Category Archives: college

2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

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Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

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Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

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Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

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Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

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After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

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We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

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Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

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We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

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My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

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Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

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After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

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Shooting the M16
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Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

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They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

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They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

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One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

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After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

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Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

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After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

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Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

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Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

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There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

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After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

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We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

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I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

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After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

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They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

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We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

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Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

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Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

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We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

God’s Abundant Blessings

I am currently still in a state of shock.  I cannot believe the ways that God has blessed me as of late.

I had recently been feeling very stressed financially.  For the first time, I owed money back when I completed my taxes.  So instead of receiving at least $800 as I had expected, I actually owed $1200.

I was also overwhelmed because I have to decide whether to fix some things on my car or to purchase another used car.  Plus, Friday night was one of my payment deadlines for my mission trip to Africa.  All of these numbers and bills were piling up and I wasn’t sure if I would have to drain my savings to get by.  I felt like maybe instead of volunteering, it would be more prudent to have a summer job, since I technically could work full time in the summer (since I’m a teacher), though I would prefer not to.

I knew somewhere deep in my heart that God would provide, but at the same time, I saw dollar signs looming on the horizon and I couldn’t help feeling worried about it.

Had I made a bad decision in my choice to volunteer in Africa this summer?  Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle financially.  Should I have opted for a cheaper, week-long mission trip somewhere in South America, which would have been more affordable?

Had I been too lavish in buying mainly organic produce, and meat?  Maybe I should risk the health concerns and go back to the antibiotic-infested meat and fish and pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables.  I really didn’t want to, but somehow, my finances had become a burden.

A few weeks ago, I was receiving phone calls from Franciscan University, my alma mater.  I knew they were calling for donations, as they typically do once a year.  I love that school so much, so I donate every year, but this year the timing was less than ideal.

After a week or so of intentionally not answering the phone, I finally picked it up one night, deciding that I needed to show God that I did, in fact, have faith in Him.  I couldn’t hoard my income and expect any fruit to come from that.  So despite my anxiousness about my finances, I made a donation to Franciscan University.

On a separate occasion, I was listening to my friend on the Catholic radio station.  It was their fundraising drive and initially, I planned not to donate because I knew that I already had too much to take care of financially in my own life.

But eventually, something made me realize that I couldn’t have that attitude.  I had to give with the faith that things would work out for me in the end if I could be generous to those who needed it.

And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

By Friday evening (April 22nd), I needed a certain amount of money in my account for my mission trip to Uganda, followed by the final payment that was due by May 22nd.

All day, I left the donation page open on my computer, knowing that I would have to just put the amount (over $1500) on my credit card and hope that I would be able to raise some more money in the future.

That evening, almost immediately before I was about to put it on my credit card, I received a phone call from my mom that a family member of mine was interested in helping to make a substantial donation to my trip.

I almost burst out crying.  I am beyond humbled right now and incredibly gracious.

I feel so guilty for the amount of stress I have been experiencing lately with regard to my financial situation.  I should have maintained my faith in God, but I just kept doubting myself and my choices.

Yesterday during Mass, I couldn’t stop smiling and thanking God for His abundant blessings.

I am so glad that I made those donations to Franciscan and the Catholic radio station (in addition to my regularly scheduled donations, like the monthly $38 that goes to my sponsored child in Rwanda through Compassion International.)

When we give, we also receive.  That is so true in this very moment.

At the time that I signed up for the mission trip to Uganda, I truly felt that was my calling.  I absolutely love having a teacher’s schedule so that I can travel to volunteer each summer.  I have been blessed to experience a variety of mission trips serving in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua.  When deciding where to go this summer, the description of the Uganda trip immediately stood out to me.

We will be working in a children’s detention facility through Sixty Feet (prisons, the justice system, and justice reform is something that I care about quite a bit).  Then we will be working with Sole Hope, which holds medical clinics to remove jiggers from the feet of children (and adults) who have been infested.  It then provides them with shoes.

Everyone is on this earth with a certain calling.  One of my callings is to teach.  Another is to volunteer, specifically overseas, which is something that many people are afraid of, or simply uninterested in.

I regret how I had been second guessing my decision to join this mission trip because of finances and I am now more confident than ever that God has had a hand in forming this team and that there is a specific reason why that trip is the one that stood out to me.

I am absolutely astounded by the way everything happened this weekend.  I am beyond grateful to everyone who made a contribution to this trip.  I have received donations from close loved ones, to anonymous donors, to people who I have never met, but they know one of my friends of family members.  I am completely humbled by all of the support and I will continue to keep all of my donors in my prayers as I prepare for this mission trip.

In the end, God has our backs in every situation.  He is there for us and if we are able to accept that help and turn to Him when we are in need, we will reap great blessings.

We must give without knowing whether it’s a prudent financial decision because He will pay us back in ways we cannot even imagine.  We must maintain our generosity even when it seems most difficult to do so.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

Admitting Your White Privilege Doesn’t Make You Racist

I previously wrote a post about My White Privilege about a year ago.  This year, I used a new textbook for my AP English Language & Composition class.  We were working on the gender unit when I stumbled upon a new text that I assigned my students to read for homework last week.

It’s entitled “Just Walk on By” by Brent Staples, which is a piece in his memoir, Parallel Time: Growing up in White and Black (published in 1994).  Here is an excerpt:

“At night, I walked to the lakefront whenever the weather permitted.  I was headed home from the lake when I took my first victim.  It was late fall, and the wind was cutting.  I was wearing my navy pea jacket, the collar turned up, my hands snug in the pockets.  Dead leaves scuttled in shoals along the streets.  I turned out of Blackstone Avenue and headed west on 57th Street, and there she was, a few yards ahead of me, dressed in business clothes and carrying a briefcase.  She looked back at me once, then again, and picked up her pace.  She looked back again and started to run.  I stopped where I was and looked up at the surrounding windows.  What did this look like to people peeking out through their blinds?  I was out walking.  But what if someone had thought they’d seen something they hadn’t and called the police.  I held back the urge to run.  Instead, I walked south to The Midway, plunged into the darkness, and remained on The Midway until I reached the foot of my street.

“I’d been a fool.  I’d been walking the streets grinning good evening at people who were frightened to death of me.  I did violence to them by just being.  How had I missed this?”

In his piece, he explains how he is viewed as a criminal before he commits any crime. Being a black man is his only crime.

Staples is a well-educated man who has a PhD in psychology, yet he will continue to be viewed as a criminal based solely on the color of his skin and his gender.  It is now 2017, but being a black man still comes with many negative connotations that I will never be able to fully understand as a white woman.

My students have very diverse backgrounds.  In the one class in which I was teaching this piece last week, I only had two male students present, and one of them was a tall, black male.  He is an extremely polite young man.  He’s a good student with a great work ethic.  He plays on the football and basketball teams.  But he expressed agreement with the author’s assertions, providing instances when had been viewed as a criminal or a thug simply because he is a tall black male.  He even described some frightening instances in which police officers acted aggressively toward him or his family despite no crime having taken place.

Reading “Just Walk on By,” my heart breaks for a few reasons.

First, it is such a pity that this is still a problem in the year 2017.  Things have obviously progressed since the times of slavery and legalized segregation, but we cannot be content with the way things sit right now.  Relative to the 1950s, we’re living in a utopia for African Americans.  But that means very little.

It also frustrates me because I know that many white people deny their white privilege, which just perpetuates the problem.  It does exist and it must be addressed.  Denying white privilege does not do any good.  Accepting it does not mean that you are racist.  I know that I have white privilege.  Although I am half Brazilian, which could in some cases cause people to view me a bit differently, I appear on the outside as a typical white girl — blonde hair, blue eyes.  I am not intimidating.  I do not look like a criminal.  By accepting my white privilege, I am not saying that I am better than anyone.  Instead, I am acknowledging the fact that society puts me on a pedestal.  I am not feared.  My intelligence and education are not questioned.  I am not given second glances by the police.

And last, my heart breaks in knowing that I will never understand what it feels like to be in the position of Brent Staples or my student who related to the piece.  I cannot fathom walking down the street and seeing people cast back second glances, quickening their pace, locking their car doors, or crossing over to the other side of the road to get away from me.  I cannot imagine how it must feel to be feared simply because of being.

Staples says how it was at twenty-two years old when he “first began to know the unwieldy inheritance [he’d] come into–the ability to alter public space in ugly ways.”  He continues to say that it was “clear that I was indistinguishable from the muggers who occasionally seeped into the area from the surrounding ghetto.”

Those who deny white privilege must not understand the recent problems regarding police brutality.  It is undeniable that a black person who is stopped by a police officer must act extra kind, polite, and gentle.  And even if he does, there is still the chance of a wrongful conviction, or even death, simply because of his skin color.

Our society teaches us that the black male must be feared.  This is what we grow up being brainwashed by each day, mainly through the news and media.  Although Staples probably feels some frustration when people fear him, he understands and sympathizes for them.  He acknowledges that the “danger they perceive is not a hallucination.  Women are particularly vulnerable to street violence, and young black makes are drastically overrepresented among the perpetrators of that violence.  Yet these truths are no solace against the kind of alienation that comes of being ever the suspect, against being set apart, a fearsome entity with whom pedestrians avoid making eye contact.”

My student is only 17 years old and he is already aware of this reality.  He was born into a body which will benefit him on the court and on the football field.  His mind and intelligence will be an asset through his schooling and future career, but ultimately, because of his body, he will be feared and judged without reason.

Staples explains how he eventually “began to take precautions to make [himself] less threatening.”  He says that he is careful where he walks, especially at night.  He tries to leave enough space between other people so that he does not feel as threatening to them.

My student actually admitted to doing similar things.  He told our class how he often notices people glancing behind at him, checking his proximity.  He said that he will sometimes cross the street to walk on the other side on purpose so that the person in front of him does not feel threatened.

I will never be able to relate to that.  Why?  Because I am white.

I am able to greet people I cross paths with on the street without them feeling unnerved.  I will probably not be mistaken for a criminal simply because I walked too close to a crime scene and was assumed to be connected.

I love my job as a teacher, mainly for all of the connections  that I am able to make with my students.  But along with those connections comes emotional grief.  It pains me to know that for this young black student, it does not really matter how much I teach him, or where he goes to college; he will not be able to change the body he was born into.

Can he accomplish great things?  Absolutely.  But unless this world changes, he will have a more difficult time achieving greatness than if he had been born a white male.  I know the shameful truth that in many situations, he will be viewed as a lesser version of a white male who has the same education, grades, and work ethic.

Maybe his height, size, and even race give him an advantage with football or basketball.  Some would say that his race could get him into college more easily thanks to affirmative action. But depending on his career goals, he will have to work so much harder than his white counterpart to achieve similar end results.

Some people like to say that this isn’t really true in America in 2017.  After all, we had a black president, didn’t we?  But one black president mean does not nullify the existence of racism and privilege.

I don’t know Obama’s full life story.  But I am sure that he had to work tooth and nail to achieve the success that he did.  The same is true for his wife, Michelle.

Neither of her parents had graduated from college, and some of her high school teachers even tried to convince her not to apply to Princeton because they believed that she was setting her goals too high.  She had to earn her respect as an intelligent woman despite her race.

Growing up without much money, I had an intense drive to succeed, to get through college, and to begin my career as a teacher.  I know that I worked hard in college, but did I have it a little easier because I was white?  I believe so.  Had I been black, I would have had to work even harder to prove myself equal to those around me in my schooling and college.  The intelligent black male or female is still viewed today as the exception, not the norm.

Admitting your white privilege does not make you racist.  It doesn’t make you the bad guy.

Instead, it means that you are aware that you were born into some level of privilege simply because of your skin color.

It means that you have a responsibility to admit and remember this fact so that you can work towards changing the status quo.

It means that you must use that privilege to enlighten those around you about that fact so that we can one day find equality.

I am a white woman.  I was born into a body that does not lead to doors being shut simply because of my appearance.  The same is not true for all of the babies being born into black bodies at this very moment.  They will face bigger obstacles than me for no reason other than the color of their skin.  That is the reality of white privilege.

 

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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Posing with the snowman and my cousin
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Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
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The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

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-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

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March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

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Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

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I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

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-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

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-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

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The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

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-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
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-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

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-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

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-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

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-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

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-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

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So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

Laying Down My Life

Last night I went with four friends to Catholic Underground in New York City.  It was my first time at Catholic Underground.  There are hundreds of young adults (in addition to people of all ages who are there to worship Jesus.  It is simply amazing.

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Catholic Underground NYC

First is Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.  During adoration, there are a bunch of priests hearing confessions.  They sing the night prayer and then they turn down the lights while singing some praise and worship music.  After adoration, they have music downstairs in the basement of the church, with different performers each month.  While the music is playing, people share in fellowship, meeting new people, and finding old friends.  I was excited to run into a friend from college who is now a sister, which I hadn’t even realized.  It was so nice to see her again after so many years.

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My friend from college

So the main song they sang last night was Hillsong United’s “Touch the Sky.”  I had not heard this song until last night, but the lyrics really struck me.  Today when I woke up, I had the song stuck in my head, so I looked up the video on YouTube and I watched it on repeat a few times, tears streaming down my cheeks.  These weren’t tears of sadness but rather tears of awe in realizing all of the blessings I have received from God in the past few months.

Here is the video if you aren’t familiar with the song:

Last night, this part of the lyrics kept being repeated while we prayed at adoration:

My heart, beating

My soul, breathing

I found my life, when I laid it down

Upward, falling

Spirit, soaring

I touch the sky, when my knees hit the ground

The line in particular that resonates with me is this: “I found my life, when I laid it down.”  I always try to remember to ask for God’s will when I pray for the desires of my heart.  Sometimes it’s difficult to know whether I am following my own path or the path that God wants me to follow.  But I also believe that the things that I want the most, in the depths of my heart, must be things that God also wants for me.  Not passing wants like material items, but the things that I yearn for in the depths of my soul…I believe that God placed those yearnings there because He wants them for me as well.

It had been my desire to move to New Jersey for years, since high school or possibly even middle school.  I was so excited to finally move here last September.  I had wanted to live here for so long, and it was great in the beginning, but then when my boyfriend broke up with me in February, I was a mess.  My Lyme was acting up.  My job was stressful.  Things seemed to be falling apart.  I started wondering if my move was a big mistake.

I began doubting myself and my trust in God, wondering if maybe things weren’t working out because it had been my desire to move here and not His.  But now that months have passed, I can see how His plan was unfolding all around me while I was completely oblivious.

I didn’t move here because of my boyfriend, but he definitely made the transition a lot less frightening.  I knew him, his family, and his friends.  I knew which towns I liked, which schools I might enjoy working in.  I was relatively familiar with the area.  We were both confident that our relationship was headed toward marriage.

So February tore me apart.  I had envisioned us together forever, without a doubt in my mind.  Suddenly all of my plans for the future were discarded.  I was left alone, without a single friend in the area.

I was lonely.  I didn’t understand what God wanted from me, but I focused on Him as much as I could.  I was on my knees in adoration, crying, not understanding His plan.  It was lent, so I was at Stations of the Cross every Friday.  I was reading the Bible and devotionals.  I was coming closer to Him than I had been in a while.

Eventually, through a small Catholic young adult group, I met someone who I now consider to be one of my closest friends.  During my loneliness, I really just longed for a friend.  I dated a little bit, but I didn’t really want to jump back into another relationship after having been in 2 long-term relationships back to back, which accounted for the past five years of my life.

It required me losing everyone around me to find this new friend, and I bet that if I had still been in a relationship with my ex-boyfriend, I may have never ventured out to the young adult group.  I may have never met her because I had been spending most of my free time with him.

So my friend (her name is Gabriella) invited me to her Bible study.  Through this Bible study, I have met even more Catholic friends in the area.  Some I am closer to than others, so I was excited when Gabriella invited me to Catholic Underground last night because we would be carpooling with three other members of the Bible study who I didn’t really know too well.

The five of us drove to NYC, talking, praying, and learning about each other on the way.

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The five of us from Bible study at Catholic Underground

During adoration, I thought about myself just a year ago.  At the time, I thought that I was happy.  I was with a guy I was positive I would marry.  But that relationship wasn’t truly fulfilling the desires of my heart when I really think about it.  We went to church together, but we never prayed together or went to Catholic events together.  We didn’t really talk about God all too often.

Then I thought about my sadness back in February, without any friends in the area.  I felt like life was just ruined.  I hated the weekends.  During the work week, I was busy, but weekends would come and I had exactly zero plans.

Now I consider this weekend.  On Friday night, I went to a Tenth Avenue North concert with one of my new friends from my young adult group.  Yesterday I went to Catholic Underground with four friends from Bible study.  Myself back in February would have never believed me if I had told her to just keep waiting and praying and that everything would get better.

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My friend and I at Friday night’s Tenth Avenue North Concert

Last night I realized that although I didn’t intentionally lay down my life for Christ, as the lyrics in that song mention, it is what happened unintentionally after my breakup.  I had nothing but my faith.  I was falling to my knees in adoration (“I touch the sky when my knees hit the ground.”) and slowly I started to meet people.  My breakup was in February and I don’t think I met Gabriella until around June, so it took a little while for things to start falling into place.  I needed that time to myself to focus all of my energy on the Lord.

Today I am so incredibly grateful of the way everything has happened.  I now can’t imagine life without these new friends.  We meet every week on Thursday evenings for Bible study.  We have a young adult holy hour once a month.  This past Thursday there were 12 of us at Bible study.  12 young adults eating dinner together, reading the Bible together, providing advice and a listening ear to each other, laughing together, and simply sharing time with one another.  I feel so incredibly blessed.

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This past Thursday’s Bible study group

Last night all of this really hit me because it’s so easy, like mentioned in today’s Gospel (Luke 17:11-19), to forget to thank God for all that He has given us.  It is easy for me to turn to Him when I am brokenhearted, sick, or dealing with the loss of loved ones.  He is my go-to when I am struggling.  But I sometimes forget to look back in thanksgiving to see everything that he has bestowed upon me.

I am now confident that my move to New Jersey was by no means a mistake.  Instead, it was a leap of faith that has now enabled me to grow so much in my friendships and in my faith.  I had to lay down my former life.  I had to move away from the people I knew in Connecticut.  I had to be left single and friendless.  I had to seek God with all of my heart, and slowly but surely, joy has reentered my life, and for that I am incredibly grateful.  God is so good and His plan for our lives, if we listen to Him and pray to follow His will, is more glorious than we could ever imagine.

“I found my life, when I laid it down.”

“Joy is the Infallible Sign of God”

Yesterday, my friend messaged me about a young adult holy hour that was being held tonight.  Initially, I didn’t really want to go since it would be a 40 minute drive to get there.

Today I was feeling tired and my back was hurting.  But I knew that she was driving 2 hours to get there from her family vacation in Wildwood.  And this is the first time since college that I finally have a Catholic friend who has invited me to do something.

I posted yesterday about the loneliness that is often present in following the Lord, so I would have been a hypocrite to complain about that and then turn down an invitation to actually get out of my apartment.

Needless to say, I went to the holy hour.  It was really nice.  There were two priests offering confession.  There was a girl singing praise and worship music while playing the guitar.  There were probably around 15 young adults there.  It was a good experience.

Then I was driving home, listening to the Catholic radio station, and they were reporting back from Poland from World Youth Day.  One of the priests said, “joy is the infallible sign of the Christian.”

I have a terrible memory, so I drove the rest of the way home just repeating that line over and over so I wouldn’t forget.  I typed it into Google and found that Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest from French, once said that “joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.”

That sentence really resonates with me.  When someone is truly on fire for God, it can be seen in their entire demeanor.  The light of Christ shines through them.

I noticed that often during my years at Franciscan University and I think that is one of the reasons why I loved campus so much.  When people are in love with the Lord, their joy pours forth constantly.

This is something that seems to be so lacking in our world today.  Everyone is in a hurry, stressed out, and so easily angered when things go slightly differently than they had planned.  People are especially on edge due to all of the recent violence in the world.  But even in dark times, I can see the joy that comes from those who are in love with the Lord.

Many people think that they have found joy from their material goods, their electronics, their fancy cars. But that happiness is fleeting; it doesn’t last.  The new shoes will become scuffed, that iPhone will be replaced by the newer version, the car will eventually start breaking down.

People sometimes wonder whether or not I fear traveling overseas to volunteer, and I can always honestly answer that no, I do not experience fear.  I am confident knowing that God is there to protect me and that He has a plan for me.  And I am always hopeful that, in the event that I do end up dying on one of these mission trips, my faith will have been strong enough so that I get to spend all of eternity in Heaven.  I have joy that comes from my gratitude for God’s love and protection.

At adoration tonight, there were a bunch of young adults who I had never met, but I could tell that they seemed happy.  When I volunteer with various Christian organizations, people are so welcoming and kind.  Sometimes people ask me how I can be so positive during various obstacles in my life.  Or sometimes my students think it’s strange that I’m always smiling.  I think (and I hope) that it’s because of my relationship with God.

I want to be so joyful in the Lord that I, too, have that joy that seeps out of me into all of those I encounter.  I want people to learn about Jesus just by seeing my expressions and actions.  As St. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.”  

I work in a public school, but I hope that by witnessing my joy, some of my students will find the love of God.  I am confident that that can happen without me ever vocally saying anything about my faith.

The timing of that quote on the radio also couldn’t have been more perfect, since I had been feeling so lonely these past few days.  I know that the joy of living in Christ is stronger than any momentary happiness that I might acquire from the secular world.  I know that living a Christ-centered life is absolutely worth it in the long run.

As a human, I get frustrated, tired, and beaten down, and that’s normal.  It’s sometimes inevitable, but I must always remember that Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice in laying down His life for me and for all of us sinners.  It is that thought that gives us Christians the joy that shines out of us.  Our earthly problems and struggles pale in the comparison of the pain that Jesus endured for us.  He was rejected, scorned, persecuted.  He was nailed to a cross.  As it was stated in the Gospel of John, “there is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for his friends.” It is the joy that comes from knowing that is exactly what Jesus did for us that leads to the joy that is present in Christianity.

So yes, joy is, indeed, the infallible sign of the presence of God.

 

Don’t Settle for Mediocre in Your Life

“You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” – Jim Carrey

I was recently watching a commencement address that Jim Carrey gave at Maharishi University of Management (MUM) in Iowa.  I was compiling motivational clips to use for an end of the year activity for my students.

You can view the part of the speech I showed my students here:

The quote that I already mentioned really spoke to me.  “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.” – Jim Carrey

He was explaining how his father could have been an excellent comedian, but he never took the risk to attain that goal.  Instead, he became an accountant, which was the “safe” route for his life.

Carrey goes on to explain that despite having chosen this safe path, his father still ended up being fired.  He had still failed.  Thus, his advice to the graduates is to take chances with achieving their dreams since they can fail in the process, but they can also fail in other careers that they are less interested in.

As a teacher, I have to determine when to push students’ dreams and when to bring them back down to reality.  Usually I want to help them to achieve their goals, but some of them are simply unrealistic.  The boys who play some pickup basketball around the neighborhood and expect to be in the NBA even though they’ve never played for the high school team.  The student who wants to be a famous YouTuber despite not having any YouTube videos nor the necessary equipment to make them.  The girl who fails every class, but says that she is going to become a surgeon.

I don’t want to crush dreams, but I also don’t want my students wasting tuition money for unlikely careers.  Yet at the same time, I have students who have dreams but are afraid to actually try to attain them.

They may not all end up in their dream jobs, but if they don’t try, they may always wonder what could have been.

I was fortunate to know what I wanted to do very early on in my life.  In 8th grade I decided to become and English teacher and I stuck with it.  I have been a high school English teacher for the past six years and I can honestly say that I love my job.  I don’t ever dread waking up for work.  After long breaks, I really start to miss my students and I feel excitement about going to see them and hear about their vacations.

And ultimately, that’s what I want for my students.  I want them to be able to carve out paths for themselves that enable them to find careers that they will enjoy and prosper in.  Too many people have jobs that they hate.  Many of these people are in these situations because they took the safe route.  They settled for mediocrity and gave up on their dreams.

Most people will work for 30-40 years of their life.  I cannot imagine having a job that I despise, or even one that I am indifferent toward, for that many years.  I am so grateful that I am not in that sort of a position.

We must take chances in order to find fulfillment in life.  I had to take the leap of faith that required me to quit my job in Connecticut, moving away from all of my family and friends to follow my dreams of living by the ocean.  And now here I am, living steps away from the beach, working at a school where my classroom window overlooks the ocean.

I didn’t get here right out of college, as I had planned.  I taught in Connecticut for 5 years before making the jump.  But now I’m here, doing exactly what I want to be doing.

I hope that be telling my own story, I can help my students to realize that they are capable of achieving many of their dreams as well.  I didn’t have my life handed to me on a silver platter, but I worked to get where I am.  And I know that they can do the same, if they have the courage and willpower.  They need to take the chance to do what they love.

Will Standardized Tests Make Americans Compete in the Global Economy? I Think Not.

You’ve heard the statistics – American students are less intelligent than those in countries like China and Finland.

In America, we’ve decided that the way to combat this issue is to implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and to create a national test so that students in every state are assessed on the same material.

Although that’s already been quite a bit of a failure, we’re still pushing forward.

As a high school English teacher,  I don’t mind the CCSS.  Most of the high school standards seem reasonable.  I have heard complaints from English teachers in lower grades as well as math teachers, but for my students, the standards seem appropriate.  I do, however, have a strong dislike for the standardized tests like the SBAC and PARCC.

I worked in Connecticut last year when the SBAC was being given.  In a school with over 500 juniors who were supposed to take the test, we had fewer than 100 of them actually take it since so many had opted out.  The test was an abysmal failure.

It wasn’t just my school where the test failed.  Most towns either experienced high opt-out rates, or low scores since many students simply clicked through the test without trying.

So Connecticut is considering getting rid of SBAC completely, or shortening it.  According to a Connecticut Post article from February 26, 2016, the SBAC that was set to be given during this current school  year was trimmed down from the one that was given last year.  The language arts section was cut in half.

Many districts in Connecticut did away with the SBAC entirely, opting for the SAT to assess student achievement.  This makes complete sense.  After all, with CCSS, the country wanted a national assessment to assess students from every state.  We already have the ACT and SAT, so why not use one of those?

Instead, we had two companies create tests that were specifically aligned with Common Core.  Thus, the SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) and PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).  But this still didn’t solve the problem of creating a national test because different states opted for different assessments.

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http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2015/02/a_map_of_states_2015_testing_p.html

SBAC states include: Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and California.

PARCC states include: New Jersey, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Colorado.

Many states opted to keep their own tests or use other alternatives.  These include: New York, Virginia, Texas, Florida, and on and on.

So take a small area as an example.  If a student moves from New Jersey, to New York, to Connecticut (not a long distance to travel), he will face three different state tests.  This is exactly what we had before CCSS existed.

So Common Core definitely did not achieve its goal of creating a national test.  National standards?  Well, mostly.  Except for the states that opted out and those that continue to opt out while these tests continue to fail.  The map of states that have adopted Common Core can be viewed at that link.  While most states are using CCSS, some that are not include Texas, South Carolina, and Virginia.

But anyway, back to the reason I decided to write this blog: the chaos that was PARCC testing here in New Jersey on April 20, 2016.

Monday and Tuesday were the first PARCC testing days in our school.  We were scheduled to have 4 total PARCC days where the test would take place in lieu of classes.  One could argue that the 4 days of lost instructional time is too much, but that was the schedule, until today’s chaos ensued.

Monday and Tuesday passed with just a few glitches.  Students took the computerized test.  Hopefully most of them actually tried and put their effort into it.  We’ll know better when we see the scores next year.

Today, however, was a bit different.  When signing out my materials to bring to my room, I was told that I should keep refreshing the Pearson website since it wasn’t yet working.

All of my students got situated.  I passed out the necessary materials.  I repeatedly clicked “refresh” on my computer, but nothing was changing.  Students were starting to get antsy.  After all, they’re not allowed access to much of anything during testing.  No food, water, cell phones, internet.  They just had to sit there while I clicked “refresh.”

Today’s test called for two 110-minute English sections.  As the clock kept ticking, it was clear that it was going to be impossible to give those two sections and still release the students at 12:30pm.

Eventually, our principal came onto the intercom and cancelled testing since it was still not working at 9am (students get to school at 7:30am).

So I had the pleasure of sitting with my class of students for the next 3 hours while we waited to be dismissed.

This is what I learned about today’s testing fiasco from a NJ.com article:

-The problem was due to the Pearson website

-Pearson is attempting to fix the problem (key word: attempting)

-We are told that testing “should be up and running” by Thursday

Well that sure gives me confidence that tomorrow will play out differently than today.  (Don’t mind the sarcasm.)

This is what happens when we fully rely on technology.  As a teacher, I know how technology can fail.  Projector lightbulbs die out, internet connections cut out, power outages happen.  It’s expected.  In those situations, we think on our feet and adapt our lessons so that we don’t waste entire class periods.  This is what is expected of us.  If we are having a lesson observed by an administrator and the projector won’t work, we can’t just say, “Okay, class, just sit there and I’ll try again to teach you tomorrow.  Maybe by then the projector will be working.”  No, I’m expected to be flexible and figure out a plan B.

With PARCC, there is no plan B.  It’s a computer-based test.  If the website is down, then no student in the state of New Jersey can take the test.  The test is given to all freshmen, sophomores, and juniors.  There were hundreds of thousands of students scheduled to test today, but oops!  The website was broken.

Now don’t even get me started on the fact that students must take this test for three years of high school.  I already believe that these students are over-tested.

But if you cannot guarantee that this test will work, then you are wasting my instructional time.  Today was a complete waste.  We were supposed to resume a normal schedule on Friday, but thanks to the glitch, Friday is now another day of testing.

Students have lost 5 school days for the PARCC test, plus portions of the school day when we had 2 prior practice sections to get ready for PARCC.  Plus, we could potentially face more if the website is not fixed by tomorrow morning.

What about this situation makes anyone believe that standardized testing is going to fix American education?

AP exams start the first week of May.  So while teachers could have been preparing for those tests that can really help students for college, they were instead babysitting students today who had nothing to do.

The problem is that many of our lawmakers and politicians who make decisions about education in America have no background in education, minus their own experiences as a student.  They don’t consult teachers before making these major changes.  They let companies like Pearson monopolize the testing, but Pearson’s main goal is not to improve American education.  They are a for-profit organization that wants more states to choose their test.

If we want to improve education in America, we need to listen to the teachers who have their hands and feet inside a classroom every day.  The teachers who know that forcing a student to sit at a computer for hours on end, answering questions about slope and possessive pronouns is not the best way to assess each of them.

I’m not sure if today’s failure will prompt any changes to take place, but gosh I hope so.  Increasing standardized testing is never going to help our students to become more college and career ready young adults.

College Doesn’t Need to be a Drunken Sexcapade

I recently read this blog entitled Why I Hope College Isn’t the Best Years of my Life.

While I agree with the author’s point that she hopes that the best years of her life will take place once she has a husband, a career, and children, I disagree with the rest of the content.

She hopes that college isn’t the best years of her life because, to her, college entails:

-“getting drunk three nights a week”

-“playing pong with frat brothers”

-“meaningless partying”

-conversations about who the “cute frat guy is hooking up with and what frats are going to be open on Thursday night”

-“drinking crappy beer in frat basements”


But here is the problem.  This is unfortunately what college life is like for most students today.  However, that DOES NOT have to be the norm.

I went to Franciscan University of Steubenville, a passionately Catholic university.  None of those five bulleted items that she mentioned were a part of my college experience.

I had an absolutely amazing time during college.  Like the author, I believe that there is still more good to come in my future years, but I would definitely say that college was one of the best times of my life.

At my school, the students surrounding me truly pushed me to be a better person.  It was the norm to see the three daily masses filled, standing-room only.  It was not strange to see the chapel full during the early hours of a Saturday morning, with many students who were about to travel to the abortion clinics in Pittsburgh to pray outside of them.

Spring break was not filled with wild trips to Cancun and Miami, but with mission trips.  We sent students to Louisiana to help after Hurricane Katrina, to Ecuador on a medical mission trip (the one I went on), to Honduras, Belize, New York City, Jamaica, and on and on.

Our classes were often started with a prayer.  Our professors were approachable and knew us by name.  My custodial job was also started with a prayer.

Our athletic teams would offer to pray with the opposing teams after the end of games.

One Saturday night a month, our field house was full of students who were there for a FOP (Festival of Praise).  If you wanted to go to confession, you knew you had to get there early, or else you would be spending quite a bit of time waiting in line.

I spent time with my friends baking cookies, going out to dinner, shopping, watching movies, playing games, and being silly college-aged students, but we were sober through it all.

We had formals every semester.  Although they were usually at venues that did sell alcohol to students who were 21, very few people were ever drunk.  Everyone would get all dressed up and have a genuinely good time, without being under the influence.  At the end of the night, we would go back to our dorms with our friends.  Nobody would be having sex with a random hookup on the bottom bunk.  Nobody would be passed out in a pile of vomit next to the toilet.  Nobody would be arrested for drug possession.

I met genuine people who I am proud to call my friends.  People who helped me to grow in my faith, but were also there to be silly with.  People who I respect for making the decision to choose a school where they would better themselves rather than waste their years away in a drunken stupor.

I am proud of the person I was during college.


I understand that my college was DEFINITELY different from today’s college norm.  However, especially as a high school teacher, I am nervous about what college has become.

I know that many of my students choose colleges based on parties.  I have had students who chose the University of Arizona, Penn State, and UConn because of their ranking on the lists of top party schools in America, or because they had the best fraternities and sororities.

I know that many of my former students focus more on drinking, socializing, and hooking up than on passing their classes.  Former honors and AP students are now drinking their struggles away at college parties, skipping those pesky 8am classes since they are too hungover to think straight.

I know that many of them will still pass their classes, graduate, and move on to positive futures, but I hate how this drunken, over-sexed culture is the current norm for college in 21st century America.

College is so incredibly expensive, yet students are wasting those tens of thousands of dollars to get wasted, high, and to sleep with as many people as possible.  Instead of graduating with degrees that make them marketable for future careers, they are leaving with drug and alcohol addictions, unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and an endless list of sex partners.

“Thanks, Dad, for helping me to pay for these four (or five or six) years of blackouts and one night stands.  Your money was well spent!”


Yet at the same time, I know that I also have former students who are the first members of their family to get a college education.  Many of them are taking their time incredibly seriously, understanding that they can’t afford (literally) to waste any time or fail any classes.  They are active members of their schools, involved in volunteer outreach, study abroad programs, clubs, and athletics.  Many of them have scholarships, grants, and financial aid opportunities that require them to maintain a certain GPA.

Sure, many of them go to their occasional party, but they can do so in a responsible way and avoid waking up in some random person’s bed in a strange room that they can’t seem to remember from the previous night.

I don’t expect that every college student has to live the way that I did.  I know that my college was very unique.  But there is a major difference between attending some college parties and drinking on occasion and living the way that many college students are today.  Constant binge drinking does not have to be the only option if you’re a college student in the year 2016.

So no, college may not be the best time of your life, but please don’t believe the false notion that college always entails drunken sexcapades.  It doesn’t have to.


Be that person who goes to college with higher standards.  Be that girl who refuses to sleep around with random frat guys just because other girls are doing it.  Be that guy who will respect the women around you enough to treat them like jewels rather than just trying to get an easy one night stand.

College is what you make it.  You can make it a positive, enriching experience that will transform you into a better version of yourself.  Or you can get caught up in the parties and end up as a college dropout with nothing but an addiction and an STD to your name.

If more students went to college with higher standards, they could change the current norm.  I know that many of you females who are guilty of waking up in a random frat guy’s bed are just lonely, homesick, and you have the desire to feel loved.  You don’t realize that Mr. frat guy probably doesn’t know your name and is definitely not showing you any sort of love through his actions.  If anything, you’re just hurting yourself worse.

I know that many of you frat guys also don’t get much pleasure from comparing the number of girls you’ve slept with, but you think it’s the key to gaining friends and maintaining popularity.  You think that if you get with that cute girl in your sister sorority, everyone will like you.  Unfortunately, you don’t realize that people who want to be your friend because of your sexual experience aren’t really the people who are going to help you to become a better, stronger man.

Which of these paths will YOU take?  Will you perpetuate the current college norm?  Or will you stand up for yourself and your morals, realizing that you deserve so much more than that red solo cup full of stale, cheap beer and that one night stand that will leave you feeling empty?

 

 

Why I am so Thankful for Franciscan University

Attending Franciscan University of Steubenville in Steubenville, Ohio was a complete blessing.  It absolutely changed my life.  I appreciate every moment that I attended that amazing university for 3 1/2 years from 2006 to 2009.

I miss it incredibly.  I try to talk to people about life at Franciscan, but nobody really seems to understand how great it is unless they have been there and have experienced it for themselves.

Franciscan is a small, passionately Catholic university.  “Passionately” is the key word there.  In my search to find a Catholic university closer to home, I found many supposed options.  But upon further examination, each of these other so-called Catholic schools turned out to be Catholic in name only.

Christ the King chapel
Christ the King chapel

I won’t name any names, but I visited other “Catholic” colleges.  At one of the places, we took the whole campus tour and although we saw every detail of the athletic facility, they never even mentioned anything about a church or chapel.  My mom had to specifically ask about it and rather than taking the tour group there, they simply pointed us in the right direction since we probably seemed strange for caring so much about that part of campus, which was obviously not the focal point.

I wanted to go to a school where my faith would be nurtured, not where I would be one of the few students getting up to go to mass on Sunday morning, probably sitting alone in my pew.  Franciscan was the ideal place with that goal in mind.

Some people are surprised that I attended a school that was an 8-hour drive away from my home.  “Aren’t there Catholic schools closer?”  Not really, at least nothing that is even close to the faith-filled campus that is Franciscan.  There are other strong Catholic schools like Ave Maria in Florida and Christendom in Virginia, but both of those schools are also far from Connecticut, and they offer fewer majors.

Other people didn’t understand why I would not even consider going to a state school, or any other school that lacked religious affiliations.  Some even had condescending attitudes about Franciscan, saying things like “wouldn’t it show that you’re a stronger Catholic if you maintain your faith somewhere else that is more similar to the people you will encounter out in the real world?”

I sometimes think about that question.  I like to believe that I would still have my strong faith if I attended a school like UConn (since I was living in Connecticut, UConn probably would have been the place I went if I stayed in-state).  But when I think about it, I’m not really sure if I would have been as strong as I would like to believe.

Upon entering college, most students are only 18 years old, just barely adults.  Although I had been raised Catholic from the time I was a baby, I only began to truly care about it after attending the Steubenville East retreat the summer after my sophomore year of high school.  That means that my faith had really only been ignited a meager two years before I went to college.

In those two years, a lot of things changed in my life.  I no longer wanted to go to UConn, instead seeking a Catholic school.  I wanted my faith to be the center of my life.

But what if I had gone to a different college?  Would those two years of “hardcore” faith have been enough to help me to pass all of the temptations present at a different school?  I don’t know, and I’m glad that I never had to find out.

I don’t think my decision to go to a place that would build me up makes my faith any less strong.  I know that there are plenty of good Catholics who are able to maintain moral lives at regular colleges, but by going to Franciscan, I was able to rid those 3 1/2 years of my life from most temptations.

At Franciscan, we didn’t have the wild parties that are present on most college campuses.  I didn’t have to worry about whether or not I would come home to a roommate having sex in her bed, or puking in the trash can, nursing a hangover.  Sure, some students drank (most who did were already 21).  Some students partied, but even those who did were not nearly as extreme as the majority of college students across the country.  The students who did party were the far minority, and they all lived off campus.

We would spend our Saturday nights at a festival of praise, watching a movie, playing games with friends, or playing frisbee golf outside.  We went to the many events sponsored by various groups.  There were coffeehouses, dances, formals, talks, concerts, etc.

One of our winter formals
One of our winter formals

We didn’t have fraternities or sororities or any of that hazing.  Instead, we had households: groups of females or males who would go to one mass a week together, life each other up in times of need, and celebrate the Saturday holy day together, which consisted of prayers, singing, etc.  Each household had its own commitments.  Some would have a weekly rosary or a weekly adoration hour.  Commitments depended on which household a student was in.

Our rules in our dorms were strict, but I appreciated them.  There were certain hours during the weekend when we could have members of the opposite sex in our room.  At first, that seemed too strict, but it was nice to know that I wouldn’t walk in my room to see my roommate making out with her boyfriend.  Since I did have a boyfriend freshman year, it helped to ensure that we were rarely alone together, always instead with a group of friends.  Staying pure is difficult, but it’s easier when the temptation isn’t right in our faces.  We did have common rooms, where we could bring members of the opposite sex to watch movies, study, or just hang out.

And it wasn’t just the lack of temptation that was significant, but also the many ways that Franciscan helped to mold me into a better person in general.

At 18, we feel like we’re grown up and mature, but now that I’m 27, I know how much I still had to learn back then.  Fortunately, I was able to learn so much about myself and my faith at Franciscan.  Each day, I was called to holiness.  I didn’t have to find time for Jesus because He was everywhere on campus.

Each dorm had a chapel.  The main entrance to campus takes cars up a hill to the rosary circle.  Christ the King Chapel had three daily masses…and all of them were packed, often with standing room only.  There was the Portiuncula Chapel with perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, the tomb of the unborn, the stations of the cross.  Every classroom had a crucifix hanging above the doorway.  Many of my classes started with a prayer.  One Saturday night a month, Finnegan Fieldhouse was packed with students attending a FOP, aka Festival of Praise, with amazing praise and worship music.  Friars and nuns were always wandering around campus, ready to play a quick game of frisbee in passing.

the tomb of the unborn child
the tomb of the unborn child
stations of the cross
stations of the cross
Portiuncula Chapel
Portiuncula Chapel

Although I may have been able to maintain my faith somewhere else, it would have been just that: maintaining it.  I didn’t want to simply maintain it; I wanted more.  And that’s exactly what I was blessed with at Franciscan — a place where I was pushed every single day to be a better person and a stronger Catholic.

I was completely humbled by my amazing peers at Franciscan.  Everyone had such interesting background stories.  Some had intense tales of their conversion, or the conversions of their friends or family members.  I think that we had students from 48 or 49 states during my freshman year.  One of the girls in my dorm was from Hong Kong.  The diversity in all of our background stories and our paths to Franciscan was so interesting.  Yet at the same time, we all had one thing in common: our faith.

While Franciscan obviously has a focus on Catholicism, it also offers rigorous academics.  I was completely prepared for my first day as a high school English teacher thanks to my professors and my course load at Franciscan.  Every education major has to complete a student teaching experience, but at Franciscan, we were already entering high school classrooms during our second or third semesters for “early experiences.” Early experiences were a combination of observing teachers while also teaching some lessons.  I was able to have experiences at the following types of schools:

-A small, Catholic school in Steubenville, Ohio

-The large, public high school in the diverse, urban city of Steubenville

-A mid-sized high school in a more suburban area of Ohio

-And finally my student teaching at Brooke High School in West Virginia, a public school in a suburban/rural area

When I first started teaching, it was obviously overwhelming, but I felt completely prepared to handle everything necessary to be a strong teacher and I owe it all to my amazing professors and the curriculum that allowed us to enter classrooms from the very beginning of our college career.

I remember one professor who taught one of my freshman-level education classes.  On the first day, she gave each of us her business card.  She told us that she knew that many of us were very far from our families.  She wanted to make sure that we would always have someone to call if we were stuck at the Pittsburgh airport without a ride.  I was amazed to see how much this professor truly cared about each of us as more than just her students.  Thank you, Dr. Calabria, for not only teaching me crucial material about teaching students with special needs, but for your passion for your content area and your love for your students.

I took those 3 1/2 years for granted.  I knew that people called it the “Franciscan bubble” and I knew that life outside of that hill in Ohio would be different, but I don’t think that I realized quite how different it would be.  It is very difficult to find like-minded friends.  It is difficult to live a moral life in our sex-driven society.

I was fortunately able to nurture my faith enough at Franciscan that life in “the real world” is a little bit easier to handle because I know that, even if they don’t live near me, there are thousands of young adults who have attended or are currently attending schools like Franciscan who believe in the same teachings as me.  I know that I’m not alone, even though it sometimes feels like it.  I know that I will stand up for what I believe in, even if it makes me an outsider and even if it makes me appear “uncool” to the people around me.

During college, you’re still young, still finding who you are. Being surrounding by the amazing friends, friars, and faculty members at Franciscan helped me to grow with the right type of people by my side.  They say that you can learn a lot about people by looking at their friends.  I wholeheartedly agree with this.  At Franciscan, each of my friends was someone who I respected not just for their personality and personal characteristics, but also for their passionate faith.

If I’m being completely honest, I think that my faith was stronger when I was at Franciscan than it is today.  That’s not something that I’m proud of, but at Franciscan it’s just so easy.  There’s a daily mass early in the morning, at lunchtime, and again in the evening.  There is always a way to get there.  Confession is just a walk away.  There are constant opportunities for service and faith formation.

During Spring Break, there were 15 mission trips during the years that I was there that would send groups of students on trips both nationally and internationally.  There were a variety of clubs and organizations to get involved with that were all centered around Christ.  There were retreats for women, for healing, for engaged couples, you name it.  You just had to sign up.

Mission trip in Ecuador
Mission trip in Ecuador

Am I still Catholic? Absolutely.  But do I attend daily Mass? No.  Do I go to confession as often as I used to? No, I don’t.  I try to find places to volunteer, but it’s not as easy as it was during college.  I look back at those years in Ohio in awe of the opportunities that I had on a daily basis and I am incredibly grateful for them.

Franciscan is also the place where I encountered my love for mission trips after experiencing my first mission trip during my junior year.  I took a spring break trip to Ecuador with a team that was focused on bringing the sacraments to people living in the remote jungles of Ecuador while also bringing nurses, doctors, and medical care.  Since then, I have traveled on trips to Haiti and Rwanda for volunteer opportunities, and I will be headed to India this coming summer.  I’m not sure if that would be the case if I hadn’t experienced the mission trip to Ecuador during college.

Mission trip in Ecuador
Mission trip in Ecuador

Upon graduating, I heard how colleges always start asking for donations from alumni almost immediately.  My first thought was yeah right, college is so expensive, the last thing I need to do is pay them more money.

But that thought didn’t last long.  I am now eager to get the phone calls from the students whose job it is to ask for donations.  I enjoy hearing about how much they love Franciscan the same way that I did when I was there.  I always send in a donation because I want to help other students to have the opportunity to nourish their faith at Franciscan.

I am incredibly grateful of my experiences at FUS, and I am also thankful to my mom for supporting me.  When I initially told her that I was considering Franciscan (this was probably during my sophomore year of high school), she basically acted like it wasn’t an option.  I mean, it’s an 8-hour drive away.  That does sound unreasonable.  But eventually, she realized that we should at least check out campus and see what it was all about.

During the drive out to Ohio, I remember how long the ride felt.  I remember being somewhere in the middle of Pennsylvania and telling my mom that we should just turn around because there was no way that I could go to college that far from home.  But the moment I stepped on campus, everything changed.

I knew almost instantly and without question that Franciscan was the place that I wanted to be.  It didn’t matter that the day of my visit was a dreary, early spring day.  It didn’t matter that everything was gray and that it was raining.  I joined a tour group led by four students.

I attended two classes to get a taste for the instruction.  I remember being surprised that class was started with an “Our Father.”  Attending public schools all my life, I wasn’t expecting to pray in class, even at a Catholic college.  I remember attending the noon mass where there wasn’t enough room for all of the students flooding into the chapel.  At the time of my visit, I was a young high school student,but I remember how the students were all so welcoming.  When they asked me where I was from, or how I was doing, I could tell that their questions were sincere and that they were waiting to hear my answer.

Fortunately, my mom had a similar experience.  We both knew that it would be difficult for me to be so far away.  I grew up in the same home during my whole life before Franciscan.  I had my dog and my mom at home, and that was it.  No dad, no siblings to keep her company while I was away.  I was scared of flying.  I was not the student that anyone expected would attend school so far from home.

But that seems to be the case in life.  Sometimes, the most unexpected or even scary events are the ones that end up being the most rewarding and fulfilling.

Although I was thrilled when I received my acceptance letter from Franciscan, I had also never been more terrified in my life.

I remember how I was so excited to graduate, but so fearful of leaving everything that I knew in Connecticut.  All summer after high school, I was basically in denial of the change that was about to come.  Little did I know that Franciscan was about to be even more amazing than I had ever dreamed.

The worst day was the end of orientation: the day that my mom had to drive back to Connecticut after we had driven out to Ohio and she stayed with me for the first few days of orientation, when parents were welcome.  I remember that family farewell mass.  Never in my life have I cried that hard.  Actually, that’s not quite the case anymore.  Never, until last year when I had to put my dog to sleep, had I ever cried that hard.  I didn’t even know what the homily was about because I was more focused on trying to quiet my crying.

Most crying is rather quiet and unobtrusive.  This was not that type of crying.  This was absolute sobbing.  The kind of crying where you are left gasping for air, your chest heaving up and down.  That was me and that was my mom during that farewell mass.  We could barely even say the sign of peace.  I remember how people with whom we shared the sign of peace looked at us with such sympathy in their eyes.  It was absolutely awful.

I remember how I continued to cry as my mom got into her car to drive away.  I went back to my dorm room, eyes red and puffy, and continued crying, but eventually I had to get cleaned up to go to the Dinner with Twelve Strangers.

Basically, during orientation, students were split into small groups to get to know each other.  Each of the small groups had dinner at the house of either a faculty member or an alumni.  Our female group joined a male small group for the dinner.  Before getting dressed, I had been psyching myself out.  I was sad, I was lonely, I just wanted to cry in my bed all day.  Being social didn’t really sound like my cup of tea.  Instead, I wiped away my tears, cleaned myself up, and joined my small group for the dinner.

At that dinner, I met some friends who I was close to for the remainder of college.  I also met a great guy who would end up being my boyfriend for about a year.  It was amazing how quickly that sad day turned into a fun, enjoyable one.

My small group at the dinner with 12 strangers
My small group at the dinner with 12 strangers

Other than a few hours of that first day without my mom, I was never homesick.  Franciscan was my new home.  I know that my mom hated when I would be home for a break and mention something about “going home,” meaning Franciscan when I said “home.”  But that is what it was for me: a second home.

So thank you, Mom, for not only allowing me to leave you and to attend Franciscan, but for supporting me throughout the entire process, even though it was hard on you.  Not everyone in my life at the time was supportive, but she was there for me the entire time, even though she was obviously not thrilled with the idea of me being 8 hours away.  Thank you for still being supportive when I stayed on campus twice for Easter and once or twice for Thanksgiving…and again when I decided to go to Ecuador instead of going home for spring break.

And ultimately, thank you Franciscan University of Steubenville, for not only preparing me to be strong disciple of Christ upon graduating, but also for preparing me to be the best possible teacher.

And now for a few pictures of some of my good memories while attending Franciscan:

Soaking up some sunshine
Soaking up some sunshine
Lots of afternoons spent studying and relaxing on the hill
Lots of afternoons spent studying and relaxing on the hill
Kayaking at Raccoon Creek
Kayaking at Raccoon Creek
Hanging out at the coffee house
Hanging out at the coffee house
Dunk booth
Dunk booth

29499_538102342880_2843258_n

Playing on a playground
Playing on a playground
Typical jumping picture
Typical jumping picture
Rope swing
Rope swing
Dinner with friends when we lived in Assisi Heights
Dinner with friends when we lived in Assisi Heights
March for Life in Washington, D.C.
March for Life in Washington, D.C.
Food and friends
Food and friends
One of my dorm rooms when I lived in a loft
One of my dorm rooms when I lived in a loft
Cheering on our friend's intramural team
Cheering on our friend’s intramural team
Working as a sports medicine assistant with the athletic trainer
Working as a sports medicine assistant with the athletic trainer
Intramural basketball team
Intramural basketball team
Playing intramural frisbee
Playing intramural frisbee
Working as a sports medicine assistant at a rugby game
Working as a sports medicine assistant at a rugby game

lake

Volunteering with children in Steubenville
Volunteering with children in Steubenville
ResQ and II X rapping at a coffeehouse
ResQ and II X rapping at a coffeehouse
Graduation
Graduation