18 Aug 2006
As the summer winds down for most of us, I find myself sitting in the Detroit Airport, waiting to board the plane to Washington, DC that begins the journey I will experience for the next 12 mouths. After a summer away from the computer, it’s time once again to sit down and fill you in as to what’s been going on since I last wrote you.
If you’re new to Eric’s Life Updates (I’m still looking for a good name if you have ideas), I welcome you. If you (new or returning) wish to be removed from my mailing list, let me know. Also, if I have an e-mail for you that will soon be changing or if this is your non-preferred e-mail, let me know so I can update my update lists. Also, if you have a recently new (or soon to be new) living address that I don’t have to which I might want to send actual mail, fill me in there, too.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s rock and roll.
I suppose I took you last to the end of my time in Evanston, saying goodbye to everyone there as best I could. I spent my last few days at school and then at the Chicago Synod (group of churches) Assembly before heading to my parents on a Saturday morning to prepare for camp. It was a bit of a fast paced time, getting everything around (my Dad has mentioned I didn’t leave enough time between changes this summer, but I think it’s just about what I’d like), but I had done most of my packing for camp when I moved out of my apartment three weeks prior, so it was just a 12 or so hour stay before I headed Sunday morning to Camp Mowana (we won’t get into the debate about how many years I’ve actually worked there, but since 2002, I’ve spent at least 2 weeks there each summer).
I arrived just in time for worship greeting many familiar faces and plenty of new ones. A majority of staff this summer had worked at Mowana some previous summer, so I felt pretty comfortable arriving a week late to training. I was fortunate enough, though, to actually be able to attend one of the two weeks of training this year — my first chance to do so since 2003. It was a good time to meet the new staff and reconnect with those I knew without campers present, as well as providing a transition into once again becoming a camp counselor after spending 10 months as a high school teacher. I could run you through our week in more detail, but I’ll try to keep things somewhat briefer than they have been in the past (though definitely no promises in that department).
That first weekend was a good break in preparation of campers — so much so that I can’t really remember doing anything of substance. My first week I was assigned to co-counsel a cabin of one boy Creative Arts camper. However, when he arrived Sunday, he decided to join the Soccer campers, leaving me without any camper(s) to call my own. However, after some adjustments, I was given the opportunity to support both the Soccer and Creative Arts camp programs, assigned to some specific times and activities but mainly able to make my own schedule of camper interaction. Most days consisted of playing Soccer in the morning and then working with the Creative Arts camp in the afternoon (or vice versa), with my evenings helping out in chapel and attending someone’s evening program. I really enjoyed being able to meet and interact with nearly all the campers on camp that week, though I was glad when I was told I’d be getting a cabin of my own for week 2.
I’d be doing everyone a disservice, though, if I left out the events of Thursday afternoon of that first week. After an awesomely exciting hour-plus of playing in a staff vs. campers soccer match (I believe it ended in a tie), I was all ready to teach some creative arts campers how to play the guitar and take a quick jump in the pool to cleanse myself of all the sweat I had accumulated on the soccer field. As I arrived near the pool and main area of camp, people were heading to Oswego (the main lodge) with crafty materials in anticipation of a storm on its way. Because of all the trees at camp, we often will head to the more sturdy buildings made of stone when storms or high winds are a threat, so it wasn’t necessarily a big deal that we were going there. I sat with my guitarists outside on the porch, playing some tunes until the wind kicked up and we headed inside.
This wasn’t one of those “normal” times of heading inside and things soon returning to normal when the storm ceased. I could see from the trees’ movements that the wind was quite ferocious. There was some rain, too, but it was the wind that made the impact. There were limbs down around the Oswego lawn, but the other parts of camp took the hit. Hundreds of trees were knocked over or snapped in half all around camp — trees fell across the front and back entrances, enclosing camp for at least 20 minutes until they could be removed — trees around the chapel fell, including one that took out others on the way down, opening up a “sky roof” in the chapel — trees took our guard rails and blocked or destroyed parts of the trail that led to our large attraction of Fleming Falls. In it all, however, no building or structure was damaged (though a large limb fell on a camp van) and everyone remained safe. Electricity loss caused us to have a candlelit dinner before our actual candlelight service later in the evening. The damage was so great that it was decided every camper would use a cell phone to call home to assure families that everyone was safe, and one of the maintenance members assessed the damage saying, “If it were up to me, I’d say there’s no way we can have camp here next week.”
But have camp we would. Though we had to go most of the weekend without flushing toilets (our water system relies on electricity, which didn’t fully return until Saturday evening), camp started up with nary a hitch on Sunday afternoon. I spent much of Friday helping to clean up camp, and many people took all or a portion of their time off Saturday to cut wood and limbs and help clean up areas needed for the coming week. When campers and pastors arrived Sunday afternoon, the camp was once again operational. There was still (then, and even now) a lot to be done, but we carried on in the face of it all, thanking God that we had remained safe and were able to minister to another group of campers.
That’s plenty for my first installment (actually about the length of 2 in one, only because it will have to last a little while). I’ll send out part 2 as soon as I can — I’m now back from DC, getting ready for Milwaukee (more details on all that later) — and my computer access will be “limited” from here on out, so we’ll see how long it takes before this update cycle completes itself. Until them, check this AMAZING dance video I was shown last Spring before I left school. I hope you enjoy it! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dMH0bHeiRNg
God’s love and mine — Eric
22 Aug 2006
Week 2 was a fun time for me. Each year, a group of pastors/churches bring their kids to camp who are preparing for confirmation (full membership in the church). This was the fifth summer I was able to be a counselor for this particular week — I know, in some way, most of the pastors there and the good number of campers who came for the program last year.
This (now that I think about it) was also the week I started running. I didn’t have my running shoes at the time, but I went on a few runs with some other staffers, deciding it would be a good way to stay in shape over the course of the summer and have some social time with others. I have been thinking about training for some marathon ever since I went to see the Chicago Marathon last fall, but I hadn’t actually started running on a regular basis, so this summer provided me with a good chance to get back in the habit (a habit I really haven’t had since high school). I soon picked up my running shoes, and as the summer progressed, I found myself running 20-25 minutes every day. Most days I’d find someone to run with, but being alone didn’t stop me from lacing up and heading out. I hope to continue the habit with one or more of my housemates and see if I can even do it through whatever kind of Winter Milwaukee will throw at me.
That weekend was just before the week of July 4th, and because the camp was being “rented” by a church to run their own camp the second half of the following week, many staff headed home for week off. I, too, headed home to spend a little time with my family and prepare as much as I could for Milwaukee (seeing as I would have only about 36 hours – a large portion of that being for sleep – after camp ended). I got to run, bike, and roller blade in addition to finish the 6th Harry Potter and have an ice cream shake of a flavor I have since forgotten. I, however, returned to camp on the 4th in order to be a support staffer for the days of “Key Camp” that followed.
Key Camp was a lot of fun, too, and much different than anything I’ve experienced while working at Mowana. I was there to help lead some songs and creek walks and to take campers on the “challenge course” (a team building low ropes course). The staff in attendance that week all stayed in the same building, which was a lot of fun, and because of the schedule, it allowed me to have some time alone to do some writing on the used laptop I inherited from one of my co-workers last year. I was the one to go to bed at a somewhat early hour, filling out my “Dad” role on staff, though I did watch a few movies along the way.
That takes us to the end of week 3 and a good place to stop. In the hopes of keeping things interesting, I’ll try to add a bonus offering for you to look into past my writing, as I did with the dance video. For this one, I thought I’d just take you to the LVC website so you can read/see a little more about the program I just began. http://www.lutheranvolunteercorps.org/
Until next time, don’t be a loser kabob (a great phrase I picked up during week 7 – see future updates)! — Eric
24 Aug 2006
Weeks 4 and 5 somewhat ran together for me, because I worked with the same staff doing much of the same things, though with different campers and a few alterations. Both weeks were bike camps, with week 4 spent on bike trails with one day rafting a river and week 5 on mountain bike trails with some kayaking, too. During both weeks, I, being the responsible, mature 6-year-old that I am (being born in 1982), I got to drive one of the vans that took us to the desired locations for our specified day trips.
During week 4, we got to ride on 4 different trails, each within 90 minutes of camp (which meant about 2 1/2 hours a day of driving for me, the carless soul that I am, who hadn’t driven a car in 12 months). My bike piled up a grand total of 93 miles during those 4 days of biking – a number I am proud of but a little disappointed in, as I had hoped to hit 100. The Wednesday of that week we went rafting in the rain, a fun experience as we bumped and raced one another along the way. I had PB&J for lunch each day, but we all returned to camp every night for the Mowana experience.
Week 5 was much of the same, but “high adventure.” I was a co-counselor of the boys cabin (though during both weeks, all biking staff were really counselors to all the bikers) and continued to drive us where we roamed. Tuesday morning was greatly exciting, as we all went to a high ropes course — I’d guess about 50 feet about the ground — which culminated in my first (and still only) zip line experience. My bike wasn’t really made for mountain biking, but it survived the week. I actually enjoyed most of the paths through the woods, at least at the pace and people I went with. I was with the “light” group, but that was fine with me. I also got my first taste of kayaking on the Friday morning — it was pretty sweet. After it was all done, though, I was ready for a change from the driving and biking.
In between weeks 4 and 5, a small contingent of the staff — around 12 or 15 of us, I suppose — took an excursion Saturday morning to Sunday morning to the house of two of this year’s staff members. Their house is situated in the country, a place that reminded me greatly of the area around Holgate where I grew up. I did some running on country roads, — very nostalgic — some swimming in their pond, and cooked corn on the cob over a bonfire. We watched Camp Nowhere, a great film I didn’t remember seeing until I saw it again that night, and it was a lot of fun to be taken back a few years in the memories of days gone by. And I can’t forget to mention the intense game of… I don’t even know what to call it, but you flipped over two cards, one with a category (we used scrap paper and created our own) and the other with a letter, and the first to blurt out an acceptable answer won that card. It was a great break for me from camp, and another great experience to share with staff in a setting outside camp yet one that was still very camplike.
We’ll end this update there. (I actually finished writing this while still in Detroit before DC and my plane was about to board). For LVC, they had us read these really awesome articles, and I wanted to share some with you. It talks about food and where it comes from. I hope you enjoy these and others along the way.
Keep having fun and enjoying yourself until you hear from me again. — Eric
Check Please!Our long-distance food system provides choice – but at what cost?
by Cathleen Hockman-Wert Sojourners Magazine, May 2006
Shopping for Justice
My journey with Super Giant.
by Bethany Spicher Schonberg http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=magazine.article&issue=soj0605&article=060521
26 Aug 2006
Family weekend followed Week 5, but since I had so recently been home and only one of my family members could make it anyway, we decided I’d be an “orphan.” I was definitely not the only one without family, and it actually worked out really well. I got to hang out with some other families and the other orphans during the day until families took off around dinnertime Saturday. I even was treated to dinner by another family — it was very nice. I think that was also the evening where a large contingent took a trip to the drive-in while I and three others decided to stay back and head to Steak and Shake for some fries and (what else?) shakes.
By the time Week 6 rolled around, I was itching a little bit to have a break from the resident camp setting (and instead spend my time on Outreach/Day Camp/Bible School). Instead, though, I was assigned 8 4th and 5th grade boys for sports camp. Three of them, having just played in a baseball tournament, arrived about 10 p.m. Sunday night, just after we had done devotions and started sleeping. The week was a lot of fun, but I also think I went into it with a bit of the wrong attitude in some ways. That was also the week of Sr. High campers, and a few things seemed overly-catering to them over the sports campers, which irked me a bit. Having the wrong attitude put me in the wrong mindset a few times, and I ended up losing my patience and snapping at a few people Thursday night while making dinner (luckily, I suppose, not campers but other staff), but I was able to get out some of the tension/aggression while cooking our dinners over the fire and having a short chat with another staffer afterward.
That weekend, 12 of us took off early Saturday morning (though not as early as planned) for Cedar Point, America’s Roller Coast, in Sandusky, OH, located about an hour and a half from camp. I hadn’t been there in at least 6 years, so it was a lot of fun for me to get to ride some rides I that had been built since 2000, ride some of my favorites, and simply enjoy the park. We all (almost all) packed lunches in a cooler and had dinner after leaving the park in a successful attempt to save money. We got the group rate (after recruiting 4 lucky non-Mowanans to join our group), too, which saved each of us a ripe $10. After lunch, in addition to rides and coasters, the group I was with spent a little of our time on the shore of Lake Erie and with our feet dangling in one of the fountains. I’m really glad I made the trek.
Week 7 I was finally (at least the way I saw it then) granted my week of Outreach/Day Camp. I was very excited when I learned that I would be returning to West Chester, OH where I had enjoyed an amazing experience last year. This year provided another awesome. It was great working with the staff I was placed with, and I had a great group of rising 4th graders (all girls except for Thursday) who were very involved and inquisitive (one day we talked about the Trinity and religious denominations) and were very fun. The Day Camp staff was treated to an excursion to a Cincinnati Reds/LA Dodgers game to see Greg Maddux (in his first start since being traded from the Cubs) pitch 6 innings of no hit baseball (very good, if you’re unaware of how BB works) before a 53 min rain delay that forced him to an early exit. I, along with Martin, also had the experience of teaching the campers a little bit about Karate and Martial Arts (feel free to ask for more details if you’re interested — needless to say, though, it was lots of good fun). The week was a lot of fun — a good break from some of the challenges of resident camp, coming maybe a little later than what would have been optimal but still much enjoyed nonetheless.
I’ll leave you hanging a little more before I share the closing out of my summer at camp. Enjoy your weekend (no outside article/site this time).
Shalom – Eric
28 Aug 2006
Between Weeks 7 and 8 (since, like me, most people wouldn’t be around for Week 9), camp staff celebrated our summer together at the annual staff banquet. We all dressed up a little more snazzy than usual and snapped lots of photos of one another before driving to Loudenville, 30 or so minutes away. We arrived about 30 minutes before our 5 o’clock dinner time and were able to do some sidewalk shopping and sitting before the event itself. It was a pretty nice place, and the food was excellent. The place had some very nice carpeting, and the three others at my table and I all threw (well, not literally) off our shoes and went barefoot throughout the meal. This year, instead of individual gifts for each staff member, everyone received “Mowana in a Container” (some say box, but being made of plastic, I just can’t bring myself to call it such), a plastic pencil box with many items to help us remember camp as we go forth our years — string, gimp, matches, a candle, lint, and many more other great memories. After dinner we headed back to camp where I and some others enjoyed a night swim before heading to bed to prepare for Week 8.
Week 8 was a bit — how shall we say it — insane. We had both Sports and Creative Arts weeks scheduled (and Primaries, though they did their own thing),but the camp programming wasn’t split between counselors and staff in the normal way. Though the 6 guys in my cabin all did sports, I, along with all the other counselors, did programming for both the creative and the sporty among them. I helped campers create their own musical instruments as well as invent games using the Yellowball campaign (which they apparently advertise about during children’s programming). It gave me a little more time off, which was good as I prepared for my orientation sessions and transition to LVC. I got to spend time working with nearly all the campers and all the staff at Mowana during the week, which was a really great way to end the summer. It was a little bit zoo-ey, I’m not gunna lie, with both advantages and disadvantages of a “normal” week, but it was also very fun, and I’d be excited if given the chance for a similar schedule in the future (if I ever do return). Maybe it will become the norm for all future camps!
After campers left of Friday, we all did some cleaning and packing before, for one more night, we celebrated the summer with one another. We first shared in a steak dinner, donated by one of the pastor volunteers from earlier in the summer. (I had not steak, of course, but portabello mushrooms — the vegetarians had joked about doing some boxing and using our frozen steaks to deal with the swelling, but this never materialized). We ate in our “family groups,” a group of five staffers that had been created for support and the sharing experiences with one another each week. I had a really awesome family experience and will continue to use the term “family” when speaking of my newfound Milwaukee community. After dinner, we had a closing worship, cooked some deserts over the campfire, some had another night swim, and said goodbyes as much as we could before heading off to bed. In the morning, I shared one last run with a few other counselors before saying goodbye to those staffers I could find before my Dad picked me up for the ride back to my parents’ house.
I was at their place long enough to go to worship Saturday night, share dinner with them, and spend a little family QT before heading to bed and waking up to drive to the Detroit airport and my flight to DC for my LVC orientation. Since that all started on 13 August, you’re obviously a little behind the times, but I’m going to wait to start sharing about that adventure until my next e-mail.
After discussion of my top movies this weekend, I thought I’d give you a few movie recommendations this time around:
George Washington (2000) – a group of kids in a poor small town must deal with a murder
Magnolia (1999) – a cast of interconnected characters deal with the realities of life and loss and the essence of what it means to be human
The Battle of Algiers (1966) – a dramatic, documentary-style look at the revolution in Algeria
Until next time, be sure to floss daily. – Eric
30 Aug 2006
So, LVC… It’s hard to believe, as I write this in the DC airport, waiting to return to NW Ohio and soon drive on to Milwaukee (though as I send it, of course, I’m now in Milwaukee), how much I have experienced in the past week. Before I share some of the nitty gritty and details of orientation, I just want to share how very powerful and awesome my week was in preparation for my year of service ahead. When I arrived at 4 p.m. and checked in, an hour or so before dinner was scheduled to start, I felt a little overwhelmed (as, apparently, many others did, too) with this room full of people I didn’t know and the trepidation of what was to come, so I decided to take myself on a little walk. For about 45 minutes, I walked around and finally sat down on the front steps of a church that would soon become my sleeping quarters for the week. I pondered what exactly I had gotten myself into — meeting all these new people, agreeing to live with two other guys and three girls I had never met before in my life, moving to a city I barely knew to work in a school for urban students looking for a high school diploma who, because of whatever reason, were no longer accepted at their prior Milwaukee public school. With all that on my mind, I felt extremely unprepared for and unsure about the week and year ahead. However, now that the week has passed and I’ve experienced what I did in those 100+ hours, I couldn’t be happier about my decision and excited about the journey that lies ahead.
I got to meet and talk to a few people before and during dinner, meeting, at least for a short time, everyone who would be living with me in Milwaukee — Aaron, Alli, Amanda, Erick, and Kelly — and some other seemingly awesome people who were doing the program in Chicago and elsewhere. All but one of us from Milwaukee were heading into the year without knowing anyone else in LVC, so we, along with two others in different cities, found one another, somewhat by accident, and headed out to celebrate the start of our great adventure. It was the start of many great bonding experiences that would take place in the days to come and the first time that I began to say, “Maybe this will be pretty awesome after all.”
On Monday we discussed the three tenets of LVC in detail — Social Justice, Simplicity/Sustainability, and Community. Our house had a lot of time to discuss, both on Monday and throughout the week, where we were coming from on these issues and how we saw ourselves dealing with these and various ideas that would effect us throughout the year. I was pleased, one morning, to have a chance to voice my beliefs and concerns about cell phones and have them so respectfully received and then have everyone in the house share their feelings, too, in a very accepting environment. And that’s how things worked throughout the week — we sat, sharing our feelings and ideas with one another as we sought to grow as a family and, when making decisions, reach consensus — not a democratic vote where some win and some lose, but instead a process where, through discussion and idea sharing, a decision is made that is suitable for and agreeable to all. Through this process (not without its hitches, but still working amazingly well, especially at such an early stage in our time together), we were able to decide that each of the girls would have their own room while us three guys would put our beds in one room and have another room to have our desks and other such items in.
I thought about breaking there, but, even though it will make this update a little longer, I wanted to keep the flow of the week going. Before dinner each day, we spent our time learning about and preparing for the year ahead. Tuesday was our day for Anti-Racism training, or at least a bit of a sampler of what one might receive in a full 2 1/2 day training. Though I had been exposed to most of the ideas we discussed, the idea of “internal racial superiority,” in which we (since I’m white) as white people subconsciously believe, because of our skin color, there are certain rights or privileges we are owed. After working where I did for the past two years, the “multi-generation, dehumanizing process” seemed all the more real to me. Wednesday morning we met with our city groups (Milwaukee is actually grouped with Chicago) and did some nitty gritty talk among our house/family and had our first initial decision about roommates (I mentioned the eventual outcome earlier). Thursday was a fun and very worthwhile day in which we learned about safety and self-defense that we could use in our cities and neighborhoods. While I hope I’ll never have to use any of the self-defense techniques I leaned, it is good to know that I have those tools to rely on if needed. Plus, it was fun just being able to yell and do some physical activity!
Wednesday afternoon my group had free time, so I went with 7 others to the Holocaust Museum, the first time for me (since it is pretty new). It was very powerful and informative, and it got me thinking more about how the oppression of Jews in Nazi Germany can be compared, in at least some small way, to the oppression our country and government now shows to the poor and other marginalized groups. Though horribly sad and moving, it inspired me further for the work I will be doing this year and thoughts of possible advocacy or political work in the future. A large pile of shoes that had been confiscated from Jews upon arrival at concentration camps and a rail car used to transport Jews struck me most deeply. Though it didn’t seem like that long of an experience, it took us about three hours to walk through the displays, after which we headed to the new WWII Memorial along with the Vietnam Memorial, White House, and (probably my favorite memorial in DC) the Lincoln Memorial.
In the evenings, at least until a certain time, we did have some structured activities. On Monday night, our family (I’m going to use that instead of house from here on out) was taken out by an LVC staffer to get some desert and have some more bonding time with one another. Wednesday night there was a pretty darn sweet talent show, put on by other LVCers (I myself didn’t take part — maybe next time). Thursday night we had a sacked dinner followed by our commissioning service. Our sending song was “We are Marching (in the Light of God),” a song loved by all that we’ll hopefully sing on many occasions throughout the year during family nights time. The non-structured time was filled with conversations — while sipping drinks, playing cards, sitting with our legs in the fountain outside, or just loitering in the hallways. All 35 Midwest volunteers shared one big bedroom, with mattresses sprawled across the floor, reminiscent of Gone With the Wind or the Mowana slumber party @ Oswego of 2002.
It was only a week, but we did so much. When it was over, I was sad to leave all the friends I had made who would be working in other cities, but I was also so very ready to join my 5 cohorts in for the Real World LVC, Milwaukee. I’ll tell you all about the start of our journey together next time!
This update’s addition resource is simply from the book of Micah, chapter 6, verse 8, a big part of what LVC is and stands for: “God has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD required of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
God Be With You — Eric
Sept 1 2006
How can I put all my Milwaukee experiences of the past 2 weeks into a succinct e-mail update? In all truth, I know I can’t, but I’ll try to share with you a little bit of what’s gone on so far and what can be expected in the weeks to come. This one is probably a little too long, but it’s the last one of the bunch, so you can break it up as you will.
I arrived on Saturday, 19 August, and everyone had arrived by Sunday evening. We were blessed to receive two pans of lasagna for Sunday (and Monday) night’s dinner(s), and we’ve shared dinner together, all 6 of us, on weeknights since then. Our house is pretty nice – a basement, mainly for storage and laundry; a first floor with kitchen, dining room, living room, office/now bedroom, and 1/2 bath; and an upstairs with a full bathroom and 4 bedrooms. It’s built like a box, with each of the four corners being a room. We’ve spent a lot of time organizing and cleaning out all the “junk” that was left by previous residents, and we plan on finishing that work this weekend. We’ve also done a lot of rearranging and have, if you ask me, made it pretty swanky. It’s definitely becoming a home to us all. The girls each have their own room, and the 3 of us guys have our beds in one room and most of our other things in a second room across the hall. So far, I don’t really even feel like I’m sharing a room, and I think the arrangement will work out nicely as time goes by.
The neighborhood where our house is located is actually pretty nice. We’re 5 blocks east of a pretty nice suburb, but if you keep going east the same distance, you run into a very poverty stricken neighborhood. Milwaukee is historically (and it still seems to be today) a very segregated city, which, I think, leads to a variety of other issues. Some of us have been biking or going through neighborhoods on our way to work or other places and have been told that we shouldn’t be there, or that it’s not safe. As we all continue this year, we’ll be looking at and thinking about how safety plays a big part in our actions but how we also don’t want to stay away from a place because of racial or stereotype issues that we’re trying to work against.
As I said, our family has been eaing our weeknight dinners together, and we’ve been spending a lot of time bonding and getting to know one another, both as a whole and in smaller groups. We’ve had conversations that range from the deeply serious to the over-the-top sarcastic, and everywhere in between. We’ve enjoyed a potluck, a fun (though ultimately without end) game of Clue, and some movie watching, among other things. It hasn’t been without struggle, but we’ve worked through our issues thus far, and I’m confident we will be able to come together and positively discuss future problems and concerns to make the most of our time together. We’ve already had some visitors, and I once again invite you to come stay for a night, a week, or how ever much time you can share with me and us. Megabus.com is a great place to get insanely cheep tickets from Chicago to Milwaukee, and also from most places Midwest to Chicago, so if you have a Fall Break, Winter Break, Spring Break, Summer Break, or any other time when you have a few days, keep us in mind.
As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m working at Shalom High School, and although students don’t start classes until Tuesday (day after Labor Day), we’ve had a few days of orientation for the students, and I’ve been working for a little more than a week, so I can share a little more about what Shalom is like and what I’ll be doing. Shalom could be labeled as a “second chance” high school, in the sense that there is some reason that the students aren’t attending their neighborhood or another school in the Milwaukee Public School system proper. Maybe they skipped school too much, or maybe they caused some problems and the principal helped them drop out, but there is a different story for every one of the 100 students that are enrolled with us. Because it is so small (reminding me a lot of Holgate High), it has a very strong sense of community — there are 10 teachers, a secretary, and a principal who make up the staff at Shalom. The staff is diverse and has some “interesting” characters, but I’m looking forward to working with everyone here.
Students are labeled either “Seniors” or “Non-Seniors,” depending on the number of credits toward graduation that they have, and their distinction can change during the year, too. Teachers work in pairs in 5 different areas — Math, Science, Social Studies, English, and Life Skills/Humanities. Surprisingly (or maybe not) enough, I’m not in Math but rather in Life Skills. My co-teacher, Aba, will be taking the Senior periods, and I’ll be teaching the Non-Seniors during their Life Skills time (currently 3 classes with about 65 students total, but that will likely change as students earn more credits). It will be titled Life Skills, but to make sure the Non-Seniors are prepared and are proficient in the math skills one would assume they should have upon arrival into high school, I will be teaching a (somewhat Life Skills based) remedial math course for the first 12-week trimester.
Right now the plan is to deal a lot with application (word/story) problems, especially in the areas of fractions, decimals, charts and graphs, and whatever else the math teachers feel the students need some extra help with. This may sound like really basic stuff, and it may be, but the schooling these students have had has failed them in the past, and it is our job to try and overcome that and help them be successful students who are prepared to enter college when they graduate. The funny thing is that fractions were one of the things I tried to stress last year, teaching students with a much different background, so it’s interesting to think how similar adolescents and schools are, no matter the environment. After that, I will have the opportunity to develop my own curriculum that will, in some way, relate to the Life Skills theme, but I’ve been told that it can probably be anything — the teacher last year did a lot with books and reading, and the LVC girl the year before did things with art, so I am actively thinking about what I might bring to these students. Film is one thing that would excite me to teach about, but no matter what I end up doing, I’m looking forward to the opportunity to have a much more discussion-based class than I’ve experienced as a Math teacher.
And for some randomness… Shalom is about 2.7 miles from my house, and I’ve been mixing up biking and bussing to work thus far (we’ll see what happens when Winter comes). I did have a “run in” with a car while trying to cross the street at a crosswalk after buying some stamps, so I had to get my front tire fixed, but the man who ran the tire over is planning on sending me a check for the cost. I’ve been running almost every day, trying to keep up what I did during the summer, and I’ll hopefully still have time and energy for that as that year continues. I’ve been doing some reading, not that much writing. I get Internet only at school and the library, which is an adjustment, but it is also kind of good for me. My desk at school hasn’t a computer (we have a shared one in the room), so that keeps down distractions, too.
So many more little stories and conversations could be shared, but I think I’ll end my current updating process here. I’m excited to have some personal exchanges with you, receiver of my e-mail updates, and would love to do more through e-mail, real mail, phone, or in person. Look for more updates down the road, but until then, stay in touch, won’t you?
God’s love and mine — Eric
P.S. Here are more links to the rest of the articles I read this summer for LVC. I hope you find them as interesting as I did! Spread out your reading of them, and I think you’ll be quite pleased. I particularly recommend (whether or not you’re white) the one titled “White Privilege…” Enjoy!
“Peacemaking Circles” by Margo Adler
“The True Meaning of Community” by M. Scott Peck from the book The Different Drum
“Justice and the Limits of Charity” by David Hilfiker
“What happens when your hood is the last stop on the white flight express” by Taigi Smith in the book Colonize This!
“Can Love Save the World?” by Walter Wink
“Still Separate, Still Unequal” by David Hilfiker in Sojourners Mag – (Click ‘read more’ and then you can register – Sojourners has a lot of awesome stuff to read, check it out)
“The Garden of Simplicity” by Duane Elgin
“The Demand for the Common Good” by Jonathan Rowe
“Under the Influence” by Nancy Vernon Kelly
“Found on the Street” by Deborah W. Little