Category Archives: equality

My Jury Duty Adventures

A few months ago, I received a juror summons in the mail, asking me to appear at the superior court this past Monday for jury duty.

Initially, I was somewhat disappointed about the timing since I had the entire summer off because I’m a teacher, so I didn’t really want to miss a day so early on in the school year.  But once the date approached, I became excited because I was interested in learning more about the whole process.

People had warned me to bring a book because jury duty is usually a long day of waiting.  I read the FAQs online so I would know what to bring and what to wear, and then I waited to check the website the Friday night before my Monday appearance.

I was on call for Monday, which meant that I could go to work on Monday, but I would need to check the website again that evening to see about Tuesday.  I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get to go on Monday, so when I checked the website that evening and saw my number, I was excited.

I changed my mind about my outfit so many times.  I wanted to look appropriate while also being comfortable.  I didn’t want to wear anything that might cause lawyers to excuse me from a jury if I got that far.  I chose blue dress pants, a white and blue striped shirt, a salmon cardigan, and Sketchers brown simple shoes.  I had my hair in a low ponytail.  I debated not wearing my crucifix necklace because I didn’t know if they would want to avoid a religious person, but then I decided against it.  If they didn’t want me because of my faith, then their loss.

The morning of jury duty was extremely boring.  We reported at 8:30am to sit in a huge room full of people who looked bored and annoyed.  We had the rules explained to us before checking in.

We were told that we would receive a $5 stipend for the day.  I can’t believe it’s only $5.  This is 2017.  You can’t even go buy lunch for $5.  As a teacher, my pay isn’t docked for jury duty, but I can’t imagine being someone who lives paycheck to paycheck.  If they are selected for a 3-day trial, they will receive a measly $15.  That seems absurd.  I know that they say that a person is excused if they can prove financial hardship as a result of being on a jury, but I don’t know how lenient they are with that.

Then, we were told that if we are public school employees, we needed to tell them when checking in because we were not allowed the $5.  He said that we couldn’t “be greedy.”  I was not upset about the lack of $5, but found it funny that he could even say with a straight face that we would be “greedy” if we took the $5.

While in line to check in, they played a video about the importance of jury duty and our rights as citizens of the US.

By 10am, nothing had happened.  Thankfully, there was wi-fi, so I actually got quite a bit of work done on my laptop.  They announced a bunch of names and everyone called got to go up to a court room.  I was hoping to hear my name, but I didn’t.

Around 11:40, a man told us that there were three cases and that the only one that still needed jurors would not be ready to call them up until after lunch.  So while we were supposed to leave for lunch at 12:30, we got almost an entire extra hour!

I had packed lunch, planning to eat outside or in my car, but I have a friend who lives close to the courthouse, so I went to her house since she works from home.  It was really nice to get to have a random Tuesday afternoon lunch with a friend since I’m usually working at that time.

After lunch, we went back to waiting.  Then they started calling off more names.  The line of people was getting really long, so I was not expecting to hear my name.  Then I realized that they were reading the names alphabetically, so I waited in anticipation as they got closer to my name.

Sure enough, I heard, “Stephanie….” and a long pause before the woman butchered my name (typical, since I have a foreign last name).  While other people were visibly upset when their names were called, I had the opposite reaction.  I was absolutely ecstatic to get to go up to the court room and see the whole process.  But because the group of us was so large, I knew that my chance of actually being chosen for the jury was quite small.

We entered the courtroom and each of us had to grab a pad of paper and a pencil.  The judge introduced the lawyers, the plaintiff, and her family to us and then explained a brief overview of the case.  It was a civil case.  The defendant had hit the plaintiff’s car, which had already been admitted, but the plaintiff was suing due to health problems that she has been having in the three years since the accident.

He told us that he would be asking us 22 questions as a group and we were instructed to write down “Yes” or “No” on our notepad.  Once it came time to call jurors into the jury box, anyone who responded “No” to every question could take a seat to be questioned further.  Anyone who responded “Yes” had to go to speak to the judge and the lawyers to see if they could be excused from the case.

The initial 22 questions asked us things like this:

-Did we recognize the plaintiff/lawyers?

-Did we recognize the names of any of the witnesses / medical providers?

-Had we ever been involved in a lawsuit?

I was really excited when we got to question #22 and I had answered “No” to each of the questions.  I was wishing that instead of randomly calling jurors, they could have just asked who answered “No” to everything and even who might volunteer to serve on the jury.  I definitely would have raised my hand.

I snuck a peek at the papers that the people on either side of me had.  Both of them had a few questions marked “Yes.”  The man to my left was clearly aggravated with jury duty and just kept sighing through everything.  And then there I was, hoping and even praying (I know, I’m ridiculous, but I really wanted to experience court) that I would get called.

Most people had answered “Yes” to at least one of the questions, so it took forever to get seven people into the jury box.  Once they got to the seventh person, I was feeling disappointed.

Then the judge told them that he would ask them more questions so that the lawyers could get to know them.  He explained that the lawyers had a certain number of jurors that they could excuse for any reason, which is called a peremptory challenge.

These questions went as follows:

-Occupation / former occupations if you were in other fields

-Household – spouse? his/her occupation / children? their occupations

-Hobbies

-Favorite TV shows and new sources

-If you could speak to anyone, dead or alive, for 15 minutes, who would it be and why? (excluding anything religious and family)

-Is our country too litigious or is it too strict in its regulations that prevent people from suing others?

-Would you make a good juror and why?

Since I had all the time in the world while sitting there, I wrote down my answers to each of the questions.  I was struggling with the one about which person I’d like to speak to.  I’m glad that I wasn’t juror #1 because she didn’t have any extra time to think about her responses and she was visibly nervous.

I first thought of Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, but they’re all religious.  Then I thought of the machine gun preacher.  Nope, still religious.  I have always loved Eminem, so I wrote his name down first, but even though I love his music, I think it would actually be terrifying to speak to him in person, and I would probably have nothing to say.  I settled on Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone.  I thought that might be a risky answer since it’s very different from everyone else’s answer, but it was the best option I could come up with.

Jurors kept getting eliminated left and right and I found the whole process fascinating.  I loved hearing all of their answers.  More people watch the Food Network than I had realized.  Nobody has any opinion about whether or not people sue too much.  That baffled me since I feel like I have an opinion on everything.  Most people also didn’t really have hobbies.  Their hobbies were just playing with their kids and grandkids.  I thought that was a little sad.  I know I’m younger than everyone else who was questioned, but I’d like to think that I will have something else that I enjoy doing in my life other than playing with grandkids.  Some people mentioned different types of sewing or painting.  One lady was a drummer.  But most of the responses were dull.

I’m really interested in racial equality in our country and I’m currently reading a book called The New Jim Crow about mass incarceration in the United States today and how much racial discrimination exists within the justice system.

In this case, everything the book said was absolutely true.  Now, this was not a criminal case, so it’s a bit different than the cases against drug dealers, or people caught with drugs or weapons, but I was still observing everything.

The plaintiff was an African American woman.  The judge and all three lawyers were white.  The first seven jurors were all white.  I started looking around the courtroom at the other potential jurors.  There had to be over 60 people in that room and there was not one African American.  There was one Hispanic woman and one Indian woman.  Everyone else appeared to be Caucasian.

I know that alone does not mean that the case would involve any racial discrimination, but it sure does make it more likely.  From this experience, I would argue that a jury is definitely not a random sampling of people in a particular county.  Anyway, I could get carried away with all of this, but back to my actual experience yesterday…

While listening to each of the potential jurors, I was trying to guess which ones would be excused.  I was correct about many of them.

-That lady has a husband who is a physician and her children are also physicians, so they’ll eliminate her since it’s a carse involving bodily injury. “Juror #2, thank you, but you are excused.”

He said he would meet his great-grandfather.  They clearly said not to choose a family member.  I would eliminate him for being a bad listener.  Yep, juror #4 was excused as well.

Her boyfriend is a state trooper and she hesitated for way too long when they asked her if she would be able to be impartial.  Juror #5, gone.

-She just keeps saying how nervous she is.  I don’t think they’ll like that she’s terrified this entire time.  How will she make a good decision if she can’t calm down? Juror #1, dismissed.

I know that this is not nice, but she has lots of visible tattoos and seems kind of trashy.  I doubt they’ll take her. 

Why does everyone keep saying they would be a good juror because they’re honest?  It’s driving me crazy.  You’re in the jury – your honesty doesn’t really matter.  More significant qualities include: ability to remain impartial, decision-making skills, focus, good listener, etc.  All of these women just keep telling us they’re honest.  Congratulations, but you’re not the one on trial!

Okay, you get the point.  Next thing I knew, they were dismissing the woman I had judged for her visible tattoos and my name was being called.

“Stephanie _____?” said the clerk.

“Yes.”

“Did you respond “Yes” to any of my 22 questions?” asked the judge.

“No,” I said, trying to stop myself from grinning.  I grabbed my bag, and walked into the jury box and into the sixth seat.  I had to try really hard to avoid smiling too much.  I didn’t want them to think I was the ditzy blonde who was overly excited about this experience.

I had to answer each of the questions and because I had written them down, I was ready to go, unlike many of the other people who had been in the jury box.  I was getting so tired of hearing the judge repeat the questions over and over again.

I talked about my job as a teacher and my college job as a sports medicine assistant.  I mentioned how I enjoy working out, running, and volunteering.  I said that I get my news from Yahoo, BBC, and Al Jazeera and that I don’t watch any TV, but that Prison Break was the last show I had watched.  I explained why Ishmael Beah was the person I would choose to speak with, mainly because I love volunteering in Africa.  And I told them that I do believe our society is too litigious.  I gave them the example of people suing for their hot McDonald’s coffee and how that type of lawsuit just causes more restrictions on the rest of us.  I said that I did believe that I would be a good juror because I could be fair and impartial.

When I finished, I was nervous that they wouldn’t like my answer about the 15 minute conversation.  The other jurors either couldn’t pick anyone or they picked famous musicians.  Then came little miss Stephanie, explaining why she wanted to talk to a former child soldier.  I though it seemed a little too extreme.  Every time a lawyer would pick another juror to dismiss, I would hold my breath, hoping that my name would not be called.

Then, the defendant’s lawyer said something in lawyer-speak that I understood to mean that he was happy with the seven of us.  My eyes widened.  The judge turned to the plaintiff’s two lawyers.  They went to speak to the plaintiff.  I heard her say “Yes,” and tried to calm myself.  These lawyers also said that they were satisfied.  YESSSS!

While some of the people around me were visibly disappointed, I was so excited that I would get to go to an actual trial.

The judge told us that we should feel proud of ourselves since they had gone through 38 people before selecting the 7 of us.

The judge explained all of the rules.  We were not allowed to speak to anyone about the case until its completion.  We could not research anything regarding the case online, including looking up the names of the judge, lawyers, witnesses, plaintiff, or defendant.

After he explained everything, we were sent home and told to report back at 9am today.

I called my mom, so excited to tell her the news since she had always wanted to serve on a jury and has never been selected.  I couldn’t tell her any details about the case, but I was so excited to see the trial.

Today the seven of us jurors sat in the waiting area.  Some of them seemed content with being selected.  One woman said she had served on a criminal case previously and that she was happy because this was supposed to be a two-day trial, whereas her last one lasted longer than a week.  One man was pretty disgruntled, saying how he must have selected the short straw.

The clerk met us and escorted us into the court room.  After sitting down into the same seats in the juror box as yesterday, he judge said that he had good news for us: the case had settled, so jurors were no longer needed.

What?  My hopes were crushed.  I was so excited to experience the trial.

He explained that situations like this happen sometimes because the parties involved realize that they really have no idea what the jurors will conclude about their case, so it might be more prudent to just settle.

I did not expect that, especially since we had been told that this case had taken three years to get to court.  Oh well.

Despite my disappointment, I was able to get home much earlier than I had planned and the weather was beautiful today, so I even had time to go to the beach, which I couldn’t have done if I had been at work all day.  It’s also good that I’ll get to go back to work tomorrow so that my students don’t need another substitute.

I’m still excited that I was picked.  It was a fun experience.  Maybe one day I’ll actually serve as a juror for a trial.  Or maybe not.  But that was my experience and I really enjoyed it.  Now I won’t be summoned again for at least three years, so I guess we shall see what happens next time.

I know that this blog makes me sound ridiculous, but these past two days were really exciting for me.  It’s kind of a weird topic to be so excited about, but you know, it’s the simple things in life.

 

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Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

If you missed the first blog, you can find part one of my trip to Uganda here.

Lake Victoria / Nile River

On our free day (Saturday), we went shopping for souvenirs in downtown Jinja.  Then we went out to an Indian restaurant for lunch, followed by a boat ride.

The boat ride started out on Lake Victoria.  We saw some prisons that have land that leads right into the water, but there were no fences.  Our guide told us that 96% of Ugandans are unable to swim, so they know that the prisoners will not escape.

We also saw fish farms in the middle of the lake where tilapia are harvested.

We stopped at a fishing village where we walked around and saw all of these little silver fish that they were drying out in the sun.

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All of the children in the village were excited to see us, and they cried out, “mzungu!” (“white person!”)  They all wanted to hold our hands, but what was interesting is that many of them were also smelling our hands.  I have no idea why they did that.  I’m not sure if previous white people maybe had a lot of perfume or scented lotion on.  Or maybe our skin just smells different than theirs.  I’m not too sure.

After leaving the fishing village, we headed to the source of the Nile.  The Nile River is the world’s longest river and it flows north, from Uganda to Egypt.  The water started moving more quickly once we got closer to the area where the lake and the river meet.  The guide told us that it was because of the huge difference between the depth of the lake and the depth of the river.

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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After volunteering with Sixty Feet and Sole Hope, we spent our last three days at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja.

Initially, when reading about the trip to Uganda back in December when I registered, we were going to split all of our time between Sixty Feet and Sole Hope.  It was only more recently that the three days at Amani were added.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed at the addition of Amani to our itinerary.  I’m not a huge baby person.  I teach high school students because I prefer the older kids.  I was excited for the other two volunteer opportunities because I knew that there would be children of many ages.  Hearing the words “baby cottage” did not excite me at all.

Fortunately, I found out that Amani housed children from ages 0 to 5, so I was hoping to get to spend most of my time with the older kids.  Five year olds I could deal with (or at least I thought so); it was the babies I was not ready for.

Amani Baby Cottage

According to its website, Amani Baby Cottage (ABC), “was established in 2003 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children…Many are orphaned when their parents die due to AIDS, birth complications or other factors. Some are abandoned in the hospital after birth. Others are found abandoned at taxi stops, in latrines, or on the street…To date, a total of 328 children have been cared for in our home. 107 of these have been reunited with their parents or extended family members, 135 have been fostered into new families, and 26 have been transferred to other ministry placements. We do not refuse children in fragile health, thus 23 children have died while in our care.”

Everyone on my team had different tasks during our time at Amani.  There were 43 children there, ages 0 to 5.  Different team members helped with the infants, the toddlers, the preschool, cleaning, changing diapers, rocking babies, you name it.

There are Ugandan women working there who are referred to as “Mamas.”  It’s really cute hearing the children call the women “Mama.”  Any time the mamas hand out a snack or help a child with something, the kids say, “thank you, Mama.”

When volunteers come, they calls us “aunties” and “uncles.”  It was nice having that routine set before we arrived because even if they didn’t know our first name, they could still address us.

The first day at Amani, Rachel, Cortnie, and I were helping out with the preschool.  The students met as a group at first to do their morning routine, learning about the weather and the calendar.  Then they separated into three groups for different activities.  There were the zebras, giraffes, and lions, according to their ages.  They would rotate through different activities so that the groupings would be smaller.

It was amazing to see how well organized everything was.  The mamas had the schedule down to the minute and the kids were very well-behaved and polite.

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

I was with the zebras and our first activity was to go outside to play.  They ran around, played on the swings and monkey bars, and the mamas led them in some fun exercises like frog jumps and songs that had body movements incorporated.

After that, all of the kids regrouped, said a prayer, had porridge and a snack, before separating into their animal groups again. Each of the kids in my group were given a card with a letter on it.  They had to replicate that letter by building it with blocks.  I was really impressed by their language skills.  The other children we met in Uganda knew some English, but here their English sounded perfect and they were completely fluent.

Their schedule shifted a bit after that because the Auntie Rebecca, who had been their preschool teacher for the past month as a volunteer, was flying back home, so she gave out lollipops and they spent some time taking goodbye pictures.

Then we watched some Australian learning videos that were absolutely hilarious to Rachel and me.  They were super corny and the main actor was really strange, but the kids loved them, marching and dancing along to the songs.  There were songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and then others that I hadn’t heard of.

We helped get the kids ready for lunch and then their nap, and then we left for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to play outside with the kids.  I mainly pushed kids on the swings.  Other people on our team were running around, playing with balls, or doing face paint.

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The next day, we expected to return to Amani to similar tasks.  However, upon arriving, we learned that the Mamas had professional development scheduled that day.  They had tried to reschedule it, but there were people who traveled from Kampala to go there.

Due to the change in schedule, preschool was cancelled.  Mission trips always require flexibility and this is the best example of that.  There was no time to complain or ask questions; we just needed to get to work.

Kimi, Joe and I went to the one of the male cottages, which housed ten boys: Edmond, Solomon, Jimmy, Silas, Babu, Michael, Dominic, David, Jonah, and Jonathan.  Jonathan was the only baby and Jonah was around two years old.  The rest were toddlers.

I cannot even begin to describe the chaos that ensued.  There were a few times when I looked over at Kimi and asked, “Am I being pranked right now?  Is this Candid Camera?”  During those moments, all we could do was shoot terrified glances over at one another and then simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we were experiencing.

The boys had acted like little angels when their mamas were around, sitting in a perfect formation, saying thank you, and using good manners, but it was like a switch flipped the moment the mamas walked out the door.

They were stealing toys from each other, running around, and trying to climb the shelves.  We put on a movie, but they wouldn’t stop talking so they couldn’t hear the movie.  I found two books, so I tried reading to them.  They listened to the first book, but by the second, their attention span was gone.

Every now and then, though, one of the mamas would come in to check on something or to make sure that things were going alright.  The minute they entered the room, the boys returned to their perfect angel state.  All a mama had to say was, “boys, stop talking,” and there was silence.  Kimi and I just looked at each other in amazement any time this happened.

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Watching a movie

Then it was time for their snack (porridge and a banana).  Mama Georgina told us to stir the porridge with a cup before serving them because it was too hot.  The boys were watching something on the TV while we stirred.  Then, one of the boys started the prayer before meals: “Hand together,” he said.  And they all repeated, “hands together” while putting their hands into prayer position.  “Eyes closed,” he continued, and they all shut their eyes.  They went through all of the prayer.  I couldn’t understand all of the words but it was something like: “Hands together, eyes closed.  Bless our porridge, bless our mamas, bless our aunties, bless our uncles, in Jesus’ name, amen.”  They would all clap while they said “Amen.”

Kimi and I thought that it was really cute that they just said their prayers on their own while watching the movie.  Then, a few minutes later, another boy started the prayer.  When he finished he said, “auntie, we would like our porridge.”  The problem was that it was still extremely hot.

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Prayers before snack

The same thing happened a few minutes later, with another boy starting the prayer.  This time we decide to give them the porridge because we knew they wouldn’t stop praying and asking.  I have no idea how they drank it since it seemed to be burning hot, but they loved it.  One boy in the room has special needs and he doesn’t have full control of his arms or legs.  He spilled the porridge all over himself, so we had to find him a new change of clothes.  I hope that he didn’t burn his chest.

After snack, we were excited that we could bring the boys outside.  We expected it to be less crazy than being cooped up in the cottage all day.  Boy were we wrong!

There were people working on the grounds of Amani, doing various tasks like gardening.  The boys ran out of the cottage and made a beeline for the yard tools.  The workers weren’t there at the moment, but their shovels, hoes, and rakes were.

I found myself running toward the edge of the property, wrestling these garden tools out of the hands of the toddlers.  Initially, I told the kids not to touch them and to put them down and they listened, but the moment I walked away, I saw kids chasing each other with the tools.

So back I went, running around in an attempt to avoid witnessing a child being impaled by a gardening tool.  Rachel came outside of her cottage with the girls and she was somehow able to grab a rake out of one of the children’s hands, despite holding two babies on either hip.

Katie told us later that the whole scene was hilarious.  Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the chaos, but in the moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed.

At different points during the day, I paused to say a prayer asking God for help.  It sounds so funny now, but gosh, we were all feeling completely overwhelmed and unprepared.  I couldn’t have gotten through that whole day if I wasn’t confident that God had placed me there for a reason and that He was going to help me to continue.

After the garden tool fiasco, we just played outside and then we left for lunch.

We usually went over our highs and lows each day at dinner.  Every team member would discuss their day and it was a nice way to debrief.  This day, we decided to do highs and lows at lunch since we were all exhausted and less than enthused about the thought of returning to Amani.  Many of our teammates were peed on, pooped on, or spit up on.

Kimi and I had been thinking that we had it the worst with ten boys between us, but we came to find out during lunch that Cortnie and Rachel had it even worse in the girls’ cottage.  There were 13 girls and it sounded like they were behaved even more badly than the boys.

Serving at Amani that day definitely gave us a quick dose of humility.  It also increased our respect and appreciation of the mamas exponentially.  The mamas do such an amazing job caring for and loving those children and I’m sure that they have their fair share of difficulties.

The children at Amani come from a variety of backgrounds so although everything looked like it was down to a science on our first day there, I know that doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  Establishing the routines, rules, and procedures takes a lot of work and those mamas are simply amazing.  It is also clear how much they truly love those children.  If I ever considered adopting, I would have no hesitation to adopt a child from a place like Amani because it is obvious that they are extremely well cared for.

After lunch, we were all hesitant about returning, but it was much calmer.  We played with the kids outside.  We played on the swing set and we also brought bubbles.

Something that was really interesting to me was that the swing set was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It had a plaque on it that included the names and ages of everyone who had died in Connecticut that day, along with the names of companies and churches that had either donated the supplied for the swing set, donated money, or helped to build it.

There were stores from Bethel and Danbury, Connecticut listed on the plaque, which is where I used to live before moving to New Jersey.  What a small world that I was playing with kids in Uganda on a playground that was made with supplies from my former town!

Sarah and Mary brought their Polaroid camera, so the kids LOVED having their pictures taken.

We found out that afternoon that the professional development was a two-day course. Upon leaving, we knew that we would probably have another chaotic day in store for us the following day.  I was thankful for a calmer afternoon, but nervous what the next day would entail.

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

Some of us switched roles the next day.  I stayed in the same room as the previous day because I figured that it would be helpful that I knew all of the names of the boys in that cottage.  Rachel, Cortnie, and Joe were in that cottage with me.

This was our last day volunteering in Uganda, so I think that most of us hoped that it would be a better experience than the prior day.  Fortunately, it was definitely better.  There were definitely still crazy, chaotic moments, but not nearly as many.

The woman who is the current director of Amani bought new movies, hoping that the kids would behave better if they were interested in a new movie that they hadn’t seen before.  That worked really well; the boys were engrossed in The Lion King.

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The only slight problem was that every kid wanted to sit in our laps, but there were only three of us.

They watched all of The Lion King, so we followed that with The Good Dinosaur.  They were less excited about that movie, so they got a little antsy.

We had snack time with more prayers, porridge, and bananas, and this time it was much better because the porridge wasn’t too hot when I got it from the kitchen.

We turned on Cars instead of The Good Dinosaur since they really didn’t like that one.  We could hear noises coming from the girls’ cottage and some of the girls ran into our cottage to show the boys some crafts they were making.  Cortnie, Rachel, and I were nervous that would cause the boys to become rambunctious as well.  We shut both of the doors so that the girls couldn’t distract them and then we brought out the crayons and coloring books.

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It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:

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We left for lunch and when we returned, the mamas had a variety of hand-made items out on display.  It was great to be able to support the mamas by purchasing some souvenirs from them.

Then the kids had pineapple for a snack before going outside.  They wanted us to play “Let it Go” from Frozen on our phones.  Katie had that song on her phone, so she had played it for them before, but she wasn’t with us.  They didn’t understand how it was possible that we didn’t have the song.  We had a phone just like her, after all.  I tried to play them other songs on my phone, but they were unimpressed.

Then it was time to go outside for the rest of the afternoon.  Mama Georgina handed me a pair of nail clippers and said to trim the boys’ nails.  I wasn’t too sure how that was going to play out, but the boys were actually really good at staying still while I clipped their nails.  I’m not sure if I have ever clipped anyone’s nails before that.

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We had nail polish, so we painted their nails.  That was a bit of a mess since they kept moving too soon after and smudging the nail polish, but they liked it anyway.  We also had more bubbles.

It seemed like there were fewer kids that afternoon, so it was much calmer.  I was told that some of them were going to therapists or other appointments.

After playing for a while, it was getting close to our time to leave.  The mamas had the kids form a circle so that they could sing farewell songs to us.  That moment was really touching.

They sang some songs in English and some in Luganda; there were some that we were familiar with, such as “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and others that we had never heard.

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One girl started singing a Christian song and it was just precious.  Both her and her twin sister had one hand on their heart and one hand raised to the sky, praising God.

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The songs were really cute, but then it was time to leave.  One boy, Silas, had been sitting on my lap during all of the songs and he had been following me around a little bit that afternoon (he’s the one who ate the blue crayon).  He was holding onto my skirt as I got up to walk away.

I had to physically remove his arms from around my waist and then he started crying.  As we walked out of the compound, some of the kids (like Silas) were crying.  One boy, Edmond, ran up to the fence and waved goodbye.

I couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.  I couldn’t help but consider how many people the children must say goodbye to.

It’s awesome that so many people go to Amani to volunteer, but there’s always a goodbye.  Some of these boys were abandoned by their parents, and I just felt like I was continuing the cycle of loss.

It was bittersweet, though, because at the same time, we were really needed there.  Although we did a lot of work with Sole Hope, I’m sure that they could have found anyone to help wash feet or pass out lollipops or stickers.

But when the mamas needed their professional development, I’m not sure what they would have done had we not been there.  Us being there helped take a lot off of their plate and I’m thankful that I was able to show my gratitude to them by removing some of their daily duties for a few days.

I know that God placed me and my team exactly where He needed us, so I know that I shouldn’t feel sad, but walking down the road and away from those children was really hard.


After leaving Amani, we went back to our guest house to pack our bags since we would be leaving early the following morning to take the long drive back to Entebbe for our flights home.

We left around 6:30 to drive about three hours to Entebbe.  We had our last lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria.  It was nice to have one last team activity before heading out.

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We had a five and a half hour flight to Dubai, followed by a four hour layover.  When we landed in Dubai, we had to get off the plane and board a bus to take us to the airport, but Rachel was flying to Germany and Cortnie was flying to Dallas, so they had to get onto a different bus than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t expected that, so we didn’t really get to say goodbye.

The temperature was around 95 degrees even though it was 10pm in Dubai.  It was so hot and humid that my camera lens fogged up when I tried to take a picture.

Now this is completely random, but something weird about Dubai International Airport is that the toilets seemed to have hot water in them.  I’m not sure if it was hot simply because it was so hot outside.  (It was around 107 degrees on our trip in the opposite direction since it was day time in Dubai at that point.)  Or maybe they heat their toilet water, though I can’t imagine that.  It felt like sitting on a steamer or something when I sat on the toilet.  TMI?  Probably, but it was interesting to me.

After our layover, we flew about 14 hours to JFK and luckily, that was my last stop.  We went through immigration/customs, got our luggage, and I said goodbye to my team, most of whom had to wait for another flight later in the day.

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

To everyone who donated money to help me to go on this trip: thank you so much.  I would have been unable to do this work if it hadn’t been for your great generosity.  Although you were not able to be on the trip in the flesh, I brought you with me in my prayers.

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were now jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

To those of you who prayed for me and my team: I appreciate it so much.  There were a few teammates who experienced minor illnesses, but we were healthy for the most part.  We were safe, and we had an excellent, rewarding experience.

To my teammates, Kimi, Bart, Jacob, Katie, Cortnie, Rachel, Sara, Haley, Mary, Mia, and Joe: I am grateful for meeting you.  I know that God formed our team with each of you in mind.  We each brought along our own strengths and weaknesses and together, we were able to help spread love throughout Kampala and Jinja.  I will continue to pray for each of you and I expect to hear more amazing things that each of you are doing in your lives.  You are all inspiring.

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

I traveled to Uganda to volunteer with Go Be Love International from July 22nd to August 5th this year.  It was an amazing trip and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had and all of the stories that I am now able to bring back to my friends and family in the United States.  We volunteered with three organizations: Sixty Feet, Sole Hope, and Amani Baby Cottage.

We flew from New York City to Dubai, where we had a short layover.  That flight was about 12 hours.  Then we flew from Dubai to Entebbe, Uganda, which took about 5 and a half hours.

We flew on an Airbus A380, which has two floors (first class and business upstairs and economy downstairs).  I had never been on an airplane that big before.

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I was really thankful that I live on the east coast because most of my teammates had to start traveling on July 21st to JFK or LaGuardia and then stay the night in the hotel before continuing on with their flights.  Instead of that, I was able to simply arrive at JFK on Saturday morning and head out from there.

Emirates Airlines was awesome.  Just walking onto the airplane, I could tell that it was really nice.  There was a flight of stairs heading up that was lit along each step.  I wish I could have just seen what first class looked like, but economy passengers couldn’t go up there.  I’ve heard that there was a bar and showers upstairs.

There were tons of options of movies, music, games, and TV shows.  I watched some good movies heading to Africa, like Lion and Gifted.

I know I’m unusual with this, but I really love airplane food.  I think all of the tiny packages are really cool.  On Emirates, they actually give you a menu when you get on the plane that tells you about each of the meals that will be served and what your options are.

We had dinner, then pizza as a snack in the middle of the night, and then breakfast in the morning.

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Once we finally landed in Entebbe, we had to stand in the immigration line for what felt like forever.  Once we finally got up to the counter, we had our pictures taken, we were fingerprinted, and a visa was printed for each of us and stuck inside of our passport.  Once we grabbed our bags, we met Patrick, who would be driving our bus, along with another man who would be driving the truck that held our luggage.  Patrick is an artist who makes amazing metal sculptures that are really unique (you can view his website here).

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

When we left the airport, we drove to a market to pick up bottled water and bread that we needed because we would be making our own lunches while staying in Kampala.  We brought our own peanut butter since it’s expensive in Uganda, so each day we made sandwiches with bread and peanut butter and then we would have tiny bananas to go with it.

Then we checked into Apricot Guesthouse.  We were pretty tired, but we needed dinner, so we went to an Italian restaurant that was in walking distance.  I had pizza with beef, calamari, and shrimp on top.

Apricot Guesthouse:

It was a nice place to stay.  I shared the room with a girl named Mia.  There were between one and two people in each room.  There was a nice patio with comfy chairs and the grounds were pretty.

I did a random workout in the parking lot and Joe joined me for part of it.  I did a little running, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, dips, squats, and some yoga poses.

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I loved the food at the Apricot Guesthouse.  It was typical African food and I loved everything I had.  On the first night they had a delicious pumpkin soup, along with rice, beef stew, chicken, potatoes (which they called “Irish”), vegetables, and rolls that tasted like soft pretzels.  The next night we had spinach soup, chapati (a bread similar to the Indian bread, naan), fish nuggets, lasagna, and vegetables.

 

For breakfast there were eggs, fruit, cereal, and juice both days.  One day there were pancakes and meatballs and the other day there were green beans.

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Sixty Feet:

Sixty Feet is an organization that, according to its mission on the website, “targets a specific category of children… the least of the least – those imprisoned in Africa and more specifically Uganda. Some of these children have committed serious offenses. Some are as young as 2 years of age and have committed no offense at all. Working alongside Ugandan government officials we work in the detention facilities, and in the villages where the children come from, to bring hope and help – immediate relief and long-term restoration.”

We volunteered with them for the first few days of our trip while staying at the Apricot Guesthouse in Kampala.  We also got to see the spot where the equator runs through Uganda after lunch one day.

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The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with Sole Hope.

Sole Hope:

Sole Hope focuses on “offering HOPE, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief.”

I was particularly excited to volunteer with Sole Hope because I had been working on collecting jeans since last December.  Sole Hope used to have what they called “jean cutting parties.”  They mailed you a pattern to use to cut the jeans into specific shapes. Then you get a group of people together and cut old jeans according to those patterns, safety pin them together, and then they are turned into shoes once they get to the Sole Hope grounds in Uganda.

My high school students were very excited about the opportunity to take part in my trip by helping with the jean cutting process, so they donated a TON of jeans.  I was overwhelmed by their excitement and support.  I also had friends and family members who donated a bunch of jeans as well.

I was able to have my students help me with the jean cutting the day before winter break, which was a HUGE help.  I had not originally realized how difficult and time consuming it would be to so cut so many jeans.  I also had help from some other friends and family members, but a good portion of the jeans were simply cut on random days after work while I turned on a movie to distract myself from the monotony.

I was thrilled to have 100 pairs of jean shoes to bring with me to Sole Hope and they were excited to hear about how I had gotten my students involved in the process.  Right now, Sole Hope paused with the jean cutting parties in order to have Care Kit parties instead in order to acquire more medical supplies.

We took a tour of the Sole Hope property, so we could see the process of sewing the shoes and adding the soles, which are made of a few layers of old car tires.

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The shoes are provided to people once jiggers (small bugs that burrow into feet) are removed.  They help to prevent the person wearing them from getting more jiggers in the future.

Thursday is Sole Hope’s clinic day, so we got to go with them to help out at a school.  There were about 150 children (and a few adults) who needed to have their jiggers removed.  We started by gathering all of the children in a big circle and playing some games with them.  We sang songs that had corresponding hand motions.  One of them was a song about jiggers that would teach them good hygiene to avoid jiggers in the future.

After the song, we separated into stations:

Station 1: paperwork.  A Sole Hope worker would fill out a foot note paper with the person’s information such as name, age, grade, and information about their home address and their parents.

This is what the foot note paper would look like once it was filled out at the end of station 3.

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Foot note

Station 2: foot washing.  This was my station.  We each had a bucket with a scrub brush and a bar of soap.  We would scrub one of the patient’s feet and then let them practice scrubbing their second foot.  While we were doing this, someone else from our team would come around and pass out stickers to everyone.

I tried to speak to the children as much as possible.  They learn English in school, but some of them were too young to understand and others were too shy.  Some of them told me their names, ages, and favorite sports.

At one point, I washed the feet of an old man and it really hit me emotionally.  While I love volunteering, I don’t like feeling as though I’m the white savior coming to save the day by handing things out to people.  Those types of situations are times when helping hurts, which is common to some short term missions.

So I was just sitting on the ground, unable to communicate with this old man who could not speak English.  He was probably around 80 years old.  All I could do was scrub his feet and smile.

I considered how embarrassed he must have felt.  The clinic was set up at a school, so its primary patients were children, but he, too, had a jigger infestation.  Beside him sat children who were mostly under age 12.  It could have been humiliating, and it was undoubtedly painful.

Yet at the same time, he needed help, and I could tell from his smile how grateful he was that we were there offering him a future that would entail less pain.  I also considered how my simple action of scrubbing his feet was really not that significant; anyone could have done it.  But at the same time, I was able to show him love through that act.

Despite the language barrier.  I could get across the message that he is loved, has worth, and is deserving of love.  There I was, someone who had flown across the ocean to get to Uganda just to scrub his feet and offer him hope.

St. Therese of Lisieux was known for her small, humble acts that she always did with great love.  I am by no means trying to compare myself to her, but I felt similarly in that situation.  I wasn’t in Africa building a church or drilling a well, but I was spreading my love in simple, small ways in my scrubbing of feet.

And it was definitely a humbling act.  Many of the patients had feet that had wounds in addition to the jiggers.  You can tell it’s a jigger because it looks like a white circle and then there is a small black dot in the middle of it.  When you see that, you know a jigger has burrowed under the skin.

But most of them had other contusions on their feet, broken or missing toenails, and some deformities.  We were told to alert someone any time a person had an open wound so that they could change out our water in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.

I wasn’t afraid to wash the feet, but I did know that it was possible for me to acquire a jigger in the process.  We were sure to wear closed shoes on the clinic day, which would help prevent jiggers in the feet, but jiggers can also burrow into other parts of your body, mainly your hands.  Fortunately, none of my teammates got any jiggers.  We were sure to scrub our hands and feet in the shower each night since it takes a while for a jigger to actually burrow itself into your skin.

Station 3: Jigger removal.  At this station, Sole Hope workers would use a razor blade and a safety pin to dig out the jiggers.  While they were doing this, people from my team would be filling out the foot notes.  Every time a jigger was removed, they had to put a dot on the foot drawing to show its placement while also counting up the number of jiggers per foot as well as the total number of jiggers on that person.  Some people also had jiggers on their hands.  If anyone had over 20, they would receive a follow-up, or they would go to the Outreach House (more about that in a bit).

While the jigger removal was happening, Joe, the youngest member of our team, went around passing out lollipops.  Jigger infestations are painful, just like their removal.  The lollipops helped the kids to concentrate less on the pain.  There were some tears, but most of those kids sat so quietly while the Sole Hope workers removed the jiggers.  I was extremely impressed.  I don’t know if I would have been able to sit so still in that situation, no anesthetic helping to remove or even ease the pain.

After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.

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Station 4: shoe fitting.  Each patient received a pair of the jean shoes in order to hopefully prevent a future jigger infestation.  They also have to be taught to wear those shoes every day.  Sole Hope has found that some patients avoid wearing the shoes because they don’t want to get them dirty.  They save them for church or for the holidays.  They have to be taught that the shoes are there to prevent jiggers, not just to be worn on special occasions.

After all of the 150 patients had finished having their jiggers removed, we were able to spend some time playing with the kids, both those who had had jiggers removed and the others who also attended that school.  It was fun getting to spend some time with them in addition to the actual clinic.

The next day, we went to volunteer at Sole Hope’s Outreach House.  This is where people go if they have an extreme case of jiggers.  They typically stay there for two weeks.  They are treated by nurses for both their jiggers as well as any other underlying issues.  They are tested for illnesses such as malaria and HIV/AIDS.  They are also educated about jiggers, jigger removal, good hygiene, ways to keep jiggers away from their homes, and Bible study.

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Inside the nurse’s station

Some of the people who need medical attention live far away.  Sole Hope has social workers in different areas of Uganda who scout out those cases.  Sometimes Sole Hope will take its clinic out to that village and other times, they will send a vehicle out to get certain people and then they bring them to the Outreach House for treatment, bringing them back to their villages once they are finished.

First, there was another jigger removal clinic.  Initially, I thought that I would try to take the foot notes since I had washed feet the previous day, but before holding the clinic, we had a tour of the facility and we were told how the average number of jiggers on a patient at the Outreach House is 150!  I didn’t know if I could handle that.

The previous day, many of the kids only had a couple of jiggers, and there weren’t too many really bad cases.  I knew that this next day would be different.

I’m usually okay at dealing with gross things, with the exception of vomit.  But I was not sure if I could handle watching and recording the jigger removal process in the likely event that I had a patient with a ton of them.

I opted to do arts and crafts while the clinic was taking place.  We colored in coloring books and I painted their nails. Everyone was  excited about the nail polish, even the adults and the males.

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Part of me was disappointed in myself that I didn’t try to do the foot notes, but I knew that I needed to admit my weakness.  At times I can be too prideful, excited to be able to do any required task on a mission trip to my best ability.  But during that jigger removal, I knew that I might not be able to do an effective job.  Other people had queasy stomachs watching the process, so I shouldn’t let myself feel like I failed just because I didn’t watch the removal.

After the removal we had lunch and then we came back and they were doing Bible study.  In Uganda, there are many different dialects and languages, depending on which village a person is from.  For the Bible study, they were translating from English to Luganda to another separate language from that particular village.

Then we made bracelets and necklaces and played outside with everyone.

On Sunday, we spent more time with the people at the Outreach House in the afternoon after church, just doing some crafts and playing games outside.  I was helping out with one of the crafts.  We were gluing popsicle sticks together and gluing sequins, pom poms, and googly eyes on them to make crosses.

I played a silly version of hide ‘n’ seek with this one little girl.  I would bend down under the desk and she would pop up, and then she would bend down under the desk and hide while I popped up to look for her.  She was entertained for a long time just going up and down.

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On our last day with Sole Hope, we spent more time with everyone, making crafts and playing games.  We told a Bible story that went along with a craft where they decorated construction paper people cutouts with stickers and sequins.

We played a bunch of different games with jump ropes, balls, and a parachute.  We taught them how to play freeze tag and duck, duck, goose.

After lunch, we listened to the hygiene lesson about jiggers and then we played some more.  I did more nail polish while other teammates painted faces, colored, or played games outside.

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The lesson took a pretty long time since, just like the Bible story, it had to be spoken in English, translated into Luganda, and then into the other village language.

The little girl who was sitting on my lap fell asleep on me.

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When we finished up that day, we had to say goodbye because we would be going to a different organization in Jinja, Amani Baby Cottage, for our final days in Uganda.

Sole Hope Guest House:

For most of our trip to Uganda, we stayed at the Sole Hope Guest House, which was really nice.  It felt very welcoming and homey, with a large living room where our group could gather.

It had really pretty African paintings all over the house.  There were these really cool chairs made out of wheelbarrows.  There was also a large outdoor sitting area.  We made our own breakfasts and lunches and then the cook would make us a delicious dinner each night.

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The kitchen

It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.

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Because the guest house is geared toward volunteers coming from other countries, the food was not typical African.  It was delicious, but I wish we had gotten to try more traditional African cuisine.  We had minestrone soup, vegetable lasagna, pot roast, enchiladas, etc.  One really delicious side dish, though, was pineapple mixed with cucumber and cilantro.

The yard was really big, so I worked outside there a few times like I had in Kampala, running around and doing burpees and things like that.

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There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention.  Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.

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Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope:

 

Dear News Sources, Did You Know that People are Dying in Somalia?

I’ve already written posts previously about American egocentrism (see: American Egocentrism Strikes Again and American Egocentrism – Back at it Again), but it is a constant source of frustration for me.

I have been hearing lately about the desperate situations in which many people in eastern Africa are currently finding themselves due to famine as well as violence.  Most of this information I have come across because I follow the Machine Gun Preacher’s Facebook page after having found myself very interested in his organization, Angels of East Africa, which helps those suffering, after watching the film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  The Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, started out by choosing to go to Sudan to rescue children from the LRA and Joseph Kony.  These children were taken from their families, often forced to kill their own parents, and then were trained to kill.

I could go on forever about Sam Childers, but that isn’t the point here.  If I had not been following him on social media, I would have been like one of many Americans who are completely unaware of the current devastation in Africa.

There are also major problems occurring in Syria due to their current civil war.  There are tons of Syrian refugees right now.

There was also a recent situation where 40 or more Somalian refugees headed for Yemen were killed by an air strike.

Many people here in the United States fail to pay attention to the news at all.  However, even those who try to maintain an awareness of the world around them may have missed what is happening in countries like Somalia right now.

Why? Because American news sources are doing a poor job reporting much about it.  Even the world news sources aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.  Here is a look at some recent headlines from the home pages of these news sources from Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

New York Times:

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CNN News:

 

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BBC News:

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Al Jazeera:

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Okay, you get the idea.

Out of all of those sources, Al Jazeera was the only one that mentioned the problems in Syria.  The crises in Somalia and Syria are devastating right now.  There are people dying every day.  Yet out of four major news sources, only one of them mentioned it on their home page.  I could have guessed that it wasn’t going to be the American news source.

Now, what would happen if I specifically looked for world news within these same sources? (I skipped Al Jazeera this time since all of their news is world news.)

NY Times world news:

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CNN News world news:

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BBC News:

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Yep, just what I suspected.  Even the world news sections fail to mention the travesties taking place right now in countries like Somalia and Syria.

Yesterday, I was watching Casey Neistat’s video and it gave me some hope that although our news sources do a pitiful job informing Americans about certain problems in the world, maybe other famous people can do the job.  Casey Neistat gained popularity for his YouTube vlogs.  In this video, he mentions a project that his friend, Jerome Jarre (famous on Vine and Snapchat) came up with, with the help of actor Ben Stiller.

Jerome decided to look into what it would take to get a Turkish Airlines flight to be loaded with food to bring  to Somalia to help the many who are starving right now as a result of their famine.  Fortunately, Turkish Airlines agreed to work with them.

Here is the video:

Casey Neistat posted his video yesterday, March 17th.  It is currently March 18th at 2pm and the $1 million goal was not only met, but exceeded:

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That is absolutely incredible.  They were able to raise over one million dollars to help those dying of starvation in less than 24 hours.  As of right now, there were 42,186 donations.  Many of the donations are small amounts.  $5 here, $8 there.  Obviously there were some larger donations as well, but this goes to show how far a small amount of money can go.  It also shows that people do care to aid those in need if they were just aware of the situation and given a way to help.

Why must it take people like a random Vine star to bring awareness to issues like this?  Shouldn’t we already know about these sorts of problems from our news sources?  From our president?

Despite my frustration regarding the media, stories like this give me hope. Maybe the news outlets will cover the story because Casey Niestat and Ben Stiller are involved, which will provide even more awareness about the issues.

I know that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own little circle of friends and family, to only pay attention to local news that affects us directly.  I am guilty of this myself at times.  But we have to remember that even when our problems seem like a major burden, we are blessed to be living in a country in which most of us do not find it difficult to meet our basic needs.

We are rarely, if ever, in a situation where life or death is dependent upon whether or not we are able to find a source of water.  We do not have to hide in the bush while the LRA soldiers come looking to kidnap our children, rape our women, and murder or mutilate the rest of us.  We do not have to fear that the next thunderstorm may decimate our home.  If we get diarrhea, it’s an inconvenience, but not a death sentence.

I am thankful to be an American, but America, I expect more of you.  I know that people are up in arms about some of the things that Donald Trump has been doing lately.  I can assure you that I am not his biggest fan.

But despite all of that, we must remember that at this moment, someone in Somalia is taking his or her last breath, simply because he or she has gone too many days without a bite to eat or a sip of water.

School Dress Codes are Not Sexist

Lately, I have been seeing articles about students and parents outraged over the dress codes at their schools and how sexist they are.  People have begun fighting back against these dress codes since there are more rules for the girls to follow.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you, ladies, but let’s take a trip back to anatomy class: you have more private parts that need covering than men, plain and simple.  Nothing about the dress code in most schools is sexist.  Schools simply wants both male and female students to dress modestly and appropriately.

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Let’s take a look at common dress codes and determine if any of the requirements are, in fact, sexist:

No exposed stomachs.  Boys don’t typically wear belly shirts, but if they wanted to, they couldn’t, just like the girls.

No exposed backs.  Again – boys don’t tend to wear backless shirts, but if they did, they would be breaking school policy just like the girls.  I’ve seen male students wear those workout tank tops where they basically cut the sides off of a regular t-shirt.  It exposes their whole side from their armpit down to their hip.  They get in trouble for those shirts just like a girl would get in trouble for a backless shirt.

No cleavage.  Men don’t really have cleavage, so it’s not sexist, it’s just the reality of female versus male anatomy.  Guys aren’t typically wearing low-cut shirts anyway.  If they were, then they would be breaking the dress code.

No spaghetti straps, tube tops, or halter tops.  I’ve never seen a guy wear a spaghetti strap tank top, but that wouldn’t be allowed either.  As a teacher, I would never wear a shirt like that without a sweater on top.  It’s not appropriate.  Students should learn that there are settings in which they can wear that type of attire, but that they must also dress appropriately when the occasion calls for it.

-No leggings as pants.  As a teacher, I really appreciate this rule.  Do you know how many girls wear thin or worn out leggings and don’t realize that their striped, polka dotted, or floral underwear is clearly visible to everyone around them thanks to the florescent lights?  Or worse, the tiny thongs that my female students were wearing under their leggings was also visible.  It’s awkward to see that.  Do I tell my student that her underwear is showing?  Or does she know and not care? Or do I just ignore it and act like I don’t see it?

Leggings should not count as pants.  They’re fine for the gym or lounging around on the weekend, but they aren’t school appropriate.  Boys definitely stare at girls’ butts when they are wearing leggings.  Do we really need those extra distractions in school?  In most schools, teachers aren’t allowed to wear leggings as pants either.  I am in no way offended by that.  Leggings are skin-tight.  Every piece of fat, muscle, or panty-line is visible.  They simply aren’t appropriate workplace attire.

I still wouldn’t call this sexist, since boys also wouldn’t be allowed to wear leggings as pants either.  Girls would probably be staring at the boys butts (or more than just that) if the boys were wearing leggings to school.  They’re distracting to both genders.  It just so happens that leggings aren’t popular for most males.

No vulgar shirts. This rule bans shirts with any vulgar language, drug or alcohol references, or inappropriate images.  I tend to see more boys who wear these types of shirts, but still, this has nothing to do with gender.

No hats. No gender is being discriminated against here.  I make both my male and female students remove their hats and hoods.

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An article from Teen Vogue asserts that these rules are sexist and that while it’s true that boys become distracted by some of the girls’ clothing items, it’s something that they need to learn to get used to since it’s a part of life.

I disagree.  Sure, there will be distractions, but do they have to be a part of our schools?  Absolutely not.

I know from male teachers that they feel very uncomfortable when their female high school students are wearing tiny shorts or skirts, or have half of their breasts exposed for the world to see.  They don’t want to get caught staring. But even as a female teacher, it’s sometimes hard to avoid staring when a 16 year old girl walks into my room dressed in an outfit that would be appropriate only for a nightclub.  I don’t want to see her butt hanging out of the bottom of her shorts, even though it’s not something that would ever turn me on.  It’s shocking, so most people would do a double take.

The article says that these dress codes “reinforce a message you’re already constantly given outside of school: the way you look is more important than your education. Of all places, a school should make sure it values a girl’s chance to learn over her appearance.”

No, not quite.  Rather, they teach students that beach attire is appropriate for just that — the beach.  In most schools, girls can still wear shorts and tank tops, if the shorts aren’t super short and the tank tops have more than a thin spaghetti strap.  When they have a job one day, we want our students to understand that their sexy nightclub outfit might not be fitting to deal with customers while working retail, let alone entering a more formal profession.

Why are people not arguing that these dress codes are sexist in the work setting?  Because they realize that we need some sort of standard to follow.  Is it a crime to see a glimpse of a girl’s back when her shirt slides up a little too far?  No.  But where is the line?  With the completely backless shirts that exist nowadays, we need some rule in place for our students.

The same is true for prom dresses.  It is now popular for girls to wear two-piece dresses, where the top is little more than the size of a sports bra, with a completely bare back and stomach.  Some of these dresses have a tiny little portion of the midriff exposed, but students are always pushing the envelope, looking for sexier dresses, so many schools had to ban two-piece dresses altogether.

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Others are completely backless, or have huge cut-outs.  While that may be acceptable on the red carpet, our high school juniors and seniors are 16-18 years old.  There is no need for them to be showing off their whole body.  Small cut-outs aren’t a major problem, but again, students take things to the extreme.

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Modesty should not come with such a negative connotation.  There are plenty of gorgeous gowns that still leave something to the imagination.

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It amazes me when parents fight back against these rules.  Why would you want your 14 year old daughter to expose her body?  You’re so mad that she can’t show her cleavage that you want to fight the school board?  Maybe you should put your time into helping her to excel in her classes and work on her career goals instead.

Students go to school to learn.  There is no need for such sexy clothing in the school environment.

Dress codes are there for a good reason — to remind students that their number one job at this point is to be just that — students.  They are not at the club or at the beach.  They are in school to learn how to be productive citizens of the world and with being a productive citizen comes the ability to distinguish which attire is appropriate for which setting.

 

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.

 

Uneasy Feelings about President Trump

I previously posted a blog about a few positive changes that have happened thus far as a result of Trump being elected.

The US will no longer fund abortions for overseas NGOs.  I’m happy about that.

But there are some other steps that he is taking that are pretty scary.

I’m not a fan of Trump, but I also don’t think he is the devil.  I do not like the idea of either him or Clinton being in office, but here we are, with America’s decision made.  I am definitely uneasy about our future.

First off, I know that I have a lot to learn about politics.  But I really felt that even if Trump was elected, he would need the approval from Congress to enact major changes. Apparently, I was wrong.  He just keeps signing executive actions.  He is eliciting a great deal of fear in a huge portion of the American population.

The Mexican Border Wall

He continues to speak about his his plan to build the wall on the border of the U.S. and Mexico.  One way he plans to do this is either taxing Mexico on its exports or taxing the U.S. on the imports.  Basically, that leaves us with two scenarios.

  1. Higher taxes on Mexico – a country that already has a great deal of poverty
  2. Higher taxes on American consumers on products that they purchase from Mexico

One of my friends from high school is a zookeeper and she posted this article about how Trump’s wall threatens 111 endangered species.  His tax hike will already pose problems, but depending on his plan for the actual wall itself, he could potentially wreak havoc on many species of animals that are already endangered.

Fighting ISIS

He wants a plan for fighting ISIS ready by the military in 30 days.  He wants a “comprehensive plan to defeat ISIS” with no option for “accommodation or negotiation.”

I am not involved in the military, but it seems to me that 30 days might not be an adequate amount of time to plan a way to defeat a group that has been causing such chaos across so many different locations.

Refugee Ban

He has decided to ban refugees from certain countries from entering our country.  Refugees from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Somalia,Yemen, Sudan, and Libya are blocked for 120 days.  Syrians are blocked indefinitely.  These are all countries that are predominantly Muslim.

He denies that this ban is anti-Muslim, but that is precisely what it seems to be.

Pope Francis recently said, “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help.”

Refugees are not the problem in our country.  Most refugees are people who are fleeing dangerous situations.  They are trying to save their lives and the lives of their families.

Fortunately, a judge filed a lawsuit to block part of this plan.  According to an article on Yahoo, “It argued that the order violates a 1965 law that banned discrimination in immigration based on national origin.”

The lawsuit “will stop officials  from removing individuals with approved refugee applications, holders of valid visas and people from the affected countries who have been authorized to enter — pending completion of a hearing on the matter in court.”

Dakota Pipeline

He plans to authorize work to finish the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe relies on the area in which the pipeline needs to be finished for their water.  The tribe is concerned that the pipeline is a  “high risk that culturally and historically significant sites will be damaged or destroyed” and its fear for the safety of its drinking water supply, according to this article.

Torture

Trump has made it clear that he is not against the use of torture in certain circumstances.  Thankfully, he said that he will let the Secretary of Defense, James Mattis, “override” him. Mattis opposes the reinstatement of torture because experts have found that it is not an effective way to get information out of our enemies.

Trump disagrees with the studies that had been performed, and finds that “it does work.” During his campaign, Trump mentioned reinstating waterboarding, among other, even worse forms of torture.


This is the exact reason why I felt so conflicted about the election in the first place.  I could not vote for Clinton because of her drastic views that would perpetuate a culture of death.  But I also could not vote for Trump with his crass, derogatory comments, and plans that in my mind do not honor the dignity of the human person.

I have confidence in the American people and hope that if enough people stand up against Trump for certain things like the pipeline or the refugee situation, maybe something will change.

Despite my faith in God, I feel hesitant about the future of our country.  I pray that He will guide Trump to make decisions that will benefit the good of not only Americans, but those in other countries as well.  I know and trust that He can do all things.  I have faith that He is with us.

How Will You Leave Your Mark on the World?

For my AP classes, I’m about to start analyzing the arguments of music videos with them.

So I decided to make my own video with an argument about leaving your mark on the world.

For this video, I compiled clips and photographs from my volunteer experiences in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, plus some stuff from Brazil.

Here is the video if you’re interested in checking it out:

American Egocentrism – Back at it Again

I know that I previously wrote a post about this, but I am still so frustrated by this topic of American egocentrism.

Our news outlets only care when Americans (or sometimes other Westerners) are the ones affected.

This was a headline that I saw today:

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I understand that Americans who have potentially lost their loved ones are distraught.  But it is not all about us.  We should be concerned about every person who lost his or her life during the attacks, not just the Americans.  We need to care about the Brussels bombings because they are a tragic event.  This tragedy is not made worse just because there is the potential that some Americans were involved.

This happens time and time again.  When Americans are involved in a tragedy, it’s broadcast all over the news.  But what about all of the atrocities that are taking place across the world that we never hear about because we are not directly affected?  Those lives still matter.

There is that trending hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.  But more than just black lives, every life matters.  Let’s increase the popularity of a different hashtag: #AllLivesMatter.

A former student of mine posted this image on her Facebook account today:

 

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This is exactly what I am talking about here.

It’s easy to simply blame the news outlets for this situation, but really, we as Americans must accept responsibility.  Media outlets are for-profit entities.  They release to the public the stories that they believe will get the most attention.

It’s just like any other industry that deals with supply and demand.  We Americans are the suppliers.  We must demand to be provided with news about other countries beyond America and European countries.

The problem is that we as Americans are too focused on our own nation.  Many of us don’t care what is happening in Africa or the Philippines, unless, of course, our brother happens to be traveling to Libya this week, in which case we then want to know what is happening there (but only until he is safe at home, at which point, we proceed to forget about Libya).

Ebola

When Ebola was killing people throughout Africa, we didn’t care until the first infected person flew to the United States.

Zika

The same is true of the Zika virus.  It had been wreaking havoc among pregnant mothers and newborn babies across South America, but it did not receive much of an increase in news attention until people in Florida started contracting it.

AIDS

AIDS was a major epidemic here in the 1990s, but now that America is doing much better in that respect, people forget that it absolutely still exists and that people are dying every day in Africa from that disease.

Malaria

Malaria is also something that we forget about.  The Against Malaria Foundation is one of the most effective charities because it is able to save tens of thousands of lives from providing people with mosquito nets, which are not very expensive to purchase.  Yet most Americans don’t even remember how devastating this preventable disease can be to the people who are affected by it.

Haiti’s Earthquake

Every American news outlet provided specific details about Americans who had been traveling in Haiti when the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince.  Sure, they also released the overall death count, but the focus was always on the American lives lost.


 

I could go on and on providing examples of illnesses and tragedies that Americans ignore as long as Americans are not involved.  I’m not sure that it is something that will ever change.  It can only change if we as Americans begin demanding to learn about more international news.

We need to stop acting as though the world revolves around us.  It does not.  Let’s take some time to pray for our brothers in Brussels who may have lost their lives, who were injured, or whose family members were injured.  Let’s pray for them not because we heard of the American who was there, but because every life is important.

#AllLivesMatter

 

Why Charter Schools May Be Ruining Urban Public Schools

I am a high school English teacher.  This is currently my 6th year of teaching.  I spent my first year in Bridgeport, Connecticut (an urban district).  I then taught for four years in Danbury, Connecticut (also an urban district).  And I am now teaching in another urban district in New Jersey.

I love working in urban schools.  I like trying to help each of my students to find the motivation to achieve success.  I want to be able to help each of them to truly believe in themselves.  I know that it is these students who many people would rather not teach, since so many of them are considered to be the “bad kids” or even worse, the “hood kids.”

My experiences in Connecticut were excellent.  I taught in a huge high school that offered a wide array of diversity.  We had students of all nationalities and backgrounds.  We had students who grew up in poverty and those who grew up in mansions with fathers who were CEOs of major businesses.  We had students who had just moved from Pakistan, the Dominican Republic, and China, to those whose families had been in America for generations.  We had gifted students as well as students with major special needs and learning impairments.  Every sort of student was present at that school.

But I am finding that that schools like that are becoming more of an anomaly, and I believe that some of the problem comes down to charter schools.

What has been happening recently is that more charter schools are opening up, particularly in urban areas, so they are taking many students away from the regular public schools.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I have no firsthand experience within a charter school.  I don’t know all of the background behind them.  I have never worked in one.  However, in my opinion, they are definitely not benefitting the regular public schools.

Let me explain.  Let’s take a city like Newark, New Jersey.  There are some areas of the city that are a bit better off than other areas.

20 years ago, the students living in Newark would have only had a couple of choices of schools to attend.  The public schools, the parochial schools, plus the vocational schools upon entering high school.  The majority of the city’s students would end up in the regular public school system, so the degree of diversity would be based on the surrounding neighborhood.

What is happening now, though, is a bit different.  In addition to the parochial school options, students now have the option to attend a variety of charter schools.

There are currently 25 charter schools in Newark.  Want some more numbers?  Here are the number of charter schools in more American cities:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 86

Austin, Texas- 46

San Diego, California – 55

Brooklyn, New York – 70

Bronx, New York – 42

Detroit, Michigan – 135

There aren’t just a few charter schools here and there.  They are everywhere.

So what is the problem?  Well, there are a few.

They decrease the diversity of the regular public schools and increase segregation.

Because charter schools are public, the enrollment is often based on a lottery system.  The schools are supposed to admit students based on a drawing that should have little to go with a family’s income level, race, religion, etc.

However, there was an article from EdWeek that explains how charter schools actually increase the risk of segregation.

Some of the schools have strict family obligations.  Therefore, a single mom who is working three jobs to get by will likely not be able to send her children to a charter school because she is simply too busy to fulfill their requirements.  I would prefer not to make this a racial issue, but in my own experiences, it is typically black and hispanic students who have parents working long hours to put some food on the table.  Yes, there are absolutely black and hispanic families who are not in this situation, but it is just more common.  Thus, many of the poorest students remain in the regular public schools while the other students are more easily able to attend the charter schools.

There is also segregation according to special education needs.  According to the EdWeek article, “Special education and language-minority students are under-represented in charter schools, unless the schools are specifically targeted to these population groups.”

So what do we end up with?  Charter schools that, although they are located in urban areas, have many of the “better-off students in attendance.  Yes, these students still live in rough areas and they may not even be considered middle class, they have fewer major learning disabilities and fewer language problems.  Many of the schools also have strict behavioral requirements, so students will easily be put back into their regular school district if there are problems.

And this is what happens to the student population in the neighborhood public schools:  They get more students whose parents are too busy to be involved, students who face the biggest financial struggles, students who are behavior problems, students who cannot speak English, and students with special needs.

There is already quite a bit of segregation in urban schools simply due to white flight.  But now the charter schools are making it even worse.  I love teaching these tough students, but when a school population only has these difficult cases, it becomes more difficult to teach them because it becomes such a homogeneous grouping with less diversity.

According to the EdWeek article,

It is ironic that as other countries become increasingly concerned about the social implications of their school choice programs the United States is promoting the expansion of these programs. Until now, the link between charter schools and segregation has been partially masked by the fact that a large proportion of charter schools are in urban areas that are already highly segregated.


They take money away from the public schools.

Charter schools are considered public, so they receive funding from the district and the state, according to their enrollment.

However, there are many programs in place in various states that end up awarding more money to charter schools.

Take this article for instance, about Connecticut’s governor: “Malloy: Increase charter school, cut neighborhood funding”.  Many politicians see charter schools as the savior for American’s current educational failures.  Thus, they are provided with more funding than the regular public schools.

While Dannel Malloy is cutting the budget for regular public schools by $9.3 million, the charter schools will be receiving more money.

Malloy also wants a $52.9 million cut “in funding for special education, after-school programs, reading tutors and other services in low-performing public schools across the state.”

All of those items he wants to cut are crucial elements of the educational system.  Why he wants to make cuts to special education, and various programs that help low-performing schools, I have no idea.  In some places, it actually seems like governors are making more cuts with the hopes that one day, there will only be charter schools.

Yes, that sounds extreme, but how can we expect our regular public schools to thrive when money and crucial programs are being removed?

Governor Malloy is actually rescinding money that was promised to public schools in previous years, when he made a deal in order to help new charter schools to get their feet on the ground.  “In Stamford, the governor’s proposal means the public schools will not get the $225,000 increase they would have received, but the new charter school in town will get about $3 million more so enrollment can increase.”

I know that Connecticut is not the only place where this is happening.  In various areas across the nation, similar budget problems are facing neighborhood public school districts, while the charter schools are reaping many benefits.

It’s like they are trying to set up the regular public schools for failure.  Give all of the problem students, ESL students, students with special needs, and students with uninvolved parents to public schools.  Then cut their funding and see what will happen.

Do they want us to fail?


Charter schools do not have the exemplary test scores that one might expect.

Despite the aforementioned problems with charter schools, everyone at least expected that their test scores would skyrocket, but that has simply not been the case.

I am not a fan of the monotony of standardized tests that exist in this country.  However, people expected that charter schools would propel students’ test scores much higher than those in regular schools.

Knowing that charter schools receive so much extra funding, that would not be a surprising reality, but it isn’t actually the case.

According to an LA Times article, the test scores in the Los Angeles Unified school district (LAUSD) are quite dismal.  However, the charter school test results were not much better.  Charter schools are viewed so highly by so many parents, and although many do boast higher scores than the regular schools, they are not as dramatic as people had expected.

According to Education Justice, “charter schools do not, on average, show greater levels of student achievement, typically measured by standardized test scores, than public schools, and may even perform worse.  The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University found in a 2009 report that 17% of charter schools outperformed their public school equivalents, while 37% of charter schools performed worse than regular local schools, and the rest were about the same.”

While there is no doubt that some charter schools are outperforming the regular public schools, that is not the case across all charter schools.  Many are performing the exactly the same as their public school counterparts and some are performing even worse.


Despite the lack of clear proof that charter schools are outperforming other schools, there has been a rapid increase in the total number of charter schools in our country.

According to a study completed at the University of Southern Maine by David L. Silvernail and Amy F. Johnson, the first charter school law was passed in Minnesota in 1991.  Since then, the number of charter schools has been increasing nationally.

In the year 2000, there were about 1,500 charter schools in America, and by 2013, there were about 6,000.  That is a dramatic increase to happen over a relatively short period of time, especially since there has been no clearcut evidence to prove that charter schools are fixing America’s educational problems.

2.3 million students in America attend a charter school.  55% of these charter schools are located in urban areas.

Silvernail and Johnson complete in-depth research to take a closer look into the following claims about the charter versus public school debate:

  1. Public charter schools produce better student academic performance.
  2. Public charter schools increase competition, resulting in improvements in public schools.
  3. Student performance improves over time in public charter schools.

At no surprise to me, the researchers found that claim #1 is unfounded.  Charter schools do not always coincide with increased academic performance.

The same was true of claim #2.  Charter schools are not changing the way public schools operate.  And, based on the decreased funding to public schools, that is no surprise.

And again, the same the claim #3.  Yes, some charter schools are improving over time, but not all of them.  The same is true of the regular public schools.  Some improve over time while others do not.

To anyone who understands anything about data or education, it is clear that charter schools are not making the gains that everyone expected.  Yet lawmakers are still pushing charter schools, are still likely to provide extra funding to charter schools, and are often trying to flaunt data that makes people believe that charter schools are superior to regular public schools when that is simply unfounded.


There are also many teachers working for charter schools who are dissatisfied with their jobs.

Of course there are dissatisfied teachers in public schools as well, but there are additional problems in charter schools that some teachers do not foresee upon hiring.

Many charter schools offer longer hours to students so that they have extra time in the afternoon when they can work with their teachers and work on their homework.  Thus, teachers are working longer hours.  There is even a charter school in New York that requires teachers to be available to answer their phones to help students with homework questions until 9pm, according to a New York Times article.

This article also explains how many charter school teachers do not teach for more than 4 years.  They either move up into supervisory positions, or they find alternate jobs.

As a regular public school teacher, I already work long hours.  But with the charter schools, there are teachers who often cite working 80 hours a week.

I have also heard of problems concerning management since many charter schools are run by people who have never been teachers and many who have never really been involved in education in general.


There are more options in course selections in regular public schools.

I like the diversity of public schools, in both the students and the class offerings.  The largest public high schools offer a multitude of AP classes in addition to vocational classes..  They can offer a greater choice in terms of languages.  This is not because the schools are better, but because they are bigger.  They have more students, more teachers, and can therefore offer a wider variety of classes.

Some of the options of courses in my last school included:

-Auto shop

-Cooking

-Baking

-CNA certification program

-Gaming design

-Over 20 advanced placement courses

-Chinese

-Italian

-French

-Spanish

And the list goes on and on…

There are actually a few charter schools that have decided not to offer AP courses at all, like New West Charter School.  I know that is not the norm among charter schools, but many charter schools do lack the diversity in course selection simply due to their smaller size.


For me, the most frustrating part of all of this is how I see people who have less and less faith in the regular public school system.  So many “informed” parents, especially in urban areas, believe that their child’s only hope is if he or she wins the lottery to enroll in a charter school.  The notion is simply unfounded.

I don’t hate charter schools.  I believe that charter schools and their supporters do have good intentions.  What I hate is how people make assumption about these schools that are untrue and how they act like these schools are so much better than the regular public schools.

I am absolutely a supporter of the public school system.  I prefer the highly diverse schools that welcome any student.  I know that our country has major problems in terms of its education system.  There are a multitude of issues that have nothing to do with charter schools.  However, I am so tired of hearing so many people who believe that charter schools are saving the state of education in America.

Charter schools are not our savior.

Charter schools alone are not going to make America more competitive in the global economy.

We need bigger educational changes that go way beyond breaking the ground of more charter schools in the upcoming years if we really want to fix our educational system.