Recharge. This is what teachers do in the summer. My batteries run out of juice around April. By mid-June, when Chicago Public Schools let out, I feel completely deflatedand not from the students. This past year I started my own business to meet the needs of after school programming because I was unable to find a job in a school suitable for me. Sounds a little particular for someone with no health insurance, but I had worked in an unsuitable school beforea junior high with metal detectors and aggressive guards, where I witnessed the principal slap a kid across the his head and I taught thirteen-year-old babies with babies. The same unsuitable school where police barged into my classroom to question my 7th grade student, and my coworker was trampled by a troupe of 8th grade boys.
The most shocking aspect of that horrible experience, though, was that it came on the heels of the best working environment of my life; a summer job teaching technology to kids ages 9-14 at the El Valor Summer Camp in Chicago’s densely populated Pilsen community.
“A summer job?” many colleagues question with amused looks. I know what they are thinking. Aren’t summers supposed to be about relaxing? About not working and finding renewed energy to return to school refreshed and recharged? Well, my energy is renewed by working with underprivileged kids in a stimulating, motivating environment outside the institutional walls of our overcrowded, underfunded schools.
I’d like to take a moment to address the word "underprivileged." It is a fact that thousands upon thousands of children are attending poorly funded Title 1 schools, sitting all day in overcrowded classrooms with old books that, more often than not, have obscenities scribbled on the pages. And it is a fact that these children are, more often than not, from African American and Latino backgrounds. This sort of institutionalized discrimination severely limits social and economic opportunities for those who attend these schools, as evidenced in high school drop out rates. So, I feel motivated and recharged when working at El Valor because the people here are doing something to solve these problems.
El Valor is a multicultural, multiservice organization with a mission to support and challenge urban families to achieve excellence and participate fully in the community. The programs here are designed to enrich and empower people. I am blogging about my work at the camp this summer because there needs to be more effort around this country to create FREE motivational opportunities like the ones created at El Valor. The two 4-week sessions of summer camp address the many issues that plague underprivileged communities by providing an environment where children are nurtured intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. This camp addresses the recommendation set forth in 2003 by the president’s Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans to set new and high expectations for Latino children by creating partnerships that provide expanded options. El Valor collaborates with the USDA Forest Service, the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie and Chicago’s Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum to implement inspiring educational opportunities.
Working together with my exceptional co-workers (there are eight of us for 32 students) motivates me. Showing these children how to use technology to interpret their science investigations, how to build Web sites using Dreamweaver, and how to make art using digital cameras and Photoshop motivates me, too. I am motivated to want more for the people in my community, in my city, and in my country. So yes, my summer job recharges me. It makes me see more clearly the reasons I became a teacher. It wasn’t for the summers off.