Wednesday, November 16, 2011

And We’re Back…Almost :-)

Apologies for being so silent for so many months. 

Since March, the number of organizations that we serve across the U.S. has doubled.  We’re now serving education, youth development, and other nonprofit and social justice-focused organizations across 37 states, D.C., and several countries outside of the U.S.!  We’ve been focused on building our infrastructure to make sure that we can serve our current and future customers without sacrificing our high customer service standards.

Now that our infrastructure is solid, we’re ready to return to celebrating the amazing individuals who we have an opportunity to work with and learn from every day.  You’ll start seeing amazing strategies again in late July.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 2011: Meet India Dastic, a Beginning Teacher at PUC Schools




Meet India
"We wish more teachers discussed these issues," were comments that India's students shared after she implemented the strategy, "'That's So Gay' -- How That Phrase Can Hurt."


Earlier this school year, India, a beginning teacher who teaches high school Algebra and Geometry at PUC Schools in Los Angeles, caught two of her advisory students using sexual orientation slurs.  “They didn't see the harm in using the words ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ out of context and my hope was to open their eyes through this lesson.”

Guidance from India on Adapting this Strategy for the Students or Mentees You’re Serving:
”I encourage everyone to spend time going over this topic with their students. At the end of my lesson, my students wished more teachers had discussed what using the word “gay” really means and how it can be harmful. I would also encourage teachers to make the lesson their own and tweak it for their students to make the most significant impact.”

A Little More Background on India Before Diving Into the Strategy
India was drawn to teach at PUC Schools because of its small class sizes, the determination of the organization to ensure that every student graduates high school with a focus on college, and the instructional support PUC offers to beginning teachers. “Working at PUC has stretched me in multiple ways,” she says, “but I have grown as a teacher because of it.”

India’s Strategy

“That’s So Gay” – How That Phrase Can Hurt

Created by: India Dastic, PUC Schools
America Learns Network member since 2009
Topics: Race; Culture; Gender
Bias Awareness
Grade Level: Ninth – Twelfth
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group

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Situation: I was flipping channels one night and came across a Dr. Phil show discussing acceptance of gay, lesbian, and bisexual teenagers. It really spoke to me and got me wondering how I could express the importance of acceptance to my students.

I decided to do an anti-bias lesson with my advisory students because two of them had used sexual orientation slurs in a classroom in the past three months. They didn't see the harm in using the words "gay" and "fag" out of context and my hope was to open their eyes through this lesson.

I adapted the lesson from, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.  It was a very successful lesson that spoke to my students. The letters they wrote at the end of the lesson were quite touching. A few of them said they wished more teachers talked about these type of topics with them.

Step 1: Ask your students to briefly respond to the following questions in writing.  They'll keep their responses to themselves.
  • Have you ever been called a name?
  • How did that name-calling make you feel?
  • What do you think of when you see the phrase “That’s so gay”?
Step 2: Introduce the expectations of the day's discussion and model the "disagree with grace" statements.

Expectations: To discuss the phrase "That's so gay," and to express why that phrase may be hurtful to others.

Explain that during the discussion, the students may disagree with one another, which is okay.  Should disagreements arise, it's important that students "disagree with grace."  Review and model the "disagree with grace" statements with your students.

Step 3: Hook #1: Galley Walk

Write the following five questions on board space or butcher paper around your discussion space.

  1. What do you think of when you hear the word “gay”?
  2. In what ways have you heard the word “gay” used?
  3. Why do you think people sometimes use the phrase, “That’s so gay”?
  4. How would you feel if someone said, “That’s so gay” about something you were doing or about something you liked?
  5. What would you do if you heard someone say “That’s so gay” or another unacceptable remark?

All at once, students will get up and answer or write down their thoughts beneath each question.  Explain that if they don't have a definite answer to a question, they should just write whatever comes to mind.

Spend five or so minutes having students walk around the room reading responses. Pay attention to anything that stands out.

Step 4: Hook #2: Video

Share the following video from Youtube/CNN, which deals with two children who committed suicide as a result of being taunted as "Gay" (among other labels) at school.

Reflection questions to ask following the video:

  • What’s your initial reaction to the stories that were shared?
  • How do you think situations like these can be avoided?
  • Did the video change your idea of the phrases, “That’s so gay” or “You’re so gay.”
Step 5: Discussion:

As a class, come together to discuss the questions students' responses.

Note: Clarify any definitions of words or phrases that come up during the discussion.  Be sure to ask students and to reinforce why words and phrases such as “That’s so gay,” “gay,” “fag,” “sissy” or anything else that came up are inappropriate.  Ask students to think about why these particular words are used, and encourage students to discuss specific examples they've come across.

Step 6: Letter Writing Activity:

In a notebook or journal, ask your students to write a letter based on the discussion you just facilitated.  Possible topics:

  • Imagine you are writing to a school newspaper, to the principal or to a bully.
  • Write to the students in the video who bullied the students who later committed suicide.
  • Write to the students who were bullied.
  • Write your opinion about name-calling in school, why it happens, and how you and your classmates can put a stop to it.

Ask the students to share and discuss the letters they wrote in small groups.

Step 7: Follow-up/Reflection:

Form groups of two to three, and ask each group to make a poster about the information they discussed and thought about today.  They'll share this poster with the group.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

January 2011: Meet Emmy Meinke, an AmeriCorps Member with Girls Inc. of Alameda County


America Learns Strategy of the Month 
Girls Inc. of Alameda County


Meet Emmy
Around our office, Emmy has become known as Emmy “Effective Flexibility” Meinke.

This Girls Inc. of Alameda County AmeriCorps member provides us with an awesome model of what being an aware, responsive educator and mentor can look like. 

Emmy Meinke - Girls Inc. of Alameda County AmeriCorps Member

Effective Flexibility
Emmy created a beautiful opportunity to help her kindergarteners put words to and vocalize their feelings and emotions.

We’re highlighting Emmy’s strategy not only because the activity itself is great, but because Emmy models the process of what strong educators and mentors do when they initially have one objective for their students and then realize that their students aren’t yet ready to meet that objective head on.

A Bit More on Emmy
”I chose to work with Girls Inc.,” she told us, “because I have always wanted to be a teacher; but, before I went back to school, I wanted to have concrete experience.”

Emmy started serving with Girl's Inc.'s after-school program last August.  The goal of the program is to give extra literacy-related support to girls who are struggling in class.

“I was placed in a Spanish/English bilingual school and started working with their kindergarten girls,” writes Emmy.  “My time with kindergarten has been great. Part of my love for teaching in a kindergarten after school program is the ability to meet their academic needs as well as teach social skills, positive decision-making and self respect. . . .  I think it is important for kindergartners to understand the importance of caring for others and yourself.”

Emmy’s Strategy

Learning to Understand & Express Emotions

Created by: Emmy Meinke, Girls Inc. of Alameda County
America Learns Network member since June 2010
Topics: Understanding & Expressing Emotions
English Language Learners
Group Cooperation
Grade Level: Pre-K; Kindergarten
Arrangements: One-on-One; Small Group; Large Group
  • Emmy’s lesson plan (PDF; Word)
  • Strongly recommended: Dr. Seuss’ My Many Colored Days
  • Paint
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Newspaper or butcher paper to protect the tables

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Situation: The group of girls that I am working with right now are very shy. A few of them didn't speak to me for a while.

During a unit in which we were learning to give each other "I Messages," I realized that my students didn't understand or couldn't vocalize their emotions. 

I decided to spend some time during the first part of the year working on expression and feeling comfortable around each other.  This strategy describes one of the activities I led to accomplish our goals while also giving the students reading and writing practice.
Download the Lesson Plan: After reviewing the lesson plan (PDF; Word) and determining how to adapt the strategy for your own students, try to get a hold of My Many Colored Days by Dr. Seuss. 

If you're unable to get the book, check out these sample pages from the story and consider making your own color pages to share with your students.  For example, you may want to color a page yellow and add a huge smiley face to it, and then color another page blue and add a calm or an unhappy expression to it.

This lesson can be done over 1 or 2 days.

NOTE FROM AMERICA LEARNS: If you read these strategies often, you’ll find that this one is in a very different format.  Girls Inc. of Alameda County has its AmeriCorps members submit formal lesson plans each week.  The attached doc (PDF; Word) Emmy’s lesson plan.