The Intersection of Passion Street and Skills Boulevard

July 14, 2010

In the past, I’ve talked about why I went into education for my year with JVC. I found myself passionate about education and how it should be the great equalizer in our country. (Side-note: I can’t exactly remember when I realized that, while our country is based on “equal opportunity”, it doesn’t always give the same opportunities to our children, but it’s completely rocked my world since).

Anyway, this year, working as a teaching assistant at Cristo Rey, I realized that, while I was passionate about education and equal opportunity, I wasn’t suited to be a teacher. It simply isn’t my thing. (Another side-note: I am forever a bajillion times more appreciative of all teachers. It’s really hard sometimes).

I gave a lot of thought in March, April, and May about what I wanted to do when JVC ended. Should I do what I was “trained” to do and work in public relations? But what about all I had learned about and become more passionate about this year? How could I translate that into full-time (paid) work, but not teach? That, and where do my strengths lie?

Image via MyNameMattersNot

I thought about it. A lot.

But then I went back to what we talked about at Re-Orientation and finding the intersection of what we’ve experienced this year and what we’re “going to do about it”.

So, through all that, I realized that I needed to find my own intersection for my career. I had to find the intersection of Passion Street and Skills Boulevard. And, luckily, the Corporate Sponsor Representative position at Cristo Rey was right on the corner.

So, my advice to the folks out there looking for jobs or wondering what you want to do: find what you’re passionate about, figure out what you’re good at, and find where those two things intersect. It will leave you happy and your work meaningful!


Planting Seeds

June 2, 2010

I’m a pretty results-oriented guy. I like to see the benefits of what I’ve done relatively soon after working on it, and if I can’t see those results, I get a bit frustrated.

That’s why, at times this year, it’s been frustrating to be a teacher. You don’t always see results quickly. Sure, I’ve helped students get a good grade on this or that assignment, but ultimately, as a teacher, you don’t always see results today, tomorrow, next month, or even this year.

So, I find myself continually asking myself, “What real difference can I make?

Recently, I was bemoaning this to a friend of mine. She, however, was unimpressed. She said simply, “The fact that you are there is making a difference, Tom. You’re planting seeds. You probably won’t see whether those seeds grow, but they will. You are making a difference by planting, nurturing, and loving these seeds.”

She helped me realize that you don’t need to see the direct results in order to make a difference. Every little bit helps in the lives of children, and, no matter how frustrated I get, I need to realize that what I’m doing isn’t going to solve every problem, but it just might kick-start some growth into those seeds.

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Also, in cased you missed it, I’m fundraising for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and hiking the Appalachian Trail to travel to Dis-Orientation, our retreat to end our year of service. For my blog post and more information about it, CLICK HERE, or to go directly to the fundraising page, CLICK HERE. Thanks everyone! -Tom


8 Things I’ve Learned This Year

February 1, 2010

I know I’m a teacher this year, but I am constantly trying to be a student of life. So, inspired by Emily Jasper‘s post, “Lessons I’m Learning From Being an Adviser and Teacher”, I’ve decided to share some things that I’ve learned (or learned to do better) this year working at a school and being a Jesuit Volunteer.

1). PATIENCE. To work with kids, you must be patient. Not everything goes to plan and it’s so important to realize that high school students… are high school students.

2). Trust. Great relationships don’t just happen over night. They must be built and nurtured to create a sense of trust between both parties.

3). Community isn’t easy. People have different views, expectations, passions, and habits. It’s so important to be accepting of each other and to be aware of these things. Concessions, sacrifice, and awareness are integral parts to any community and it’s something I’m constantly working on!

4). Eating vegetarian (most of the time) isn’t so bad after all. Seriously, I eat healthier in better quantities and have been able to expand my food repertoire considerably this year.

5). Teaching is hard. Holding the attention of a high schooler for 50 straight minutes is no easy task and you must be ready for anything. The teacher’s I work with are so dedicated and caring. They set the tone and are great leaders and people. I’ve learned that teaching is not for me, but that it is a job that people don’t appreciate nearly enough. This being said…

6). I love the one on one and small group interactions I have with students. It’s the highlight of my day when I tutor or get to work with students individually. I’ve also been able to create a level of trust with many of my students and hope that they get as much out of our conversations as I get from them!

7). The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make will shape your life forever. – A Bronx Tale. So true. And especially true for my students.

8). Blogging is incredibly fun.



Who I Live With. Part I: Ms. Determan

November 18, 2009

As I’ve mentioned before, I live with five other Jesuit Volunteers in the Baltimore JV Community. Many of you have asked me about them, so they each agreed to a Q & A to tell more about themselves and what they do. This is part 1 of 5.

I undoubtedly spend the most time with this particular housemate. She works with me at Cristo Rey Jesuit as a fellow Teaching Assistant, we ride to and from school together, help run the after-school Extended Day program, cross paths multiple times per day, and bounce ideas off each other during school. Plus, you know, we live together. She is a passionate and driven teacher who truly cares about her students.  So without further ado, here’s a bit more about Kelly Determan… er… I mean, Ms. Determan.

You’re a fellow Teaching Assistant at Cristo Rey. What does your job entail?

As a teaching assistant, I co-teach physical education for both the freshman and the sophomores, which meet once a week.  I also co-teach in the freshman academic skills lab class, which is a supplementary class for the freshman to continue to work on their math, vocab and reading skills.  Specifically, I work in the library, assisting students on their independent reading by helping them choose books and providing them with written work to go along with their book.  I also work in Extendend Day, which is the after school program that makes sure the students are safe after school and that they find their ride promptly.

How was coaching the women’s soccer team?

Coaching the girl’s soccer team was both a blessing and a curse.  The girls were amazing people and I was able to form wonderful relationships.  While it was great to get to know this specific group of girls, consistent attendance was our biggest struggle.  The school is not designed to specifically facilitate athletics and puts the most emphasis on academics and the Corporate Internship Program, so it was sometimes hard for the girls to get to practices and games.  It is also difficult to coach and teach the game of soccer when you only have 4 to 5 girls at a time at practice.  Overall, it was a really fun experience and taught me a lot about coaching and gave me great knowledge for coaching in the future.

Why JVC? And why education?

I decided to do JVC instead of graduate school because I felt that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.  Grad school is something that I can defer, while working at this specific job in this specific city might not have come around again.  I feel as though I have been given so much in my life that I am grateful for, that now is my time to give back.  JVC has also taught me a lot about myself and my beliefs, while exposing me to different elements of poverty, homelessness and race that I would have never experienced.  Education has always been my passion since I was younger, and adolescents are such an amazing group to work with.  They are just learning about who they are, but still need the guidance and support to get through. I can learn just as much from them, as they can learn from me. I have also always been passionate about English and literature, so I want to project my passion onto others and hopefully inspire them too.

What types of challenges do you experience at work? Where do you find the most joy?

The challenges I experience are not consistent, but more of a day to day thing.  Although I don’t find working with the students particularly challenging, some days there are isolated behavioral or attitudinal problems that can be difficult to work with, while other days the students are great. The joy I find comes from my daily interactions with the students.  As a high school student, I remember being so excited when a teacher would acknowledge me outside of class.  I never knew that I would feel the same joy in the opposing situation as the teacher.  Learning about these students and seeing their motivation keeps me going on a daily basis.

How cool is the Cristo Rey Network model?

I am extremely impressed with the Cristo Rey Network.  Although it is an extremely time consuming model, it brings so much opportunity to students who would otherwise go without.  The dedication from the staff and donors is astounding, and the individualized attention the students receive is difficult to parallel.  I also think it speaks for itself when you see how many different schools are opening throughout the country that follow the Cristo Rey method and are providing more disadvantaged students with a great college prep education.

Fun fact time!

I have read all 7 Harry Potter books at least 6 times each!

Thank you, Ms. Determan! Meet you in the teacher’s lounge for lunch!


Putting it in Perspective

November 11, 2009

This is an excerpt from a blog post by Jenn Williams of the Catholic Review on the value of Catholic Education. She featured one of the students from Cristo Rey. Check it out. It speaks for itself.

“Some question why so much effort is placed on preserving the Catholic school system in Baltimore City, where many students aren’t even Catholic.

I can think of at least one reason why.

Fifteen-year-old Arthur Williams was one of two Cristo Rey Jesuit High School sophomores chosen recently to meet Bill Cosby during a Feb. 7 Black History Month Celebration at the War Memorial Plaza. He was selected because of the leadership he demonstrates in performing community service. Arthur told me volunteering is extremely important to him and he feels if he helps people, they will in turn help someone else, and the cycle of helping others will continue. He has volunteered some 80 hours at Habitat for Humanity, Beans and Bread and Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO), among other sites.

“I figure why not help people who don’t have the resources,” said Arthur, who is a graduate of St. William of York School. “Even if I help pack a lunch for one person, it could help make a difference, and then maybe they’ll help somebody else.”

At Cristo Rey, Arthur has the opportunity to serve as an intern at Brown Advisory, where he works in information technology.

I asked Arthur if meeting Bill Cosby was one of the highlights of his life. He quickly responded “no.”

“Well then what is?” I asked, surprised by his response.

“Seeing my mother get clean,” he said. “Meeting Bill Cosby was a great opportunity and affected my life, but seeing my mother stop using was much more crucial.”

I was quiet for a minute. I realize Arthur has had certain life experiences that have forced him to grow up faster than most and take on more responsibility at an earlier age. But Arthur’s generous spirit, his ambition and his will to succeed were nurtured in part by his Catholic education. Even if you’re not Catholic, I thought, how can you not see the impact a Catholic education can have on a young life?”


Crayola Halloween, the Cupid Shuffle, a Will, and Harper’s Ferry

November 4, 2009

As usual, things have been a bit crazy here in Baltimore, both in and out of school. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

My roommate, Scott, works at the St. Frances Academy Community Center and, each year, SFACC (does that help the mouthful, Scott?) throws the SFACC Halloween Party. It’s a gigundo party geared towards kids in the city. My housemates and I, instead of heading up 95 to Newark for the JVC Halloween bash, decided to volunteer for the SFACCHP. We dressed as a box of crayons with colors that included Midnight Black, Sunshine Yellow, Purple Grape, Charlie Brown, Green Apple, Flamingo Pink, and, my own creative concoction, Blue.

When we arrived SFA, we found that Scott, Mr. Moore, and other volunteers had transformed the gym into a Halloween fun house full of candy, music, and games and the conference room into a scary haunted house. Scott gave us a quick tour and helped us set up our station, the Eyeball Run, where kids had to balance an eyeball (golf ball) on a spoon and race around a set of cones to compete for candy, pencils, and some super sweet green fake vampire teeth. As we set up, we greeted the Baltimore Bon Seccours Volunteers other JV’s from DC who had made the trip to help out for the night.

Pretty soon, pint sized monsters, superheroes, princesses, and football players began to file (read: sprint) into the gym, dragging parents and older siblings with them. In a whirlwind of a night, we gave out candy, ran the Eyeball Run, chased and danced with 5 year olds, laughed abundantly, sprinted after wayward golf-I mean- eyeballs, ate copious amounts of candy and hot dogs, and had a hip-hoppin’ Halloween good time. I even joined in for the Cupid Shuffle (it’s a brand new dance) with DeeDee, our friend from the Don Miller House. The whole night was a success (over 900 people showed!) and I may or may not have almost nearly tried to take a superman and a fairy home with us.

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On Monday night, my housemates and I bussed over to a crowded Enoch Pratt Free Library for a talk on the affect of race in the classroom with Beverly Daniel Tatum, president of Spelman College, David Hornbeck, former Philadelphia superintendent of schools, and moderator Joe Jones. It was an interesting talk. They spoke about how the No Child Left Behind Act hid how poorly some students were doing, the inequity of school funding and resources for students, the differentiation of expectations at urban schools from suburban schools, and crossing the racial barrier in an effort to have better schools.

What I liked about the talk, however, was that they didn’t just discuss what’s wrong with the education system, but also discussed what can be done to fix it. Dr. Tatum mentioned that there are excellent urban schools in the U.S. We need to model others after them. They talked about anti-racist professional training for school workers and how it had worked so well in many places. They spoke about challenging students to be excellent, no matter what their background and that schools can be excellent no matter what. They also mentioned the effectiveness of early childhood programs and how that is usually something that poor or developmentally challenged children rarely receive.

Ultimately, the message was that we need a will, collectively, to do what we know will work and that discourse and talking about it will help us to get there.

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Finally, on Tuesday, I helped chaperone a field trip for the sophomore class to Harpers Ferry, WV, site of John Brown’s failed slave rebellion. We spent the day walking around the museums and buildings, taking in the scenic beauty of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers and the Appalachian Trail, and feasting on delicious fried chicken (I consider any meal with meat a feast nowadays). It was a perfect day for it and the kids really enjoyed getting out of the city for the day. It’s nice to see the kids outside of the classroom sometimes.

So, like I said, things have been busy around these here parts, but I’m still enjoying myself. How’s everything with you?

By the way, if you haven’t yet, you should really check out my roommate Scott’s blog, my housemate Stacey’s blog, and DC JV Kristina’s blog to see some different perspectives on a year with JVC.