Scholars Program, Staff Perspectives

FLOC Aims to Rise Above Adultism

(Kelley Thompson is a Program Specialist in FLOC’s Scholars Program.)

I spent the past week with about 30 other DC youth workers in a training on Advancing Youth Development. During the training we explored a number of topics related to youth development and effective youth work. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to engage in challenging and eye-opening dialogue with other DC youth workers. While the entire training was informative and interesting, we explored one topic that made all of us think and reflect on the work of our respective organizations and on our own interactions with youth. The topic: Adultism.

In his article Understanding Adultism, John Bell, Director of Leadership Development at YouthBuild USA, writes that “adultism refers to behaviors and attitudes based on the assumption that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without their agreement. This mistreatment is reinforced by social institutions, laws, customs, and attitudes” (http://www.freechild.org/bell.htm).

Working from the premise that many American institutions, laws, customs and attitudes are adultist, I asked myself a series of questions. How would I feel if I was told everyday when to be active and when to be still? Or what is best for me? Or with whom it’s acceptable to associate? Or when to sleep? Or when to be home? What if others around me had the power to punish me for norms I wasn’t involved in establishing? Or if these people reserved the right to usurp my privileges on a whim? Or if I had no real voice to defend myself?

Upon reflection, this seems quite oppressive. I am not interested in relinquishing my powers to ‘be.’ I want to be free to make informed decisions that affect my life, to be free to speak my thoughts and opinions without fear of losing my rights and privileges and to be free to express myself without the threat of being reprimanded.

Young people think similarly. They, too, want to be free to think, learn, explore and express themselves. But if you consider the experiences that American youth have on the whole (see above questions), it is quite clear that young people are amongst the most controlled populations in the United States.

This control stems from a way of thinking/being that privileges adults and gives them an unearned power over young people. This is adultism. Adultism, like other ‘isms’—such as heterosexism, classism, racism, ageism, etc—is dangerous in that it relegates one segment of the population (youth) to second class citizenship.

With this concept of adultism fresh in my mind, I re-entered the FLOC building with a better understanding of youth and was heartened by what I saw happening around me. It is apparent that FLOC staff and volunteers aim to rise above adultism, to create a culture in which young people’s thoughts and opinions are considered, valued and integrated into organizational function.

FLOC youth workers do this by actively listening to the students involved in programming; by asking them about their lives and what’s important to them; by equipping them with the essential skills and knowledge to be change agents and then giving them opportunities to be organizational decision makers; by allowing them to direct their own learning; by respecting and valuing their ideas and thoughts; by having high expectations for them; and by turning their ‘mistakes’ or ‘misteps’ into teachable moments and learning experiences.

That FLOC is committed to creating the type of culture I just described means that the young people who walk through our doors encounter a space that combats adultism in favor of positive youth development.

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Staff Perspectives

Former Teacher Inspired by FLOC

(Ellie Haga is FLOC’s Executive Assistant and Development Associate.)

Teaching is the hardest job in the world. I know this because I used to be a teacher. Let me begin by saying that during that time, not once did I go home at 3 p.m., and not once did I have summers off. I spent long hours lesson planning, grading papers, meeting with parents, attending staff meetings, and “playing parent”. Not to mention, I spent much of my paycheck just making sure I had enough supplies for my students.

I taught 2nd grade in a Title I school where nearly 100 percent of our students qualified for free or reduced lunches. Before that, I taught 3rd grade in another Title I school. When I moved to Washington, D.C. with my husband to be closer to family, I knew I wanted to find a job in the field of education, but wasn’t ready to teach again. That’s what led me to FLOC.

From the moment I walked in the front door, I knew this was an amazing organization. The staff at FLOC works harder than most people I have ever known in my entire life. They are selfless, passionate, and energetic. They are teachers, mentors, and counselors. I am privileged to work in their shadow.

Each day I learn something new about the students we serve — how far behind some of them are, how few opportunities some of them have at their schools, how resilient they are, and how they strive toward a better future. My co-workers know how to use these qualities to ensure every child has a chance to improve their own lives, and inspire the students to strive toward improvement while training our nearly 300 tutors to do the same.

It’s no secret that the DC education system is in dire need of improvement. Students are falling through the cracks. The school day isn’t cutting it. But programs like FLOC are helping to fill in the gaps.

FLOC uses research, innovation, and unwavering dedication to provide high quality support. The tutoring programs are providing students with the tools they need to transform their future. I’m lucky to work here and see it all happen. Sometimes it’s overwhelming to think about how much work needs to be done, but if you’re in need of some inspiration, just come check out FLOC and see the difference our staff is making. I’m sure glad I did.

Outdoor Education Center

West Virginia Youth Lend Helping Hand to Their Community

(Lydia Hastings is working at FLOC’s Outdoor Education Center as the Marketing AmeriCorps VISTA. She originally joined the OEC staff over the summer as the Kitchen Coordinator.)

West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle has not escaped hardships as a result of the struggling economy and increase in poverty throughout the United States.

In 2010, the Eastern Panhandle Health and Human Services Collaborative (HHSC) presented a ‘Point of Time Study,’ revealing an overall increase in the number of homeless people living in Morgan, Jefferson and Berkeley Counties. A spike from 212 to 362 homeless individuals in the past year, and a recorded 52 unsheltered individuals, up from seven the year before, shows the Eastern Panhandle needs more basic necessities, as well as community outreach.

The HHSC has reported an 82 percent caseload increase in their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance program (formerly called food stamps), as well as increases in their caseload for Medicaid.

This holiday season, the Outdoor Education Center of For Love of Children’s Leaders In Action students have taken the initiative to do their part in helping their hungry and impoverished community members. Leaders In Action students set a goal to have 75 cans provided to a local food bank four weeks ago. The students, now having everything collected, and having sorted their inventory, reported that between the OEC staff and the LIA students, they have collected more than 117 cans and numerous other nonperishable goods to donate to Jefferson Counties Community Ministries.

The cans and food will be delivered this week in a countywide collaboration through Leadership Jefferson, a leadership program for current and future community leaders through the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce. The hope is to aid the Eastern Panhandle’s community effort, bringing awareness and nourishment to those who may be struggling during difficult economic times.

Our students work hard to empower and inspire our community and are learning new ways to improve the well-being of others. LIA students are not only learning how to help people, but learning vital life skills to advance in their ever-changing world.

Interns, Tutor Perspectives

Coloring In the Whole Picture: Intern Impressed by FLOC’s Strategy

(Addie Ludwig is an intern in FLOC’s Recruitment and Outreach Department. She tutored at FLOC over the summer.)

Tutors usually charge anywhere from $20 to $100 an hour, but not at FLOC. Dozens of regular people from all walks of life sit down once a week, one-on-one with a kid and teach for free. Honing in on each child’s individual strengths and weaknesses, they attempt to strengthen fundamental skills and provide a solid foundation for later education. It’s not super specialized, and it’s not hard to train for it. Here they just try to color in all the blank spots so that the kids can see the bigger picture.

I am a proud survivor of the DC Public School system (K-12), and was interested to see people working to help DCPS kids from outside of the boundaries of the schools themselves. I had a mixed bag experience with DCPS, as many have; I attended the prestigious, public Horace Mann Elementary and enjoyed a fantastic, hands-on early education that provided a solid foundation for what would prove to be a slightly spotty education later on.

I got involved with FLOC early last summer partially out of curiosity and partially from a desire to learn how to interact with children, something I don’t have extensive experience with and I’ve never been particularly good at. I feared the worst – being unable to command the attention of a hyper child, confirming my fear that I am terrible with kids. As it turned out, I was placed with an extraordinarily bright and well-behaved girl who came to tutoring excited to learn and receptive to everything I had to say. In the end, it’s safe to say that she ended up helping me.

When I got started at FLOC, I remember being concerned that I would encounter some of the condescension in situations where the disadvantaged are assisted by the (more) privileged. I can gladly say that there is none of that here; everyone genuinely cares about the kids. They’re passionate and work tirelessly in both tutoring and behind the scenes to close the learning gaps that the shortfalls of regular schooling create on a regular basis.

The statistics speak for themselves – the program works. FLOC has formed a highly functional safety net that aims to and regularly succeeds in catching the kids that fall through those cracks that are not few or far in between. And it’s free. What more could you ask for?

GW Interns/Tutors, Interns

FLOC is Highlight of Intern’s College Career

(Holly Friedman is a FLOC intern and attends The George Washington University.  She would like to start a blog thread for GW tutors this year.)

Fifteen-credit course loads, never-ending research projects and community service hours… all while attempting to maintain a social life. It’s not always easy for a full-time college student to also have a challenging internship.

My name is Holly Friedman and I am a junior at The George Washington University where I am majoring in Human Services and minoring in Speech & Hearing Sciences.

While it’s not always easy, my experience as an intern at FLOC has made all the late nights studying and time management challenges well worth the extra effort.  I have always loved working with children, but my experience so far at FLOC has been truly unique.

Although I love my coursework in human services classes, my hands-on experience at FLOC has been the highlight of my junior year, and perhaps my college career thus far.  As an intern, I am a site coordinator for both the Thursday night math tutoring program and the Saturday afternoon reading tutoring program, where I work directly with students and tutors.

My weekly tasks consist of editing lesson plans, working on long-term and short-term projects and lending a hand to staff members in any way I can.

Over the past few years I have toyed with the ideas of being a teacher or a speech-language pathologist, and I currently want to be a social worker.  Until this year, though, I never thought about working at a nonprofit organization, and I didn’t even realize that community-based organizations like FLOC actually existed.

Through my internship experience, I realize that I now see myself potentially working in the nonprofit sector as my career.

FLOC is a combination of all of my professional interests, giving me the opportunity to work with children, teach and help others all at once.  Although it sounds cliché, I encourage all college students to explore, because you may find something that suits all of your interests — just like FLOC suits mine!

News

Local Author to be Featured at FLOC’s Book Festival

(Natalie Torentinos is FLOC’s Recruitment and Outreach Assistant.  She is currently serving as an AmeriCorps VISTA member.)

Every kid is a superhero.

Just ask Jacqueline Jules, a local children’s book author, who will be reading her stories at For Love of Children’s (FLOC) Book Festival this Saturday in Adams Morgan.

Jules has worked as a teacher and school librarian in Virginia schools, and currently works as an elementary school writing specialist in Arlington Country while meeting editorial demands. Her work has been published in 70 different online and print publications. She has published 22 books.

Her featured work at FLOC’s Book Festival will be Zapato Power: Freddie Ramos Takes Off, a story of a kid superhero who experiences various adventures with magic shoes. She will also be sharing a poem about a child learning to read called “Learning to Soar,” and singing Thanksgiving songs she wrote herself.

“The work grew organically out of the students I taught and loved,” Jules says. “The idea for Zapato Power and superheroes came from my students. They didn’t have the reading skills for comic books. They wanted a book on their reading level, so I wrote a book not just for them, but about them.”

Jules’ biggest inspiration in her writing is her students, mostly kindergarteners through sixth graders. Her subjects have included tracing the origins of the Constitution to exploring diversity. Two of her recent books were called No English, telling the story of an Argentinean girl moving to a new school, and Turkey Day, about a Vietnamese American family having duck for Thanksgiving dinner. She won the Sydney Taylor Notable Book for Younger Readers for these works.

A voracious reader, Jules’s favorite books growing up were The Secret Garden and The Jungle Book. She always loved reading, but while working as a teacher realized that not all children feel the same way.

Zapato Power fills what could be considered a hole in the children’s book market – bridge books for precocious young readers and struggling older ones.

“I wanted to turn them on to reading, and we didn’t have enough transitional books, only early readers and more advanced,” Jules says. “We needed bridge books for readers who were too old interest-wise and age-wise but whose reading level wasn’t strong enough.”

Jules continues efforts to reach out to this particular demographic, and is working on additional Zapato Power books and middle school grade novels.

She is looking forward to taking part in FLOC’s Book Festival, taking place this Saturday from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m. at 1763 Columbia Road.

“Anything that supports literacy is extremely important,” she says.

To learn more about Jacqueline Jules, please go to www.jacquelinejules.com.

Staff Perspectives

As Technology Advances, Students Still Need Good Teachers

(Catherine Jacques is FLOC’s Curriculum Specialist and serves as Site Supervisor for the Tuesday Night Reading program.)

What did your classroom look like throughout your K-12 education experience?  My classrooms spanned the gamut: conference-style tables with chairs, individual desks with and without attached chairs, independent learning stations, lecture style seating, etc.  You name the classroom type, and I probably spent at least a semester trying to learn in it.

On Monday night I attended the Slate.com Design A Better Classroom event along with some of our volunteer tutors.  Hundreds of other interested parties and I  came to two major agreements.  First, a beautiful space with all the perks is likely to inspire students and make it easier for teachers to be innovative in their approach; second, a beautiful space with all the perks is FAR less important than a good teacher.  If every student had an iPad, they could download textbooks and play with graphing software, but they are not likely to learn more without a teacher who uses exciting and innovative teaching methods.

As the experts listed the benefits of a high-tech school with cutting-edge architecture, I smiled to myself as I thought of the ways in which I see our tutors accomplish these objectives every day without the fancy space or iPads.

Students need to move. Every week our hallways at FLOC are full of kids playing hopscotch, basketball, “hot lava”, bowling, soccer, and many other active games they’ve made up.  The catch is that all of these games revolve around math facts, vocabulary, parts of speech, phonics, word problems, etc.  Our students know that learning doesn’t have to happen at a desk or in one defined space.

Students need personalized instruction. Take a look at a class of 4th graders in D.C. Public Schools, and you are likely to see great diversity in their learning styles and content knowledge.  Just because they are all in 4th grade does not mean that a one-size-fits-all approach will be the most effective.  At FLOC, our students work on exactly what they need to work on.  There is no wasted time in their instruction, and no need for complicated schedules and tracking.

Students need exposure to technology in meaningful ways. Students and tutors get on computers to play math and vocabulary flash games, read newspaper articles, do independent research, and type their written work.  We have no smartboards used as bulletin boards or computers with a sole word processing application.  We also know that a pencil-and-paper spelling test is just as good as one done on the computer.

Our schools can’t differentiate instruction in this way without making huge changes to staffing structure, schedule, curriculum, and use of space.  We need innovation in school design and better use of technology in the classroom as much as we need better teachers.

So how does FLOC do what schools struggle to do?  Answer: Our one-on-one tutoring model. Our volunteers accomplish what master teachers struggle to do simply by virtue of their flexibility.  There really is no substitute for one incredibly dedicated instructor (master teacher or enthusiastic volunteer) completely focused on the needs of one kid.  In fact, last year our tutors freely donated nearly 12,000 hours of their time, worth nearly $250,000.

FLOC would love to get iPads for every student, but they aren’t necessary.  We might do great things with lots of technology, but we can do great things with a whiteboard and a dry erase marker as well.  Our space may be traditional, but our teaching methods are anything but – and that is what makes all the difference.