Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last AmeriMonth...

One. More. Month.

I honestly can't believe how fast these past two years have flown! I'm officially in my final month of AmeriCorps! With school out and all of my students off enjoying their summer break, I'll be spending the next few weeks assisting with a summer camp through one of the other AmeriCorps sites, In The Pines. This site works with migrant workers and their families to help them learn English, find jobs, and adjust to life in South Florida. The camp that I'm assisting with is for the children of these families and helps them keep up with their reading levels, maintain sharp math skills, and gives them an opportunity to get out of the house and interact with their peers.

I'm in charge of the 8th grade class and, with one week in the books, am absolutely loving it! I have 5 campers and they're an absolute joy to work with! I share a classroom with the 7th graders and have inadvertently adopted them into my class as well. Two of the highlights of the camp that we are working towards is a spelling bee and a poetry contest. Trying to find fun and entertaining ways to introduce spelling words to Junior High students is a bit of a challenge, but thanks to Pinterest and the wonder that is the Internet, I've put together some pretty fun ways to help my students learn their words prior to the competition.

Some of my summer camp students using letters to spell out words that will be a part of the spelling bee
The "I Am" poem example that I created for my students to use as a sample
So outside of the academic aspect of this camp, the rest of our time is spent doing normal day camp activities: swimming, bowling, golfing, going to the movies, learning some karate, etc. It definitely brings back my days as a camp counselor with Camp Adventure. It makes me miss traveling during the summers to various military bases and working with those kids. However, I know that in a very short two months, I'll be off on another life changing adventure.

Karate time!
Bowling fun!
Speaking of life changing adventures....

The last month of AmeriCorps also means the start of the goodbyes and tears for those that I've grown to know and love during my time down here in Florida. These festivities started last weekend with Jen, a member from last year who is currently teaching here in Boynton, but will be spending her summer in New York. Phetsada, Jen, and I went out for some dinner and drinks last Saturday and had a great time reliving our crazy AmeriYear and sharing what life could possibly hold for us in the future! Have a great summer in NY Jen!

Myself, Jen, and Phetsada at Bar Louie for St. Patrick's Day 2013 
Alter Ego Party!! 
Hockey Game @ BB&T Center
N2 Wine Bar aka "Heaven"
Yesterday marked the last day in South Florida for another one of the people that I met last year in AmeriCorps, Tavia. She is embarking on a 15 day cross-country road trip back to Oregon before heading to Colorado State to start grad school in August. I'm super pumped for her and am excited to see where life will take her in the upcoming years. She had a going away pool party yesterday and it was great to just hang out with her.
Phetsada's Beach Birthday Party!
Color Run 2012! (Before the race)
That infamous camping trip!
St. Patrick's Day 2013
Neon Vibe Run in Ft. Lauderdale
One last day at the pool!

Monday, June 9, 2014

ConGRADulations Class of 2014!

Graduation. The light at the end of the tunnel after 13 years of hard work, sleepless nights, and endless piles of homework and projects. This celebration of one piece of the puzzle known as life is carried out in a variety of ways. Normally, there's a ceremony, speakers, diplomas, and flying caps. All of these symbolize the end of one era (high school, undergraduate, Master's, Doctorate) and the beginning of another. For 22 of the students that attend EdVenture Charter School, this all came true last Friday.

Friday, June 6th marked the official end of the school year at EVCS. As the pending graduates filed into the Event Room at the Intracoastal Park, nervous tension filled the air. Family, friends, and teachers lined the walls and filled the seats waiting for this monumental day. In order to graduate from EVCS with an Option 2 diploma, students need to complete at least 630 hours of on the job experience at a local business. They have to complete all of the required paperwork, time sheets, and testing before donning that cap and gown.

The ceremony was short and sweet. I kicked it off with a few opening remarks, congratulating the graduates on their ability to overcome adversity and do what many people thought they couldn't. Then the keynote speaker challenged the students to continue being successful by remembering that they are smart and deserve the absolute best out of life. Each graduate was then presented with their diplomas/certificate of completion, which was a joyous moment for all.

The last part of the ceremony was definitely the most emotional. Each graduate was given a rose which they were able to give to anyone in the room that had supported them through their life/last few years of schooling. Many of these roses went to family members and teachers. One of my students that I had gave it to his two-year-old daughter. When he was at school, he had asked me to help him learn how to read so that he could read his daughter bedtime stories - I almost lost it when he handed her his rose.

After the ceremony, food was devoured, pictures were snapped, and the graduates went on their way. This year at EVCS has been a life changing one for sure. I've had the opportunity to work with some amazing students and staff that truly do love what they do (...most days). I can't wait to take all that I have learned from this year with me to Colombia and be able to apply it with my new students that I'll have for the next two years.

Celebrating the big day with some of my favorite students! Congrats guys!

Leah, myself, and Kevin (EVCS AmeriCorps members)
Celebrating the last day of school at the park!
Wishing Jacque and Marcus the best of luck next year!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Waves and Braves

When I moved down to Florida almost two years ago, I had a small bucket list of things that I wanted to accomplish before I left the state. That list included the following:

- Visit Miami (check)
- See a wild alligator (check)
- Attend at least one major sporting event (check, check, and check - only missed out on the Heat)
- Work on my tan and maintain a constant bronzeness (check)
- Learn how to surf

As of last weekend, that last item was still unchecked. It's not hard to find places that offer free surf lessons. Normally, these lessons happen at the break of dawn on a Saturday morning and finding the motivation to get up and make it in time to partake in the lessons has been a challenge. However, I was finally able to check this off my Florida bucket list, thanks to a little motivation and determination.

One of the other members, Monica, has been persistent in tyring to organize a large trip for our members to take advantage of free surf lessons. There's a surf shop down in Deerfield Beach (about 30 minutes south of Boynton) that offers free lessons every Saturday morning from 7-9 am. After trying to organize two prior trips and having each one cancelled due to poor weather and/or rough water conditions, we were finally given the go ahead. 9 of us made our way south along A1A to embark on this new adventure for many of us.

When we got to the surf shop, we were split up into groups of three, given our boards, and headed to the beach. I was paired up with Leah and Jordan and after successfully passing "ground school" (practicing how to properly paddle and "pop" up on the board before hitting the water), we were released into the ocean to see what we could do. We probably spent about an hour in the water and I was able to stand up for a whole 3 seconds consecutively before face planting into the water! But hey - I STOOD UP!! I was pretty stoked! Leah was able to cruise all the way into the beach on her last attempt, which definitely put both Jordan and I to shame. But needless to say, this will not be my last attempt at this popular past time! I have plans to head back to the shop at the end of the month and go for 4 seconds!

Surfing wasn't the only thing on the docket for Saturday. After finishing up playing in the ocean, rinsing off the sand, and spitting out the gallons of salt water that I ingested, I headed back to Boynton and rested up for a bit in preparation for activity number two of the day - baseball down in Miami! The Atlanta Braves were in town taking on the Miami Marlins. Phetsada is a huge Braves fan and of course as soon as she found out that they were making the trip south, she started bugging me about going. Not one to turn down a sporting event, I of course said yes!

Nick and Ty ended up joining us for this excursion. We headed down to Miami around 1:30 for the 4:00 game. Once we got to the stadium and parked, we partook in some tail gating festivities in the parking garage (definitely not the most ideal setting, but it's what we had to work with so we made the best of it). We headed to the stadium, purchased the cheapest seats available, and then proceeded to ignore the seating instructions on the tickets and sat along the first baseline, about 15 rows from the field.

The game itself was pretty entertaining. I like to think of myself as a baseball good luck charm. Whenever I attend a baseball game, whatever team I'm cheering for has always won. This goes back to when I was a kid and we used to take family vacations to various ballparks around the country. The trend continued. Decked out in Braves gear, Atlanta came out on top 9-5. During the course of the game, we made friends with a family from Montana that lives in Key Large that was sitting in front of us.

This definitely made up for the result of the game that Phetsada, Skeeter, and I attended last year in which the Braves lost to the Marlins (obviously I was cheering for the Marlins) and made Phetsada a much happier camper at the end of the game. Following the game, we headed to Versailles, a Cuban restaurant near the stadium and enjoyed some delicious Cuban cuisine. It was a great way to end a busy, hectic, yet tremendous day!

Phetsada and I excited for the game!

The crew! (Myself, Phetsada, Ty, and Nick)

Customary, required picture for when we hang out

As if surfing and baseball wasn't enough for one weekend, on Sunday, Cathy, Cassie, and I headed up to Lake Worth to lend a hand to Anne, the AmeriCorps supervisor at the Boynton Beach City Library, where both Cassie and Cathy currently serve. She needed some help with her gardens around her house and we were more than willing to assist her with what she needed! Over the course of three hours, we laid down mulch, replaced her garden hose, trimmed her plants, and cleaned out the flower beds of leaves and annoying little twig like things. By the end, we had filled over 20 30-gallon garbage bags and had worked up quite a sweat! Anne is by far one of the nicest and most amazing people that I've met down here in Florida, so helping her out with this little project was the least that any of could do!
The end result of our labor!

Three tired, sweaty little helpers...

Memory Making Memorial Day Weekend!

Long weekends are always a blessing in disguise when you work in a school. Even if it's just one extra day, the break from the hecticness of the students and school life is much needed. It gets even better when you are able to take advantage of this extra freedom! That's exactly what happened over Memorial Day...

One of the hidden perks of being an AmeriCorps member is being privy to some pretty sweet discounts. We had a panel of AmeriAlum come and speak at one of our past Friday meetings and one of the alum works with a children's art museum down in Davie (about 45 minutes south of Boynton). The museum that she works with was having an event that included open bar, food vendors, and a chance to see the museum in a different light. She was able to get us in to the event for free, so of course had to take advantage of that!

Close to 20 of our members ended up going down for this event and we had a great time! The food was magnificent, the drinks hit the spot, and the art was really cool! The definite highlight of the night was the recycled jungle. This exhibit was pretty much what it sounds like: an entire jungle scene created out of recyclable materials. Trees were made out of plastic rakes. Animals were crafted out of rubber and wood. Lakes shimmered as light bounced off the back of CD's. It was super impressive!

Cathy, myself, Andrea, and Monica enjoying the night!

Definitely have missed hanging out with this one!
Another big event of the extended weekend was throwing a baby shower for my roommate, Cathy. With her due date slowly creeping closer and closer, a Dr. Seuss themed baby shower was planned by Andrea, myself, and Chris (the father). We managed to keep the theme of the shower a secret until the day of, which is quite a feat considered that over 40 people knew about it! Cathy was blown away by the shower itself and thoroughly enjoyed herself! I'm super sad that I won't be around for the first two years of the little nugget's life, but through the miracle of technology and Skype I know that I'll be able to keep in touch while I'm overseas!

AmeriBook staff reunited (even though we live across the hall from each other!)

Brad, myself, Cathy, Phetsada, and Audrey - AmeriFamily pic!
The weekend was capped off on Monday with a little road trip to northern Palm Beach County and the town of Jupiter. Phetsada, Tamer, Cassie, Ali, Shon, and myself ventured up north for a trip to a tiki-inspired restaurant called Guanabanas. The atmosphere of this establishment definitely makes one feel like they're in Fiji soaking in some rays. The food was delicious (pretty sure I downed my wrap in like 3 bites) and the company was even better! Lunch was followed by a much needed and earned trip to a local ice cream shop where scoops upon scoops of ice cream were enjoyed by everyone! It was the perfect way to end the extended weekend and helped re-energize us all for the last few days and weeks of our time down here in Florida!