the kids come up individually to her with their entries and she would read them. She nodded in agreement, commenting loudly so the other kids would hear her compliments, and the kid always sauntered back to their desk with a smile. "This is the most beautiful thing I have ever read," she said in her thick Mexican accent.

After observing the changed behavior of the kids, I decided to try to emulate Tere's usage of strictness followed by flattery. Now my kids have to sit silently and write in their journals, an entire page. If they talk, I give them a check mark. Three check marks and they can't go on the field trip that day. This has been going rather well, except for Ricardo. Even with the strictness, he always leaves huge white spaces next to his entry, like a poem. Busy with the troublemaking twins and gang, I never confronted him about it and let him get away with it... until yesterday.

Yesterday I made everyone read me their journals. The topic was to describe a photograph in National Geographic and write how it makes you feel. It was a photo of a large bird catching a fish in its mouth. Everyone did a great job, writing an entire page in about 20 minutes (what an improvement!) and Ricardo was last. Everyone else had gone to snack/recess already.

Ricardo read me his entry, and it was really great! Filled with metaphors and interesting details, but about half as long as it was supposed to be.

"Ricardo, I've noticed that you don't always write a full page in your journal. I've let you get away with it, but I can see that you are a really great writer with really great ideas. Why don't you fill up the whole page?"

"I can't do it."

"But you are so smart and talented! I know you can do it! You just have to believe in yourself that you can do it!"

I had him repeat after me, doing some positive affirmations: "I am so smart! I can do this! I CAN DO THIS!" He started out repeating it quietly, but we were alone in the classroom so I encouraged him to yell it out. "I CAN DO THIS! I CAN WRITE A PAGE IN MY JOURNAL!"

Now he was smiling, which is a rare reward from him, since he usually looks so disengaged with the group.

"It's so good to see you smile! Now before you go to bed, I want you to do this again five times. Say them out loud. Do you want me to tell your sister to remind you, or will you remember to do them?"

"I will remember!" He said quickly, hurrying off to snack with a grin.

Now today was our scheduled field trip to the pool. We had about a half hour before we had to leave, and I told the group they each had to write a page in their journals or they wouldn't be coming with us. I said it very seriously, making discreet eye contact with Ricardo so he knew I wasn't joking. It applied to him too.

The room was silent with the scribbling of pencils. They often raise their hands to ask unrelated questions or how to spell something, but I told them just to guess the spelling, not to break the trance of writing. One by one, they raised their journals to show me they were finished, or in the twins' case, yelled "I'M FINISHED!" and smacked their pencil down on the desk. The noise level started to rise, so I started giving check marks like crazy. 3 checks and no field trip... so it was still silent, and one person was left writing... A few people were watching him, signaling me, letting me know that he was almost finished. The whole class held their breath as he wrote his last sentence... and he was finished! For the first time, Ricardo wrote an entire page of his journal. You can imagine how excited I was. I jumped up and down, high fives all around: "I am so proud of you! I knew you could do it!" So we all got to go to the pool.

In the past week or so, Ricardo has been much more engaged with the group. I found someone he works well with, one of the older girls going into 8th grade. He talks about video games with Sebastian and plays tag with another boy at snack. He has been smiling a lot more recently. Yay!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Conflict Mediation

A Few Things I Want to Remember About Today:

I was playing SET with some girls at camp (they caught on really quickly!) when I saw a boy from my group chasing another around the field. I could tell from his expression that he was seriously angry and not just joking around. I literally had to stand between them so they wouldn't hurt each other. I took them into the office and had them take a few deep breaths and cool off. Then I calmly asked what had happened:

Camper 1: "He was passing the soccer ball across the field, but it hit me by accident so I got really mad and started chasing him around the field."

I asked the other boy if this is what happened from his POV, and he said agreed with the explanation.

I proceeded to ask them about alternative methods of expression. How else can you express your anger? What other ways besides physically hurting each other?

I used long periods of silence (something that I'm learning to utilize by watching my excellent supervisor/mentor Melissa) to draw out answers.

Eventually Camper 1 came up with an answer: "I could say, 'Why did you do that?'"

"Good! That is a great way to express your feelings. Now, what would you say?"

Camper 2: "I was trying to pass the ball. It was an accident."

So it was as simple as that, they weren't mad at each other anymore, everything was fine. Now the whole situation would have been completely different if girls were involved...

Another moment:

After designing fliers to put up around town advertising our blog, we brainstormed local businesses to call and ask if we could put the fliers up in their window. We wrote a script and made a list of phone numbers and took turns calling. Allie, a very confident young woman, was doing a great job making the calls and got a few places to say yes.

Another one of my boys wanted a turn calling, so I did a few practices with him. He was just reading off the sheet, sounding a little mechanical, but I wanted him to try to boost his confidence, so we kept practicing, and I was ready to give him a turn. Something happened where I was needed elsewhere in the room, and when I turned around he was gone - someone said something mean about him, from what I heard.

I went outside to find him hunched over in a shady corner, crying a little. I told him that I thought he would do a great job and that he could try calling the next business when he was ready. He was still upset so I sat with him for a while.

Now I dont know the real reason behind his tears. Maybe it is about what someone said to him, maybe something weird is going on at home; I dont know. With these kids, I have to keep reminding myself that when they cry or misbehave, it stems from a number of reasons:home life, their friends, their influences... It is not because they are bad kids.

Eventually, he got up the courage to come back to the group and make a phone call. He asked if the manager was there and they said no. But he did it! Yay!

(I didn't use names in this entry because I thought that if I were in their shoes in either of the scenarios, I wouldn't want anyone putting my name with it.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Friday, July 16, 2010

Kids Go Green!

Ahhhh. Huge sigh of relief as Friday marks the end of the 4th week of camp. That means there are 3 weeks left!

Today was the last day of extra help in the morning from the awesome Rhine Teens. They are a group of high school students from the East Coast who come over here to volunteer at Fun in the Sun. For the past three weeks I had 4 helpers in my room in the mornings, so when I split my kids into groups I put an older mentor in each group.

Since today was their last day my group decided to organize a party. We had music, food, decorations that we secretly organized before their arrival. A messanger ran to tell the Rhine Teens to come in to our room, lights out, kids hidden under desks... SUPRISE! It was so cute.

Allie baked a cake, Alfonso and Yesenia (brother and sister in my group) brought homemade tamales for everyone, the twins brought chips; it was quite a collaboration! I'm proud of my kids, they organiezd it, and it was a success! (PS: When I talk about 'my kids,' I mean 'my campers.' I dont think 'campers' is the right word to describe our relationship. I feel like more than a camp counselor, I'm a teacher, mentor, activity planner,mediator... isn't that almost like a mother?)

For the last three weeks I will be all on my own again. Me and the 13 kids. I'm responsible for organizing almost everything that we do. There are quite a few field trips already planned for us, ranging from Los Banos pool to dance lessons at Arts Alive, but the rest of the time is completely up to me.

I've been having them work on our blog a lot, and its coming together quite beautifully! Here is the link:

Everything on there is written and typed by them. I taught them how to post it themselves. I made them an email address and set up an account for them so they can log on. Please look at it and comment, they would be excited to receive feedback!

One of my biggest challenges is engaging 13 kids who are all significantly behind in their reading levels. Some of the kids going into 6th grade are reading at a 2nd grade level. These are bright kids who deserve a better education than what they get during the school year. When I say education, I include not only school, but also family and community support. Many of their parents do not speak English. They live in a neighborhood plagued with violence and drugs.

Fun in the Sun was invitation only this year for the first time due to budget cuts. These kids were hand-picked by Tere, the family advocate. She knows their individual family situations and chose them for Fun in the Sun because they are the neediest.

Today we go to the computer lab and I givethem instructions to type up blog posts that they had written by hand. We had 6 stories to type up for 12 people. So I put them in pairs and told them to alternate typing sentences. Then I walk around the room and make sure everyone is on task. Five seconds later, 4 sets of hands go up. Antonio wants to know how to spell something. I see that Arturo is not letting Jordi type and Jordi is looking at photos of soccer balls on his screen. Alfonso's computer isn't working. Marlene raises her hand and tells me shes finished and asks me what she should do now. Now Arturo says he has to go to the bathroom. Does he really have to go our does he just want to get out of his work? All of these things are happening at the same time.

They are all very bright and I like them all very much as individuals. But when we get into a group, it is so easy to build momentum of a negative mentality that whining and complaining are like an entire language.
"When are we going to the pool? We never get to do anything fun!" someone whines.
"We just went on a field trip yesterday, we're going to the pool next week, remember?" I respond, trying to sound patient.
"I want to go to Zodos again!"

It is so interesting to view everything I see at camp on a psycological level. For instance, I love watching the twins, noticing their similarities and differences. They were born in the same household, with the same upbringing, and they look SO similar that in the morning I check which one has the scar on his forehead (Arturo) and then remember what color shorts he is wearing.

So with the same nurture, their differences have to come from their nature. During journal time, Arturo goes above and beyond the requirements, always writing quickly and confidently, whereas Antonio needs more time to think about what to write and struggles to meet the requirement of one page. Allie often classifies one as "the nice one" although I still havent figured out which one she means. They are both really good dancers, very physical beings capable of all kinds of crazy athleticism from breakdancing to parcours to gymnastics...

They don't really mind when people mix them up, in fact they use it as an advantage. If one of them gets in trouble, I write their name on the board and if they get three checks they have to leave the group for the rest of the day. So I'll write 'Arturo' and I'll hear a sqealing complaint: "Hey, it wasn't me, that was my twin brother!" "No it wasn't!" It's pretty funny. Then the other kids will start doing it too, as a joke. "It wasn't me, it was my twin brother!"

Anyway, this is the stuff thats on my mind recently. Hope all is well with everyone. Thanks for reading.

Monday, July 12, 2010

More Solstice

Yay Kiki! That's my cousin!

When I took my campers to the Summer Solstice Workshop, we met the mastermind behind these masks: a 16-year-old art student at Dos Pueblos High School.

The finale to the parade is the inflated ball with dancers inside it. Lobster helmet man an added bonus.

I wish I could dress like this every day.

Julia facepainted at the after party!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

My Not-So Inner Child

Working at Fun in the Sun (FITs) is kind of like being bipolar. Some days I come home wanting to cry and other days I come home loving my job and considering doing pursuing education for a career. Today was one of the good days.

The good days happen when I tap into my inner child. It's not buried so deep, it turns out. I like to play tag! Sharks and Minnows! Draw pictures! I get drum lessons from Dancing Drum, write in my journal, correspond with my pen pal, and much much more. I also taught some of them to play Set, a card game with patterns, and some of them are really good at it!

I also tap into my inner-camper when I think of field trips for them. I organize outings which I think would be fun for me. For example, today we went to Dominoes Pizza to learn how to make pizza!

We were all invited back to the kitchen, where we washed our hands, and had an interactive pizza-making lesson complete with fancy dough spinning tricks. The guy showing us was talented! A question from a camper: "Have you ever dropped it?" "Yes, I have before!" "Did you drop it on the floor or on the counter?" "On the floor..."

Dominoes donated 3 large pizzas to our group (yay! and now we can write thank you notes) and we went to Ortega Park to eat them and play on the playground.

FITs is really fun when I have a lot of activities planned, guest speakers, or field trips. But when all of the pressure is on me to entertain/teach/discipline them and I don't have anywhere to take them, it can be really stressful. A lot of spontaneity and quick thinking is needed.

I got the Santa Barbara News Press to donate newspapers, so every day we get 13 copies. In the morning I look through it for kid-appropriate articles. (The pickings are slim.)

Once I had them get into groups, pick an article (pre-approved by me) and read it and write a summary and then get into groups and present their story. It was very successful! I arranged the chairs in the classroom as a semi-circle for a mini-stage so they wouldn't be distracted by their desks, and they were surprisingly respectful. Usually they are constantly talking over each other, but this setting worked quite well.

Another newspaper activity I thought of is to have them take crayons and use them as highlighters to learn the different parts of a newspaper article. Red for headline, blue for photo caption, orange for the lead, etc etc. That worked well, and now we have a huge poster of their newspaper artwork.

We do the word jumble collectively on Mondays when it's easy. Some of them like reading the comics (I do!).

Any more ideas for activities using newspapers?

Okay, thanks for reading. Let me know if you have any ideas.