Great News for Building Tomorrow

The Office of Community Engagement is enthused and proud to announce that Building Tomorrow, Inc., founded by alumnus George Srour (’05), has received a grant from the Clinton Global Initiative totaling five hundred thousand dollars. The grant will help BT to continue their work in Uganda building schools for a better future.

“When George Srour, BT founder and executive director, first visited Uganda as a United Nations intern, he recognized that there was a real and effective way to help the millions of underserved children throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Inspired and emboldened, he returned to the College of William & Mary, ready to do his part to help the children he met overseas.

In December of 2004, the College of William & Mary accomplished an extraordinary thing. Through their Christmas in Kampala campaign, students raised almost $45,000 to fund the construction of a new school in Kampala, Uganda. In May 2006, the students at William & Mary could see the results of their hard work with the completion of Meeting Point Kampala.

With that, a movement was born. Srour was awarded the inaugural Simon Fellowship for Noble Purpose that allowed him to make building schools for children in sub-Saharan Africa a full-time job. Building Tomorrow was created as a continuation of Christmas in Kampala, to empower young people to make a difference in their global community.”
Source: http://www.buildingtomorrow.org/zeta/about-us/history/

The College holds so many opportunities for students to pursue positive social change movements in their neighborhoods and around the world. What will you do?

by Michael Steiner

The Pulley Family Story

Some people dream of starting a multibillion-dollar company. Others fantasize about a life with a butler, a maid and seven houses around the world. The Pulley Family dreams a much simpler dream: the family strives to help college students realize their dreams so that they can in turn help someone else. This fall I had the privilege to sit down with Tish and Carolyn Pulley to hear their story and learn about more about the family’s passion for service. As I sat quietly listening to the awe-inspiring legacy of the Pulley Family I could not help but smile to myself; these were people who truly cared.  The eyes of both Carolyn, one of the 10 Pulley siblings and Tish, the wife of one of the siblings, danced as they laughed about the dynamic between the and tears gathered in their eyes as they talked about the Pulley siblings mother, Rose B. Pulley, and her soft-spoken heart for service. There was something special here. I could feel it.

The two outlined the lives of the Pulley Family like a well-written play over the course of the next two hours and I listened quietly, hanging on to every word… The Pulley Family grew up in Ivor in South Hampton Country, Virginia. The Pulley children understood service as a natural part of life, but learned the concept of civic engagement through work ethic, persistence and diligence.  Ragan Bradshaw Pulley, the eldest of the ten siblings, enrolled at The College of William and Mary in 1935 and started the Pulley Family tradition of attending the college that continued for the next 18 years. Carolyn described the siblings as individuals who wanted to give back in whatever way they could. R. Bradshaw, Franklin, and David Pulley, Tish’s husband, gave back to the country through military service and the other siblings that attended W&M contributed on a local level as teachers and in other ways in their individual communities. They truly believed that making an impact mattered. Bradshaw was so grateful for his time at the college that he invested in his younger brother, Franklin’s education. Franklin helped David through school and the story continued until five of the ten Pulley siblings had graduated from William and Mary. Each proceeding sibling helped the next one behind him until each one had achieved his or her goal of completing higher education. Their contributions to the college and life legacies have settled between the bricks, where they will lay forever.

One of the siblings, Marsden did not think it enough simply to support his siblings as they embarked on their educational careers through William and Mary; it was also about the many gifts the school had given to his family. To thank the college, every summer Marsden brought the best watermelon he could find in South Hampton County to the financial aid office to show his gratitude for their support and belief in his education. A simple gesture with the little he had to show that he appreciated the college.

When David Pulley passed away in 1993 the Pulley Family wanted to adequately honor his life and share his heart of service with the college community. To encourage a culture of service on the William and Mary campus, the family worked with then President Timothy Sullivan. Pulley Family members collaborated with the newly erected Office for Service to establish an endowment in David’s honor. The family understood the importance of service work, but also the necessity for college students to be making money during their summer vacation. Together, with the Office of Service the family established the Pulley Family Endowment for Public Service to provide funding for students to execute summer service projects so that they could afford to not be making money and instead donate their time to help people in need.  Jane Smith, class of 2012 received a grant from the Pulley Family and had the opportunity to travel to … “I feel so fortunate to have been able to take a summer to serve in Mexico and discover my passion for youth. I will certainly remember this kind gesture and give back in some way in the future.”

The first year the fund was established in 1994, family members were only able to send two students to perform service projects. Since that time the endowment has grown and sent over 150 students from W&M all over the United States and countries across six continents. The grant money now sends 12 students per year on service projects and is allocated to students through the Office of Community Engagement and Scholarship. The family’s contributions to the endowment have generated more than $150,000 in service grants. Family members hope that someday the fund will not only provide undergraduates with the opportunity to pursue their passion in service, but also recent graduates who are interested in nonprofit work or developing their own outreach initiative.

“We are good at telling the background, but the future and what’s to come – that is hard to know!” Tish Pulley exclaimed. “The beautiful thing about service is that it affects not only yourself, but your friends, children and others. People see you giving of yourself, whether in time or money, and the feeling rubs off. It really is nice to feel like you are making an impact on someone.”

If Rose B. Pulley was still with us today to see the impact her children have made, I think she would be proud. Students from a variety of backgrounds and academic interests are now offered the chance to explore their hearts and passion in service and give back in a productive and sustainable way. The Pulley Family story demonstrates a life lesson applicable to all: sometimes a little giving goes a very long way.

by Maddy Smith

Freshmen Service Award

Every year, the W Society presents the Freshmen Service Award to one freshman who has exemplified a commitment to service in the William & Mary community and beyond. The award recognizes an individual with an outstanding commitment to positive social change—someone who demonstrates a deep tradition of engagement, a critical approach to service, and a history of inspiring those around them with humility and maturity. The 2012 recipient embodies this award fully.

From the day she stepped on campus, this year’s award recipient has shown commitment to the cause of combating educational inequality. Despite being a new member of the Tribe, during the fall semester she sought and found a way to serve her cause by working with high school students through a mentoring program called Lafayette Kids. As the Lafayette Kids co-president in charge of programming, she has taken the initiative to create engaging programs for the students such as a Chinese New Year celebration and a healthy snacks program. Through Lafayette kids, this individual tutors and mentors younger students twice a week at the Learning Center at Lafayette Village, a Community Housing Partner’s low-income housing development. Beyond structured time working with this specific program, this compassionate individual has organized outings with her mentees such as a manicure and frozen yogurt outing. She has also served as an informal liaison between Lafayette Kids and the Sharpe Program, coordinating rides and tutoring times with Sharpe Scholars. Additionally, the recipient dedicated time to contributing to a thorough research prospectus for the program. This year’s recipient has demonstrated that she is able to think critically about social issues like education inequality within the surrounding Williamsburg community and to garner her understanding and passion through action.

Her nominator writes: “Madeline has demonstrated great skill at tutoring children of many ages and skill levels, keeping order and enforcing discipline in a fair and effective way, and forming tight bonds with the kids and fellow volunteers at Lafayette.

Her commitment to truly engaging with the Lafayette Kids community through forming personal relationships with the kids, Americorp supervisors, and William and Mary volunteers and pursuing her interest in educational inequality through providing tutoring and mentoring to low-income students has been extraordinary. Madeline is the epitome of an active citizen: she continues investigating the social issue she wants to resolve while actively working to create immediate change in her community and reflecting on the effectiveness of her work. Madeline is worthy of every award in the book!”

The W Society is honored to recognize this year’s Freshman Service Award recipient, Ms. Madeline Grimm.

by W Society

Annual Awards Luncheon

SPIRIT OF SERVICE
The Spirit of Service award is designated for two non-graduating students who have been involved in community service and have demonstrated a sense of caring, concern and willingness to be involved in addressing community issues.  This year we received many impressive nominations and as is tradition, two students were selected.

Our first Spirit of Service Award winner is Aly Kozacek.  Aly’s list of activities demonstrates depth and breadth of commitment:

  • Rainbow Therapeutic Riding Center
  • Prince William Hospital
  • Dream Catchers Therapeutic Riding Center
  • The co-founder of United Against Infectious Diseases
  • CARE for AIDS internship
  • And Phi Sigma Pi honor fraternity service chair where you have coordinated numerous activities for members

But more, your depth of commitment is evident in the comments from her nominator from Prince William Hospital.  She writes, “Aly’s work ethic is truly remarkable.  We all found her to be incredibly dependable, trustworthy and honest.  Her compassion and concern for others was demonstrated every time she was with patients.”

For these reasons it is our honor to award Aly Kozacek with the Spirit of Service Award.

Our second recipient is equally dedicated to her community.

OCES 010Andrea Lin is the site leader at Williamsburg Landing, she volunteers at Olde Towne Medical Center and she tutors with College Partnership for Kids and Student Peer Advisory Network.  Andrea wrote, “I chose to attend William and Mary because of its strong commitment to community.  My William and Mary story is directly related to my community engagement.”

Your nominator wrote, “When Andrea approached us about starting a volunteer program at Williamsburg Landing, it was well received by all.  Andrea successfully recruited and now organizes forty students to visit each week.  The program would not have been possible without Andrea’s strong passion for geriatric care.”

We are so proud that you have made William and Mary the place to call your home.

TRADITION OF SERVICE AWARD

The Tradition of Service Award is given annually to one graduating senior that has been involved in significant community activities throughout their college experience.   This year two recipients have been selected.

Our first Tradition of Service award winner is Anna Mahalak.

OCES 011Anna your list of community activity and engaged scholarship sets you apart from peers.  You were a Sharpe scholar, a Branch Out participant and Relay for Life team captain your freshman year.  You were then a research assistant in Dr. Charity-Hudley’s linguistics research lab and a community studies fellow during your sophomore year.  During your junior year you were a team member for the Bosnia Project, a Sharpe Fellow and you designed a research project entitled, “Nonviolent Communication in Youth educational Programming.”  This year you are a teaching fellow for the Bosnia Project, a Sharpe Fellow, an academic coach in high schools, Vice President of ODK and more.

In your essay you reflected, “My experience in classes has taught me how institutions, such as education, shape politics.  I have gained insight on how power over institutions shapes society.  My classes have provided greater meaning to the role of the education system in political socialization and multicultural understanding.”

Your insights epitomize the role of the active citizen and the engaged scholar. It is with great pride that I present you with the 2012 Tradition of Service Award.

Our second award winner is equally dedicated in her academic pursuits and community action.

Anna Dausman, you were selected to co-facilitate the International Justice Mission during your freshman year.  You continued to lead IJM during your sophomore year while conducting a research project on the importance of Swahili and other heritage language programs at the college level.  You were selected as a Branch Out site leader and successfully led students on an alternative break that addressed urban educational inequalities.  That summer you volunteered with a children’s home in Kenya.  Junior year you continued to lead IJM, you again lead a Branch Out alternative Break and you tutored with Literacy for Life.  This year you founded and led the Kenya Sustainable Village Project partnering with a pediatric HIV/ADIS relief organization in Kenya.  You served as the Branch Out alternative breaks national student director and provided training for 24 site leaders.  You volunteer with FISH food pantry and ARC of Williamsburg and you will work for Break Away after graduation.

In your application essay you wrote, “At William and Mary I have come to learn that as an active citizen and a person pursuing social justice, I will act differently.  My peers and professors have challenged me to imagine the ways in which I might contribute my academic strengths and interests to pursue those paths.”  You conclude by reporting, “I entered the College as a student and volunteer, I graduate voluntarily committing my life to the pursuit of healthier communities and a shared responsibility in addressing inequalities at their roots.”  Your College is so proud of you.

by Drew Stelljes, Ph.D.

Research Paper on Boys and Girls Club, Campus Kitchens and Lafayette Village

Introduction
The role of third party institutions has been widely recognized as a factor that helps to decrease the achievement gap between the students in America’s schools. According to the Boys & Girls Club of America, “Research shows that youth participation in quality out-of-school time programs is linked to significant gains in standardized test scores and work habits, as well as reductions in behavior problems among disadvantaged students” (“Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis” 5). The purpose of this project was to study the operations of some such institutions that work with children from low-income backgrounds. These institutions were of two kinds: 1) Campus based organizations run by students from the College of William and Mary and 2) local branches of a national organization. The former category was comprised of the campus groups “Campus Kitchen Project” and “Lafayette Village Project”. Campus Kitchen Project, an affiliate of D.C. Central Kitchen, serves many needs of the Williamsburg community by preparing and delivering meals to economically depressed neighborhoods and having a mentorship program for the children who live in these areas. Lafayette Village Project works with the children who live in the Lafayette Village area, playing with them and providing them with homework assistance. The later category was comprised of “The Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula”, a local affiliate of the national organization known as the Boys and Girls Club of America. The mission of the BGCA is “to enable all young people, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens” (“2010 Annual Report” a2). Through this project, we hoped to find greater insights into how third party institutions go about attempting to close the achievement gap.

Methods

The first step in the process of collecting data for the project was to use the internet to discover information about the national organization Boys and Girls Club of America. By reading its website and independent studies conducted about different aspects of the organization, we obtained a better idea of how Boys and Girls Club of America operates and whether or not it is effective. However, the primary method used to collect data for this project was through interviews. Through phone interviews with Arlene Armentor and Jonathan Putt of The Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, and in- person interviews with Tony Batt and Sarah Holko of Campus Kitchens Project and Mary Grech from Lafayette Village Project, we received insider information about the workings of the organizations and the personal opinions of those who work for them.

Results

Boys and Girls Club of America does several things to increase the academic achievement of the students enrolled in the clubs, such as offering the program Project Learn (“Project Learn”). The efficacy of Project Learn has been validated in an independent study by the Harvard Family Research Project. The study found that students who were enrolled in “Project Learn” showed greater grade improvements in a 30 month period and missed fewer days of school than students in community programs not affiliated with the Boys and Girls Club of America (Schinke, Cole and Poulin). The effect of the Boys and Girls Club of America as a whole (as opposed to one of its programs) was stated to in a study published in the Journal of Community Psychology, which found that “Overall monthly attendance at the Club was positively related to self-reported grades, enjoyment of school, and effort in school” (Anderson-Butcher, Newsome and Ferrari 38).

At a more local level, Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula also has shown signs of effectiveness. According to Arlene Armentor, some of the participants in their clubs become the first members of their family to go to college or graduate from high school, and she says “we hope to change patterns”. She cites the example of a student in their BE GREAT: Graduate program whose grades improved significantly due to the programs work (Armentor). She says “I have seen kids go from violent to not violent, and have seen improvement in grades and in social skills” (Armentor). Jonathan Putt states that if children remains in the program for eight to ten years, he sees them “making healthier lifestyle choices, having a greater appreciation for the arts, sports, and fitness, and developing the mindset that they need to give back to their community”.

There are several reasons for the success of the Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula. Armentor states “We are really fortunate to have a great board and staff who are visionary and focused on a strategic plan”. She sees this more local chapter’s affiliation with the national organization as a positive because they are able to receive grants from the money given to Boys and Girls Club of America by the national government or corporations. She also values the partnerships that BGCVP has with the schools and public housing developments that house the clubs, because it allows them to operate in a more cost-effective manner. She is proud of BGCVP’s ability to “stretch a dollar”. To continue to operate successfully, she emphasizes the need to grow strategically. BGCVP also appears to treat their volunteers well. This is important because volunteers are such a key component in the success of any organization. Armentor states that, “We have a [person in an administrative role] who orientates volunteers and make sure that [the volunteers] are comfortable”.  When it comes to education for the students, Armentor claims that “We have learning everywhere…For example, the gardening club teaches information that is on the SOLs”. BGCVP mixes an effective administration system with effective programming to achieve results.

Campus Kitchens Fun at Five relies on creating connections with the children and families within the neighborhood. A few dedicated students are responsible for the success of this program which uses sports and play time to form relationships with the children (Batt). These relationships formed the basis of the mentoring program, where one William and Mary student is matched up to one child in the community. This fosters deeper, closer relationships and allows the college students to pour into the kids lives through mentoring programs (Batt). By targeting the next generations in these low socioeconomic areas, director Tony Batt believes the college students can help to break the cycle of poverty.

Lafayette Village is another example of a few dedicated students making connections through play and helping the young children to excel in their education. The program was started by President Mary Grech and another friend who began to play with the children after school on a daily basis (Grech). This turned into a much larger program helping the students with their homework, feeding them snacks and mentoring them on a weekly basis. This program is part of a much larger national system which works in low socioeconomic communities to supplement the education children are receiving in public schools (Grech). While the Lafayette Village is a relatively small program in Williamsburg, it is rapidly growing. The biggest issues facing this organization are lack of space and room needed to expand (Grech). There is ample participation from the community and a high volume of week-to-week and committed volunteers.

Both Lafayette Village and Campus Kitchens rely on volunteers from the College of William and Mary to work with the students in their respective communities (Holko). Neither of these organizations does much in the way of recruiting, rather students hear about them through word of mouth or email list serves (Grech, Holko). Retaining volunteers is not very difficult, according to our interviewees because students who are committed to helping out or making a difference will continue to volunteer week in and week out. These dedicated students are vital for both Campus Kitchens and Lafayette village and provide a springboard for growth within both organizations.

Conclusion

In our project, we surveyed three different third party institutions, Boys and Girls Club of the Virginia Peninsula, Campus Kitchens and Lafayette Village, all of which do their part to fill the achievement gap in the public school system by working within communities to help students. Our survey of the techniques and methods used by these different organizations lends a more complete picture of what third party institutions do to help the community. All of the organizations share the same goal of ameliorating the achievement gap and breaking the poverty cycle by reaching the next generation of students, but the methods they employ are unique to each organization and offer novel approaches to help the students.

Boys and Girls Club uses after-school programs such as Project Learn to increase student attendance in school and grades in the classroom. Campus Kitchens uses a mentoring program when students and college mentors are paired up one on one to help the students holistically. An older college student aids the child in academics, family life and problems with peers. Lafayette Village works on a micro level through committed volunteers who are actively involved in the children’s lives. All of these organizations rely upon the strength and determination of volunteers who work with the children to help them succeed. It is through these volunteers that change, shown by the statistics and scores of the kids involved in these programs, is happening from day to day.

Works Cited

Anderson-Butcher, Dawn, W. Sean Newsome, and Theresa M. Ferrari. “Participation in
Boys and Girls Clubs and Relationships to Youth Outcomes.” Journal of Community Psychology (2003): 31-55. Wiley Online Library. Web. 19 Feb. 2012. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcop.10036/pdf

Armentor, Arlene. Personal Interview. 27 Mar. 2012.

Batt, Tony. Personal Interview. 25 Mar. 2012.

Boys & Girls Club of America. Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem – Why Boys & Girls Clubs Are Part of the Solution. Rep. Boys & Girls Club of America, 2010. Our Nation’s Dropout Crisis Is Everyone’s Problem - Why Boys & Girls Clubs Are Part of the Solution. The Boys & Girls Club of America, Sept. 2010. Web. 4 Feb. 2012.

Boys & Girls Club of America. “PROJECT LEARN”. Boys & Girls Club of America. Boys & Girls Club of America, 2011. Web. 4 Feb. 2012. http://bgca.org/whatwedo/EducationCareer/Pages/ProjectLearn.aspx

Grech, Mary. Personal Interview. 26 Mar. 2012

Holko, Sarah. Personal Interview. 26 Mar. 2012

Putt, Jonathan. Personal Interview. 2 April 2012.

Schinke, Steven, Kristen C. Cole, and Stephen R. Poulin. “A Profile of the Evaluation of
Boys & Girls Club of America – Project Learn/Educational Enhancement Program.” Out-of-School Time Evaluation Database. Harvard Graduate School of Education, 6 Dec. 2011. Web. 11 Feb. 2012.

by Annie Daughtrey & Brianna Buch

The realities of immigration

Hogar Immigrant Services is a Catholic organization dedicated to help
immigrants become self-sufficient and productive members of American
society. As part of the Branch Out National alternative break, I had the
opportunity to work with them and digitize closed immigrant case files
they have handled in the past 30 years as well as assist clients in a
one day naturalization workshop. As a group project, we were also
granted permission to interview clients for an awareness media
production discussing the realities of immigration and naturalization.

indexThis experience has completely opened my eyes to a serious issue I had
disregarded in the past. Immigrants have been confined to strict U.S.
immigration laws that call for immediate reform. Contrastingly,
hundred-thousands of immigrants’ lives have changed positively with the
prospects that come with becoming a legal resident or even a citizen of
the United States. As I interviewed two Honduran sisters, 10 and 14, I
realized that they were no less American than any American citizen. They
came to America as a toddler, at the age of 1 and 5 respectively, and
grew up attending an American school. However, before the help of Hogar,
after 10 years of growing up in an American society, they were being
threatened with deportation by the U.S. immigration. I was shaken by the
thought of being kicked out and forced to live in an unfamiliar country
at such a fragile age in development. At young ages, these girls had to
balance school, family, friends, as well as court cases to settle their
immigrant status. They had to deal with issues many of us have the
privilege of passing because of our citizenship/U.S. status privileges.

The entire experience working with Hogar has humbled me as I realized how
many times I have participated in stereotyping immigrants in casual
conversations with my friends. As an active citizen, I plan to spread
awareness by speaking about the realities of immigration whenever the
opportunity arises and educating those around me about the issues
associated with immigration. I believe I am fortunate to have had such
an eye opening and humbling experience. I hope everyone gets the
opportunity to live as active citizens sometime in their lifetime as
they will realize it is a truly heartwarming phase.

by Clarissa Santoso

Making Genuine Connections

I hadn’t expected much from my Branch Out trip. Upon entering the lottery, I
hadn’t considered the experience I would have past the fact that I didn’t have
Spring Break plans and was unlikely to get any within a week, so taking a
chance on an Alternative Break might give me something to do. I didn’t get my
first choice. In fact I got my third or fourth choice—I can’t remember just
how I’d ranked my choices at this point. I was somewhat bothered, but in the
end I spent fewer hours in a car, so things went better than expected. Overall,
upon entering into the Alternative Breaks experience, I was nonplussed—just
looking for a few easy service hours and an escape from boredom.

I started to worry once my group started meeting; everyone seemed rather invested
in the trip and what they assumed we were going to accomplish. Startlingly so,
actually. The lot of them truly seemed to believe we would make waves in the
community in which we were placed by power of sheer determination and good
will. I was skeptical to say the least. All the same, I went along with everything. Whatever anyone else was searching for, I knew what I was going for—a week away where I’d do some localized good and some homework in the meantime while shirking chores my mother might have drummed up for me at home.

Arriving in Baltimore and beginning work completely upended my neat schematic for how the week would progress. There was virtually no way to passively participate
and extricate oneself from the cohesiveness and unity the service organizations
we visited provided us. In fact, it was more exhausting trying to remain
detached rather than wholeheartedly devoting myself and truly interacting.
Being around people—our group and those volunteers and employees who devote
their whole lives to this sort of service—who care so deeply about the work
they do and the difference they hope to make is overwhelming. Emotions run high
when selflessness like what I witnessed is so abundant, at least for me. After
a week of being immersed in the struggles of those suffering from hunger and
homelessness in the grips of poverty, your own privilege becomes wildly
apparent and walls come down. And that is when progress spreads, not only
outwardly into the community in which you hope to alleviate some burden, but in
your own experience.

Ultimately Branch Out was everything I expected and feared, but I came out the better for it. By shrugging off some of the emotional detachment that sinks in during the
school year I was able to make genuine connections with people in an honest and
positive way all while, in a slight and special way, improving the surrounding
community.

by Molly Bashay

The Test for Charter Schools

In my years of community service experience, I have never experienced
anything quite like Branch-Out.  It was the most powerful reminder to
the student in me, to practice what I preach.  It was my first
opportunity to be the compassionate, not the cynic, to be the active and
not the passionate.  There is only one true thing that you can do to
make a difference.  I know if it comes from me, it’s just going to be a
recycled cliché, so let me borrow from the words of Yoda, which I feel
represents what every community service worker strives for, “Do or do
not, there is no try.”  I feel that the Gaston pride of 2016 can attest
to Yoda’s words (Robbie May would be proud).

But, when you are left with a box of brand new, unsharpened
Ticonderoga pencils like I was, these words are just as trite as your
professor’s assurance that your next big test is going to be easy (you
scoff, but the box was kinda big, you know, the exact kind that can fill
25 other boxes of brand new, unsharpened Ticonderoga pencils).  I have
to admit that the first day, I was getting a little bit lackadaisical
and soon enough, found myself dozing on the nearest couch I could find.
Nonetheless, I found some sort of respite in my darkest hour from this
simple Star Wars adage. For future reference, if you are in for a task
that looks relatively simple, brace yourself for the closest thing to a
Sisyphean punishment.  “How could anyone possibly sharpen this many
pencils,” so I asked my self.  It takes someone who actually cares not
only to teach, but also to do the small things that allow for a safe
learning environment.  The teachers at Gaston College Prep emblematize
what it means to be caring: to put in more hours, more work and more
commitment to uphold a mission of excellence.  Being a teacher means
being on the forefront of educating the future.  I think we forget how
easy it is for teachers to just and not genuinely care.  That’s why
being in Gaston College Prep was so encouraging.  But actually, I was
walking down the detention room that day and saw a group of kids in the
corner with twice the number of boxes I was sharpening.  Those poor
kids.

So many times we take our education for what we feel to be an
inalienable right.  At least where I come from, we are expected to
graduate from college, and eventually get some job that reflects our
area of interest.  It doesn’t make me proud to say that I had to throw
away these expectations that one-week for the sake of sanity.  If I
didn’t, I would literally have been so angry with myself for complaining
about the quality of our faculty, when, a child in Gaston isn’t even
expected to reach college.  The educational attainment percentage for a
bachelor’s degree is 4.5%.  It’s true, brutal, and it was about time
that I was aware. As much as I’d like to think that there is an American
dream, I simply can’t ignore this huge disparity in education.

Moreover, I am so glad that I was able to bond with 11 other students
coming from all backgrounds, but united by the goal of making a
tangible difference in the community around us. It wasn’t easy at
first.  For a first timer like me, this trip was a convenient way to
avoid going a long way back home.  At that time, I was feeling uneasy
because it was my first experience living with strangers.  I was coming
in shy, unconfident, and indifferent.  Above all, I was uncertain of how
comfortable I would be in a drastically different environment.  I come
from Taipei, Taiwan from a relatively well off neighborhood, meaning
that rural North Carolina could not be more different.  What I
discovered was the most amazing and supportive group of friends that
I’ve ever had.  They hold a special place in my heart (love you guys).  I
could remember my last night there in our last discussion when I was so
touched by Janice’s story that I had to restrain myself from tearing.  I
think, it required some degree of selflessness to put myself into other
people’s shoes.  For that, I thank you Branch Out National Gaston 2012.

by Jeffrey Liu

The Fight Against Educational Inequality: My Experiences on a Branch Out National Trip

In preparation for our BON trip our, our group met four times to discuss the logistics of our trip, to become educated about the issue we will be addressing on our trip and to get to know each other a bit more.  Our first meeting began with a presentation directed at all the BON trips on the goals of the program: to create a community of educated and active citizens. Then we split up into our individual groups and got to meet each other. Our trip leaders, Janice and Fine told us a bit about the logistics of the trip. We would be staying with a couple, the Landers, at a lake house and we would each have our own beds.

As homework for our second meeting, we watched Waiting for Superman. This documentary looks at the current education system in the United States and how charter schools and education reforms have attempted to address issues in the system. Two things in particular struck me.  First off, admissions into a charter school were mostly determined on a lottery basis. While it’s great that financial circumstances don’t determine admissions into a charter school, it’s depressing that today’s kids’ futures are potentially determined by chance. Something else that also struck me was shear amount of power that the Teachers Union has.  Although the film has been criticized for unfairly targeting the union and promoting charter schools, the fact of the matter is that it is almost impossible to fire an incompetent teacher if that teacher is protected by the union.

The second part of our homework assignment was to look at statistics for the community of Gaston, North Carolina.  In the Northampton county where Gaston is located, the percentage of adults with bachelor’s degrees is only 12.8% compared to the national average of 27.5%.  Additionally, the median household income in Gaston is only $27,000 while the median for the state is $43,600.  This gets even worse when one looks solely at the median household income for African American households, only $13,500.

Statistics on Gaston, NC:

http://chronicle.com/article/Adults-With-College-Degrees-in/125995/
http://www.city-data.com/income/income-Gaston-North-Carolina.html

Our third and fourth meetings dealt with logistics and more importantly a discussion of the
Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP).  We would be volunteering at Gaston College Preparatory, a charter/KIPP school.  We were assigned excerpts from the book, Work Hard, Be Nice, looked at videos of the KIPP program and looked at statistics of the KIPP school in Gaston.Two statistics immediately stuck out. First the schools graduates at all college bound.  Second, the school completely outperforms the rest of the North Hampton public schools and even surpasses the state average for NC standardized tests in math, reading and science.

Work Hard, Be Nice told the story of how the KIPP program was founded by Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg, two Teach for America (TFA) corps.  The program began in Houston, Texas.  Levin and Feinberg began with their own 5th grade class in a public school in Houston after teaching through TFA. Their class was in session longer than the rest of the school and Saturday and summer school were mandatory. This reflects the philosophy that there are no shortcuts in education.  Also they created a culture and environment of success.  As Ms. Ball said in the book, “every child can and will learn.”  They incentivized the 5th graders with trips and other rewards while holding high expectations for the students.  Lastly, Levin and Feinberg ran their program with heavy parent involvement. They understood that problems at school and at home were interrelated and that behavioral issues and discipline began at home.

Video of the KIPP GCP High School Program
http://kipp.org/kippvideos
(scroll down until you find the video titled “KIPP Gaston, NC: 100% College Bound”, May 2009)

KIPP GCP 2010 Report Card
http://www.kipp.org/00/docs/KIPP_ReportCard_2010/2010ReportCard_KIPP_Gaston_College_Preparatory.pdf

We arrived to Gaston on Sunday, and attended an orientation session with Robbie May, an 8th grade teacher and our community partner. The first thing we noticed when we walked into the school was how colorful and decorated it was.  There were college banners everywhere and photos of GCP alumni who went to those colleges.  This really goes with KIPPs philosophy of created an environment of success.  The other thing that stuck out was how many teachers were at school on a Sunday afternoon planning lessons and getting ready for the upcoming school week.  Not only that but Robbie May explained that all the students had their teachers numbers and were allowed to call them for help with homework.  The teachers also had their students’ parents’ phone numbers and were in constant communication with the parents.  These teachers truly went above and beyond.

Each day Robbie May prepared a task list for our group to tackle.  Most of them were mundane tasks like grading tests or inputting benchmark scores into a tracker.  Other tasks, like making bulletin boards, allowed for a bit more creativity.  The crazy thing is that teachers usually don’t have a BON around helping them do all this.  Not only are they teaching from 8 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon, but they also have to take care of all these tasks after a long work day. This puts a lot of stress on the teachers and explains part of the high attrition rate at the school (only a small percentage of teachers come back to teach the following year).

On the first day, we were allowed to walk around and sit in on different classes in the morning.  Right away it was evident why the GCP had had so much success.  First off, kids were in class from 7:30am to 5:00pm.  They had three weeks of summer school and had Saturday school every other week.  In each class I observed, all the students were required to actively engage in the lecture in one form or another.  Teachers would stop and say, “CATS on me” if not everyone was giving their full attention. This would immediately bring the kids into focus.  Another thing that helped was the discipline system the school had in place.  The kids received a “paycheck” of $40 a week. Teachers could reward students for good behavior by adding a couple of dollars to students’ paycheck for that particular week.  On the other hand, teachers could punish students for inappropriate actions by deducting dollars from their paycheck.  Students with a high enough paycheck average were eligible to go on field trips (they went ice skating the week we were there). Lastly, there was a discipline mechanism known as the “Bench System.”  Students who were out of line had to turn their shirts inside out to let the rest of their pride (prides are the same thing as grades in GCP) that they were on bench.  A student on bench is not allowed to speak to his peers.  A student would remain on bench for a minimum of three days.  Bench students have to earn their way out of bench by behaving appropriately and must explain to their peers why they ended up on bench in the first place.  In the 8th grade, the student government (advised by a teacher) would hold a trial for a benched student and determine if they were ready to be unbenched. I witnessed part of this and was able to record it.

Each day we were allowed and encouraged to each lunch with the students.  Some days I ate at the high school and other at the middle school.  It was interesting to get the students’ perspective on the school. Most students were naturally a bit frustrated at the long hours and the bench system.  However all of them understood how GCP was better for them in the long run than the public schools in the area and the importance of education. Some of them even mentioned that they did not feel safe at the other public schools.  Others explained that they were ridiculed by their friends who weren’t at GCP for going to GCP.  One tenth grader showed one of my group members his artwork and we were both really impressed.  He told us he really liked art as a means of expressing different perspectives on things.

On Wednesday we had a meeting with Emily Cook, the elementary school principal, Tammi Sutton the executive director, and Michele Stallings, the middle school principal.  Each of them had their own motivational story of why they were working at GCP and were absolutely determined to give every student a shot at a college education.  One thing that really struck me after meeting with these three leaders was the importance of putting kids on a college track early on.  When students arrive at GCP as 5th graders, their reading and math levels tend to be really low.  They are forced to play catch up to have a shot at a college education. Parents can play a huge role in this by encouraging their kids’
education and simply playing and reading with them.  Unfortunately, in the case of most kids in the Gaston area, parents are more worried about immediate needs, like being able to afford food and working enough hours to pay bills and simply don’t have time to invest in their kids’ education. This really hurts their kids’ education in the long run and is pretty evident by the time kids reach the 5th grade and enter GCP.  Fortunately, the GCP elementary school is starting next year with their first kindergarten class and that should help tackle the problem.

On Thursday I had a bit more on my plate than usual on my plate.  I was fortunate enough to get to teach Ms. Hatchell’s 9th grade environmental science class for the last three period of the day.  After planning out my lessons, I was both excited and nervous. I was looking forward to the challenge of doing this but at the same time, I was a bit concerned that the students wouldn’t take me seriously.  Luckily, most of the students were very engaged and eager to participate in my lecture. After getting through all the material, I asked the students questions about what they had just learned.  Most of them eagerly raised their hands to answer my questions.  At the end of each class, we had a few minutes to spare so I answered any questions the students had about college.  After teaching three classes, I was exhausted.  It definitely takes a lot to be a teacher and even more to be a superb one.

by Melody Porter

Branch Out National 2012: D.C. Early Childhood Education Program

The Team
Emily Hemmingson, Rong Wang, Katharine Fegley, Hallie Nelson,
Bonnie Beckner, Qi Chen, Kaitlyn Massa, Amber Jolley, Mizuki Omori,
Rachel Cason, Jessie Hazelgrove

Before the Trip
It was so great that before our trip really began, we had some group
meetings. We discussed about the situation of early childhood education
in the U.S. and watched a movie call “Waiting for Superman”.  I think it
was very useful because before that we didn’t really think about what
was the early childhood education like in the U.S., or at least never
considered it seriously. However, when we sat together and being asked
some questions concerning about the early childhood education, like why
there are some schools’ education is rather poor compared other schools,
it was like a brain storm and everyone just started to think about the
situations seriously.
Also, during our meetings, we even played some games together, which helped us to know each other better!

Book Fair
During our visit at Anne Beers Elementary School, we had a book fair
there. We printed books for kids and also collected so many great
picture books and gave them to the kids. Also, when those kids’ parents
walked in with their children, we prepared books for them too. It was so
great seeing those happy faces of both children and parents!

Cooking Together
Every night after a whole day working at school, we would get
together and prepared our dinner and also packed lunch for the next day.
It was so fun and it was such a relaxing time, and it made us feel like
a family! Now whenever I looked back, I always miss that time, because
it felt so warm!

Discussion Time
OUR FAVOURITE TIME!!! Each day after work, we would gather together and discussed what we saw and what we have learnt that day.

At the End of the Trip
When our trip was coming to the end, we just could not believe that
time flied so fast, and we all wished we could still be with those kids
for more days. And on the last day at the school, those kids kept asking
if we could still be back next week, and it got us really hard to
answer this question, because we would feel so sad if knew that was our
last day there.
Our trip was short, but we have learnt a lot from it, but the sad
part is that we wish their poor education situation could be changed
soon, but there was really nothing we could do, and we were just
witnessing those kids falling behind other kids who were in good
schools, even thought those kids were so smart.
I MISS MY GROUP AND KIDS!

by Melody Porter