April 30, 2007

Week 15 - Finally!!

With the end of the semester here, I'm always wondering what I could've done differently this year. I know it's never good to second guess yourself, but as humans we cannot help but consider the "what if". Freshman English is something everyone has to take at some point during the college career, hopefully sooner rather than later. I think one of my best accomplishments was writing the longest paper thus far in my life. I never thought I could ramble coherently for seven pages, but somehow I managed.

One of my biggest concerns about this class that I had in the beginning was the work load. Not only were readings required, but so were volunteering, blogging, and much paper writing. This four credit class sounded harder than my five credit one last semester. But all things seem to work themselves out, and so too did this class. The blogging turned out to be not so bad after all.

Now that Emily and my volunteer work is almost over, the question remains as to whether I will continue to stay in contact with my organization. I'm not sure that I would continue to work with Lincoln, nevertheless I do enjoy doing volunteer work. I think in the future I would enjoy trying some of the different varieties of service work that are out there. Just from this class we had roughly a dozen or so different organizations from which we could chose. I think in order to keep myself interested in the service work, I would need to switch it up every once in a while.

Week 14 - Countdown

I can almost taste the free air. Sitting down here, writing these last few blogs makes me realize my first year here is almost at an end. Perhaps one more week worth of going to Lincoln, but I'm not sure yet, I still need to talk to Emily and see what she's up to. But although I'm really looking forward to being done with summer, and I know I shouldn't be thinking these thoughts, but I'm already dreading coming back for next year. Plus, next year I'm actually going to have to get a job and stop freeloading off my parents.

Since Emily and I have only been down to Lincoln a few times in the past month, I've run out of things to write about for the volunteering. Instead, I'll write a few reflective thoughts about the year in this, and my last post. It's hard to point to exact facts and figures that I've learned this year, although they must exist. I think achieving a higher level of thinking or analysis is more desirable than merely memorizing a few facts for a test. Last semester I took a pre-law class entitled Literature of Public Life. In it I learned plenty of lawyer lingo, which I hope to use someday, but more importantly I feel I understand diverse perspectives more fully.

One of the other classes I really don't mind going to is German. It's been quite interesting for me to sort of watch my language ability progress over time. Not only this year, but the four years I took it in high school, progress is slow but sure. I think once you pass a certain point in learning any language it begins to come more quickly. I've noticed my ability to understand spoken German has gotten much better. While I don't sit and spend countless nights memorizing vocabulary like I should, I know a few more phrases than I did even a few months ago. Well, laundry is done. Back for the last post in a flash.

Week 13 - Nice Weather

The nice weather is certainly more appreciated after the cold snap we had a few weeks ago. Snow in April is a little too much for me to handle. Although my grandma told me that she can remember snow in every month of the year -- not all in the same year of course. I love how during the hottest parts of the summer I sit back and wish it could just snow again, if only for ten minutes. And then in the middle of January, I sit back and say I'll give anything for a day or two above freezing. It's funny how we appreciate certain things at certain times depending only on the timing of the situation.

Anyway, enough sidetracking. The panel discussions are coming up. I'm not exactly sure I'm going to have very many interesting things to talk about, so I'll be relying mainly on provocation to talk from the audience. I am interested in hearing what others have to say about their service work. It will be neat to hear if many of their experiences are similar even though our actual volunteer work was quite different. Maybe some of the others' had scary or funny things happen to them while volunteering. I'm particularly looking forward to hearing from the overnighters who stayed at the homeless shelter.

Coming up on the last weeks of classes here, it makes you realize how quickly time does fly. You get tired of hearing all these old adages repeated by everyone over forty in your life. I guess they say them all the time because they're true. Looking back on the year, I have to say it has been almost exactly as I have expected. Pretty good guess work for not really knowing what to expect in the first place. Hopefully my grades will persuade Carlson to let me in next year or the year after. I'm also starting to plan for a year in Austria -- hopefully my junior one. Bring on summer!

Week 12 - Back at Lincoln

We went to Lincoln for the first time in a little while as our schools' respective schedules had been conflicting. Tutoring this week turned out to be a nice little math review. The kids I helped were actually doing quite advanced math, which was impressive to me. I must say that thus far, I haven't been too challenged by any of the material which has been presented to me, but this time was different. I was actually struggling to remember concepts that I had so easily forgotten after I had taken the unit test.

It was quite refreshing to see that some of Lincoln's students are actually very talented when it comes to the sciences. I think the reason that I've noticed so few students with advanced work is that most of their students have not quite mastered the level of language needed to take advanced courses. It seems that so many students at Lincoln have so much English to learn that they don't have time do concentrate on anything else. So it was enjoyable seeing students who were on the advanced side of the student spectrum.

With the school year wrapping up, I'm not sure how many more times we'll be making it downtown. I finally logged some of my hours online after not doing it for practically the entire semester. I only have a few things left to do during this semester, this blogging being one of them. I'll be moving my stuff home next weekend, and then just commuting from Eau Claire for my last few tests. My last couple of posts will talk more about my paper, as well as any further trips downtown.

April 29, 2007

Week 11 - Paper 3

With semester drawing to an end, it seems that every class has some big assignment due. A few mid-terms are always a good time, along with plenty of studying as well. The first version of the third paper is turned in -- another task completed. I really didn't know what I was going to write for the third composition, but I managed to churn out a few ideas while spending a nice warm day by the river. I decided to let my thoughts flow about community engagement, public ethics, and my service work.

During peer review, most of the comments I got were about the voice I used in my paper. Whenever I write a paper for an assignment which doesn't have very specific requirements, I try to make my points and arguments with sarcasm. I used sarcasm in my paper to illustrate the concerns and doubts I had about my work before it began, and new issues that developed as we continued volunteering. Some of my concerns were about the effectiveness of tutors and whether we were really making a difference with these kids.

In the end, one person can only do so much. The fact that these kids actually do seek out help from tutors should be proof positive that tutoring does make a difference. I think feelings of being ineffective are natural when faced with an environment which is quite chaotic. The only thing we can do is continue on helping, similar to pouring a cup of water on a beached wale. Anyway, I'll write about last weeks trip to Lincoln in my next post, which will be made after I watch another episode of Prison Break.

April 15, 2007

Week 10 - Still no Lincoln

With special scheduling due to spring-time exams, Emily and I have not been able to tutor at Lincoln for the past couple of weeks. The break is nice, hopefully leaving us both recharged and energized going into these last remaining weeks of second semester. Chris called each of us to thanks us for the work we've done so far, and to make sure everything was going well for us at Lincoln.

With the research paper finally behind me, it's nice knowing that we'll have only one more writing assignment this semester. Now the only other thing I have to do is catch up on these blogs. I apologize that they haven't been all too interesting as of late, but I've had little to discuss in these past few weeks. And since we didn't have to go downtown last Thursday, I decided to use my 'mental health day' and spent that time catching up on some much-needed sleep.

The semester is winding down now, I only have one more mid-term in both my science and economics classes. And I'm doing relatively well in both of them too. Right now I'm looking for a summer job, and am currently deciding whether or not I will work in the Twin Cities or in my home town of Eau Claire this summer. The house I'm considering renting with a couple buddies has a lease which starts August 1st, but the landlord said that we can live there during July completely rent free. So at this point I'm tempted just to go home and bum around for a month and a half, then move to the cities in July and get a full-time job for the remaining part of the summer.

April 2, 2007

Week 9 - Research Paper Blues

This is the first week after spring break. Wow it was way too short and I had way too much fun. But anyway, time to get back to the serious business of school. Yea right. Emily and I had lunch at Hooters downtown this Thursday, but did not tutor. Chris called me last week and said that their schedule would be different because of testing for week 10, and that the school has spring break during week 11. These weeks come from my blog titles so there isn't any confusion.

Coming back to school meant a trip to the library for me to find material for my research paper. My orignial topic dealt with Somali immigrants, but I wasn't able to find very much valuable information about them, save census numbers (or boring statistics). All of my searches kept coming back to juvenile crime so I decided to take on a subject that I had been interested in for quite some time.

Zero tolerance policies have always been interesting to me, and they seem to only become more popular. I decided to right my paper about whether or not they work, or do their ends justify their means? I also took the paper one step further and examine zero tolerance in the adult justice system. For this part, I chose to focus on California's three strikes law, a perfect example of getting tough on adults. I found that these zero tolerance policies do not work effectively, and moreover, the ones sufferering the most from them end up being minorities. More on the research paper next time.

March 4, 2007

Week 8 - Carlson App. / Research Paper Looms

Nothing is greater than knowing you have some big assignement that needs working on, and then procrastinating until crunch time and staying up half the night just to finish it. Hopefully that won't be the case with this research paper. I'm trying to chose a topic that I will be relatively interested in, which will aid in increasing my level of motivation to work. I haven't come much farther in determining a topic since my meeting with Zach (oh, and by the way, how is his/your name actually spelled), but my topic of recidivism among Somali immigrants in the Twin Cities area was met somewhat coldly in our new discussion groups last week.

I'm not sure if racism was the popular thought when I menitoned 'crime' and 'minority' in the same sentence or not, but it seemed like this was the average sentiment of my group members. Personally, I don't let other peoples thought/comments ever bother me, unless the source is someone I truly care about. So, I vow to carry on with my topic regardless of opposing voices.

In other news, I turned in my application for the Carlson School of Managment the other day. The application really wasn't too complicated, but the toughest part was the very open-ended personal essay that accounts for one third of the total consideration each applicant receieves. I found out that you have a better chance of being admitted before one's junior year. I felt it didn't really make a difference, and since I would be applying again next year anyway, I may as well put my name in the bucket this year as well.

I decided to write this post before our trip to Lincoln this week, as I'm not blogging over spring break, and I'm not sure my memory of an afternoon of tutoring will last through 10 days off. So any of you hoping to hear about the latest and greatest from Lincoln will have to wait until after break.

Week 7 - Snowed Out

Emily and I braved the cold and snow on Thurday to head downtown for another week at Lincoln International High School. When we arrived, however, the school had already closed on account of the worsening winter storm. So instead of sharing interesting tid-bits about tutoring with you, I'll talk a little bit about my time so far at the U.

I was never really sure what I should expect from the University of Minnesota, so I decided to expect nothing, and be surprised in either a good or bad way. One of the negative surprises I've had so far is the campus bus system. Orientation leaders and admissions councelors never mentioned that it is impossible to commute between St. Paul and Minneapolis in the mesely 15 minutes that is deemed adequate. Nor was I aware that two buses would routinely come in a row, leaving no more for the next half hour.

Another thing that caught me off guard was the language proficiency testing for students of foreign languages who have some high school experience with said language. The lower level courses are (to me) dumbed down so much that one could find it extremely difficult to begin upper level classes, had one only learned his foreign language at the U. I understand why they would simplify lower level courses: they have to push tons of kids through so they can achieve CLA's language requirement. I'm not saying the system must be changed, but the practice of pushing kids through a dumbed-down system just so they can achieve some low level of language proficiency is not one I believe such an accredited university should subscribe to.

Not to perpetuate too much negativity there have been a few pleasant surprises here at the U. Found out that Divani's takes flex dine -- made my day. While crossing the intersection of Church St. and Washington Ave. I stumbed across 13 dollars one gray November afternoon. It was still warm enough for me to bike. I couldn't wait for that light to turn green so I could get the hell out of there. I was expecting the owner to catch me picking up the cash - but no owner came in the minute or so it took the light to turn.

Well, hopefully if any of you were unlucky enough to chose this post to comment on, it was somewhat bearable for you to read. Next week, weather permitting, Emily and I will try our hands at tutoring again.

February 26, 2007

Week 6 - Peaceful this Week!

We arrived at Lincoln to find no fighting and relative calm. This week I spent most of my time helping a girl with exponents. I've found that kids who come to me with math or science typically have more advanced English skills. I suppose you have to have a good foundation in a language before you can start studying something in that language. Overall, our experiences at Lincoln are becoming quite common, and it seems to be settling into a weekly flow -- Thursday afternoons at Lincoln.

I've given a little thought to my research paper so far. Since Zach would like us to pick a topic that focuses not only on our community involvement but on our future interests as well, I am considering a topic dealing with crime in the Somali population. Or possibly recidivism among minority populations. I met with Zach today (Monday 2/26) and he indicated that there is quite a bit of information regarding Somali populations in the Twin Cities area. But since the final drafts of our first compositions are due on Thursday, I won't have much time to do any kind of research paper preparation.

No class on Tuesday -- can't say I mind that -- so I plan to spend the extra time sleeping and then working on my final draft for the first composition in the afternoon. Thursday at Lincoln again this week, so I'll make my seventh entry about Emily and my upcoming trip to downtown.

February 16, 2007

Week 5 - Fight at Lincoln

We arrived this week to find our volunteer coordinator occupied by a fight. Once again he apologized for not being there, and we certainly understood that he had important matters to attend to. As opposed to last week, when I tutored kids who were mainly just beginning to learn English, this week I helped a student with algebra. He was actually quite good at math, so it was relatively easy to help him. I tried to give him as many tips and possible shortcuts as I could, while still making sure that I wasn't undermining anything his teachers already taught him.

So far, I've enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Lincoln High. Every week when we arrive we simply sit in a common area and wait for students to approach us with questions or perhaps their entire day's worth of homework. One thing I have noticed is that it seems they give the students material that is beyond their current knowledge. While it is important to push students to achieve more than they previously thought they could, it is important to have a solid foundation in the material before progressing to the next level.

I noticed this last week but had already written my blog so I'm commenting on it now. One girl in particular did not understand how to conjugate the verb 'to do' into past tense. For example: I did something yesterday versus I'm doing something today. While she was struggling with this basic concept she was expected to read entire paragraphs and make sense of things which were obviously above her level. Since I'm not a teacher I'm not qualified to question the teaching styles at Lincoln, but it did make me curious as to the level of attention the students receive.

This experience has been what I expected so far. The application process was relatively painless, and we're doing the kind of work that I expected to be doing, even before stepping inside the school. Previously, I have considered volunteer work boring, and have thought the reward would never exceed the effort required. I'm realizing that I was wrong. It's very rewarding seeing kids make connections that they never knew were possible. And the staff at Lincoln High are very grateful of their volunteer staff, and really try to make us feel appreciated. With that said, I may give more consideration to volunteer work in the future because of this experience.

February 11, 2007

Week 4 - First Tutor Time

Our first week at Lincoln High School was a little unorganized. We arrived and signed in, then went downstairs to the volunteer coordinator's office -- and no one was there. So Emily and I decided to sit down and wait. After about 15 minutes our guy finally arrived and said the first time would be a little chaotic due to testing, but he promised later weeks would go much more smoothly. After that, we simply waited for kids who needed help to apporach us.

The language ability of the students we tutored ranged from quite good to poor. A few of the students had only been learning english for a few months now, others seemed have much more experience. All of the students we helped last Thusday were from Somalia. Some only spoke 1 other language, while a couple knew up to 4 different languages (none claimed to be fluent in all). It seemed to me that most of Lincoln's students were either from Somalia or a country nearby, or were hispanic.

One of the things I realized during our first day tutoring is that is must be extremely hard to start with english as a teenager. A lot has been said about young kids being able to learn languages more easily; it must be difficult to start from square one at an older age. Some of the students who seemed in their later teens were just learning to conjugate verbs for present and past tense. Another student needed help writing a thank you note for a mock job interview. One thing I noticed was the practical nature of the exercises the students were doing. It seemed like the teachers really try to make students learn english skills that will help them out in the future.

Overall I enjoyed working with the students. I feel that this program is a good fit for me.

Week 3 - Application & CCLC Meeting

This week Emily and I met with the volunteer coordinator for Lincoln International High School. After signing in at a security desk we met with Chris in the bottom of what used to be an old bank. It was kind of interesting as the safe is now a small library. The meeting went as expected. We we're sure whether we'd be tutoring high school students or adults, but learned quickly that we would be tutoring Lincoln's high school students.

The meeting only lasted about half an hour which left us about an hour and a half to get back to the University by 3 for our 2-hour volunteering orientation meeting. We decided to satiate our hunger at Hell's Kitchen, an excellent restaurant specializing in not-so common cuisine. By the way, it's at 10th and Nicolet so make a point to stop in the next time you're downtown.

The CCLC meeting was just as I expected. I felt the topics covered were overbroad and seemingly inapplicable to my individual volunteering experience. The two issues that stuck in my mind were poverty and race demographics. Poverty would be more applicable to students going to a housing project of some sort, but as I work with high school students, I see them in that setting only and have no idea what home life for them is like.

In my opinion the race demongraphics portion was unecessary. Everyone knows we have higher minority populations in bigger cities, more specifically the inner city. That last sentence was a summary of their 20 minute presentation about race statistics and trends between St. Paul and Minneapolis. While I understand the purpose for an orientation meeting such as this, I found it lacking in any really useful information. Perhaps the 'what if?' situations, which asked you to determine how to deal with a bad situation, was the most valuable portion.

January 28, 2007

Week 2 - Picking an organization

After listening to the volunteer group presentations is class on Tuesday, I was most interested in working with the Lincoln Internation School in downtown Minneapolis. While the overnight position at the homeless shelter offered an easy application process and fewer days committed, I felt I would be doing more by helping tutor international students in english.

I hope that this opportunity has benefits for both the students and myself. I feel I can gain from the perspectives of ESL students as they come from different parts of the world and have very diverse perspectives. Perhaps I can teach them a few things about our language as well.

I think volunteering opportunities that benefit all parties involved are by far the best way of getting people involved in the community. Some might say it is selfish to expect to gain something from volunteer work. I think that as long as your compensation isn't monetary, then all other forms of compensation are golden. Perhaps one can gain new perspectives or develope an appreciation for something they have yet to consider or encounter.

Ideally, although certainly not expected or necessary, I would like to tutor german speaking students in english. I plan to minor in german, and would like to spend a semester or year in Germany or Austria. I feel this would serve to benefit both the student and myself, as I would share a great interest in their native culture and language, as they already have shown great interest in ours. It certainly goes without saying that I will gain much from working with all students, I just think it would be the perfect 'icing' on top of a great experience to tutor german speaking students.

Finally, I hope to gain more from my experiences after hearing about what other students chose to do with their volunteer hours. Sometimes we realize things only after they're spelled out to us by someone else. There could be things that other people look to get out of volunteer work that I haven't ever thought of. Perhaps some people have a technique that they use to get to know people or to build trust, and I could incorporate that into my work. Basically what I mean is that I hope better my services by observing how others succeed or fail at their work. I think we can all learn a lot from each other if we only paid more attention to one another's actions.

January 18, 2007

Day 1

What are you strengths, weaknesses, and experiences with writing?

Mainly essay writing in high school. My strength is my ability to argue and pick apart arguments. My weaknesses are spelling and keeping my opinion out of pieces that are supposed to be objective.

Why "Community Learning"?

I want to get into Carlson and they like volunteering. This is my way of forcing myself to get involved.

Describe yourself:

I'm interested in business, more specifically equities. I plan to major in something finance related, and minor in German. I have a dry/sarcastic sense of humor, and I'm a very laid back person.