My First Week of School

August 30, 2009

Last Monday, I began my year with Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. Kelly, my housemate working at Cristo Rey with me, and I were fortunate enough to get a ride from a group of carpooling teachers in Charles Village. When we arrived and after meeting various staff members, we met with the principal. He ran us through our week full of meetings, paper work, and getting accustomed to life as a teacher and gave us some more information on our responsibilities and how to work best with students.

After meeting with the principal, we walked to the administrative offices down the street. We filled out several pieces of paperwork and met more staff people. We also wanted to meet the president of CRJ, and stuck our heads into is office. To our surprise and despite our impromptu visit, he graciously invited us into his office to sit and talk with him. We spoke about how far the Cristo Rey and, more importantly, its students had come since the school’s start in August 2007. Both The principal and the school’s president are genuine and helpful men who made it clear that they were both happy to have us and willing to help us in whatever way we needed this year. Having that support from the top definitely goes a long way!

Cristo Rey Jesuit

Cristo Rey Jesuit

Next, we walked back to the school. The school itself is a converted elementary school next to a church in Fells Point. The building is wonderful. It’s in a neighborhood-type area with a view of the Harbor. It’s older, but not too old. When you walk in, there’s a lobby, not too big or too small, that leads to both the main office (always a bevy of activity) and the gymnasium/cafeteria/auditorium (cafegymatorium?). As you walk up the stairs to the two main classroom hallways, you’re bound to run into some friendly students or other faculty members on their way to the main lobby. The hallways themselves are lined with lockers and doorways to classrooms decorated by each of the teachers. There’s an art room, teacher’s work area, reading lab, computer lab, and library. My mother noted that it reminded her of her Catholic elementary/high school in the Bronx. The school isn’t glamorous, but one can feel that it’s truly a great place for students learn, not just about reading, writing, and arithmetic, but about becoming a well rounded, well spoken, and college-ready young person.

The principal next took us to where our desks were located. I’ll be in the computer lab, where writing lab is held, and will be responsible for keeping the room neat and clean.

In the next few days, I met with the assistant principal and freshman writing lab instructor to discuss more of my responsibilities and writing lab curriculum. I had heard through various sources that she was an asset to the school and its students and meeting with her further cemented this notion. She encouraged me and gave me some valuable tips on how to speak with and work with students during class. She also offered her help whenever I should need it. I was also able to meet the various members of the faculty and staff. Everyone communicated how happy they were to have Kelly and I and had encouraging words of wisdom for each of us.

On Thursday, the staff met at Loyola Blakefield in north Baltimore along with staff from other Jesuit middle and high schools in the area to hear Cedric Jennings, subject of Ron Suskind’s A Hope in the Unseen. I’ll write another post to describe more of the speech and the subsequent small group discussions this week!

Friday was the Freshman in Training (FIT) graduation. The FIT program prepares the incoming freshman class for their internships at Baltimore area businesses and nonprofits (more on the Corporate Internship Program here and here). The principal, the CIP director, the dean of students, and a guest speaker all spoke to inspire and encourage the freshman as they embark on what will hopefully be a life-changing four years of hard work, learning, and positive experiences.

And with that, week one was over. It was a great first week of work and I’m already beginning to feel at home. As I had suspected, Cristo Rey is a special place full of smart and positive people devoted to the lives of its students.

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Local-O(rientation)

August 24, 2009

Charles Village Row-Homes

This past Tuesday, my housemates and I officially moved into the Baltimore JV house in Charles Village, an area made up of colorful row-homes like the ones pictured. Our fully furnished two-floor row-home has three double sized rooms, living room, dining room, kitchen, washer, dryer, 1.5 baths, an old TV and VCR, and refrigerator. We don’t have cable, internet (*GASP*) or air conditioning (I know, I know. How will we live!?) and the house is rather, um, lived-in, but we do have a small backyard that we hope to turn into a vegetable garden and a front porch, which is really cool because I’ve never lived in a house with a porch.

On our first night, our placement coordinators (bosses), our F(ormer)JV support people, and some Jesuits living up the street came over for a meet and greet, pizza, and ice cream. In what’s become somewhat of a trend with this JVC stuff, they were all great people willing to help us in whatever way they could. The next day, Diana, an FJV, gave us a walking tour of the area, pointing out our bank, trusted neighbors, the Johns Hopkins and Waverly libraries (HELLO INTERNET!), places for food and drink, grocery stores, a weekly local produce market, churches, places to go and places to avoid, and the main streets. Charles Village is a real nice area with a good neighborhood feel to it.

Next, two of last year’s Baltimore JV’s, Alyssa and Allie, joined us to help with banking and explain more about our housing situation. The house needs work in some areas (we didn’t have hot water, the basement has a mold problem, the dryer doesn’t work properly, and one of the bedrooms needs weather-proofing) and our landlord tends to ignore these problems, apparently. Luckily, our placement administrators double to advocate for us and John, the official Housing Advocate, is a lawyer with real estate law experience. We truly have some great allies in Baltimore! And don’t worry, our hot water issue was fixed!

On Friday, Tom, the principal at Cristo Rey Jesuit, and Ralph, Director of St. Frances Academy Community Center, picked us up in the CRJ mini-bus for a tour of each of our five agencies and work places for the year. Instead of the usual play-by-play, I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce you to my (awesome) housemates:

First up is Kelly. She’ll be working with me at CRJ as a Physical Education teacher, reading instructor, and head coach of the girl’s soccer team (which I hope to help out with). She played soccer at Providence College and hails from San Diego, California. Why she would ever leave San Diego is beyond me, but we’re happy to have her here!

Next is Stacey. Stacey is from Colorado Springs and attended Seattle University. She’ll be working at the Don Miller House, an adult foster care facility for people with HIV and AIDS, as a residential aide.

My third housemate is Rachel from New Haven, Connecticut. She recently graduated from my father’s alma mater, Holy Cross College, and knows my home city of Worcester, Massachusetts very well. Rachel will be working at Beans & Bread, a day resource center providing meals, case management, and housing placement for the homeless.

Next up is our house’s second-year JV, Amanda. After working at an after school program as a JV in Syracuse last year, Amanda will be working at the Public Justice Center researching the lack of health care present in Baltimore’s prisons. She attended Georgetown College in Kentucky and is originally from Louisville.

Last, but not least, is Scott. Scott is from southern New Jersey and attended Villanova archrival (*GASP*), St. Joseph’s University (PA) – so he may actually be the “least”. Just kidding! Scott’s a solid guy despite his collegiate allegiances and will be working as the assistant director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center.

All of my roommates are great, easy-going people with passion for JVC’s four values (community, spirituality, simple living, and social justice) and JVC’s mission.

As Local-O wore on, more and more support people came by the house to welcome us to the community. We explored more of the area, went to the aforementioned farmer’s market, grocery shopped, had lunch at Pete’s Grille (a Michael Phelps favorite), visited the library, and even went out to the Charles Village Pub.

We all begin work today. We’re a little bit anxious and nervous, but mostly we’re excited and eager to begin our work as JV’s to help make a difference in Baltimore. Wish us luck!


Tales of Ignatius, Gonzaga, and Appalachia (JVC Orientation)

August 21, 2009

Apologies for the delay on this update, but I’ve only been online once since last Tuesday. We won’t be getting internet in our house and the closest location for free internet is the Johns Hopkins Library, a seven-block walk. Beginning Monday, I’ll have access to the internet on a more regular basis at school.

And now, on to my regularly scheduled blog post.

Last Thursday, after moving my things into the Baltimore JV House in Charles Village, getting a tour of Cristo Rey Jesuit, and riding a Duck Boat around Baltimore, I hugged my family goodbye at BWI Airport and joined 90 other JVC East JV’s and staff at Bellarmine Retreat Center in Blue Ridge Summit, PA for Orientation. The picturesque, rural Pennsylvania setting was a perfect meeting place for such a vibrant, excited, and nervous group of young people beginning a year of service promising to “ruin” us “for life”.

As I met the different people there, it became apparent that, though we were all from different places in the US and beyond, attended colleges in different locales, and came from differing backgrounds, we were all good people with a real sense of purpose and love for what we were doing.

We introduced ourselves to one another and learned about our different placements. There were nine Gonzaga graduates from the west coast, a few Holy Cross graduates familiar with Worcester, a Providence graduate from New Jersey who knew some friends from home and Villanova, a communication major working in legal services, and, in my case, a Villanova graduate rooming with a St. Joseph’s University (PA) graduate (*GASP!*). The retreat was a truly amazing way for so many selfless, energetic, and absolutely amazing people to come together.

During Orientation, in both large and small groups, we talked about our upcoming year, what it meant to be “Ignatian”, our spirituality, and our passions. I met my housemates and learned more about my community in Baltimore. We spoke about simple living, social justice, how to survive on $75 per month for food, and living in a community. We played water football and Apples to Apples, hiked the Appalachian Trail, competed in an epic North vs. South mini-Olympics, and laughed and danced at a team-talent show (which the Baltimore House won, hands-down with a Top Ten (Plus Five) Ways You Know Your at JVC East Orientation comedy skit).

All this in five gloriously exciting days.

We’re embarking on something special this year and continuing the tradition of great JV’s across the country. We’re off to a running start!

My next updates will be about our Local Orientation in Baltimore and my first days at Cristo Rey Jesuit! Stay tuned!


The Last “Real” Summer

August 7, 2009

Well, that flew by. After a sometimes crazy, sometimes boring, and sometimes simply relaxing and enjoyable summer, I leave for Baltimore on Tuesday and head to JVC Orientation next Thursday.

This summer will go down in the books as one of the best. I drove across the country – in a Budget Truck – and saw St. Louis’ Gateway Arch, Bourbon Street, the Alamo, the Grand Canyon at sunrise, Sin City, and the Golden Gate Bridge (plus Twitter HQ!); feasted on Memphis BBQ ribs, authentic jambalaya, and In-N-Out (plus countless other fast-foods); visited a million gas stations; and drove across the entire state of Texas. I got to visit friends in central New Jersey, Cape May, New York City, Northeast Pennsylvania, and Boston and relive some college memories. Best of all, though, I was able to spend a great deal of time with my family golfing, eating, and laughing. It was probably the last time that we would all be together for a summer. It feels like just yesterday that we were going to the Holden Town Pool for swim lessons and summer camp. In that sense, this was my last “real” summer. One last summer where we could all enjoy the weather, lax business hours, good food, and simply being together.

Now, it’s time to start a new chapter in my life. In the next two weeks, I’m going to move to a new city, meet my roommates for the next year, learn what it is to be a Jesuit Volunteer, and prepare for my job as a writing instructor and teaching assistant. New people, new work, and new challenges.  It’s scary, nerve-wracking, a little bit sad and a little bit happy, but mostly it’s a truly exciting time.

This weekend I’ll golf with my Dad, see some friends, and go to the beach with my family for one last day in the sun, ending my last “real” summer. I can’t wait to get started with JVC and Cristo Rey in Baltimore and subsequently enter the working world but, boy, am I going to miss my “real” summers.

Countdown to JVC Orientation: 5 days. The next time I post, I’ll be in Baltimore!