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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 deflated—and 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 before—a 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.


I can fully understand how this experience you provide for yourself and these kids in the summer serves as a source of rejuvenation. It must be very rewarding to walk away from your work and feel accomplished with your efforts after the frustrations you describe from the calendar school year. people should always realize that with the proper tools and environment, that kids are always willing to learn. They need to be able to focus and saturate what is being taught in our schools so they aren't necessarily leaning towards much more negative distractions. It sounds like you are providing a great service that benefits yourself as well. I hope that you can help shape the future of Chicago's curriculum and funding priorities with your positive outlook and it's results.

In the city of Chicago lacking support, funding, and any serious initiative for improvment. Most educators find themselves loosing inspiriation and feeling generally beat up by the system. Taking a good hard look at a true community like Pilsen and what you describe, who are making moves to advance itself and its children is a glorious example that demands the attention of a sinking educational system. Is Chicago up for the challenge, taking a good hard look at this country and the institutionalized racism we practice and so easily tend to overlook. This is a great start, thank you.

It is great to hear something positive for a change coming from an educator. Someone who truly cares about the people, and not his or her summers off. I think what you are doing does sound very rewarding....much more than being bored at home during the summer trying to recharge! I had a party last weekend where I had a conversation with a teacher friend of mine....When I asked how her summer was going she proclaimed that she was "bored", yet she said she dreads August? Maybe she has yet to find her niche like you did- working with the kids who need us the most! Thank you for this motivating blog!

Great to hear about your experiences. I wish we had a free camp in our city, but also for lower middle class children as we can not afford to send our kids to the expensive camps offered in the summer time and do not qualify for free anything. It would be terrific to have this opportunity for our children as it is not provided in the normal school year much less in the summertime. We really feel like our children are falling behind and wish we had a teacher like you and this chance for learning.

I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences with this camp. I'm in my last year of Teacher's College at UNL (at age 40!) and I've worked with teachers who are tired and unmotivated, conducting lessons seemingly by rote, and it's inspiring to see you getting involved with children outside the school walls, motivating and inspiring them--and keeping yourself motivated and excited. Teachers above all need to be inspired in order to be good teachers--I firmly believe that. I'll be checking in regularly, living vicariously! Thanks for pointing me in your direction.


This is inspiring! I look forward to reading more details of Amy's work with students in Pilsen. I think her experiences would provide great hope to the many teachers and students (and frustrated parents) who long for learning opportunities in a stimulating and peaceful environment. Brava to Amy and the many community partners who created this opportunity.


I was thrilled that Randy and Mary sent this off to me. Being from Lincoln, NE this is such a wonderful program. Your involvement with these children shows that it is a project that comes from your heart. Continued blessing toward this awesome adventure.

Ursula McLaughlin

As many doctors have reported as well as much research, obesity may be a genetic problem and therefore has nothing to do with you as a teacher. No question your example as someone who exercises and eats the right foods as well as teaching about nutrition is important to student. However, you are not a medical doctor and need to be careful about what you say and do about the issue of obesity. If obesity is like addiction you would not be qualified in that case either. Teachers have a fine line with regard to health issue and should stick to teaching students the curriculum to be successful in a job in the future.

Wow, that sounds like an amazing summer job!! Helping underprivileged students learn technology so that they will be able to possibly some day to get themselves out of that situation. I am looking forward to reading more of this blog, to see what technology you use with these kids and more about this program in general. I look forward to finding out things like how these kids are selected, what types of programs they learn, and things of that nature. But what an inspirational story and I’m looking forward to reading more on this subject.

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Recent Comments

  • Mav 205: Wow, that sounds like an amazing summer job!! Helping underprivileged read more
  • KK: Amy, As many doctors have reported as well as much read more
  • Ursula McLaughlin: Amy, I was thrilled that Randy and Mary sent this read more
  • Radhika Sharma Gordon: This is inspiring! I look forward to reading more details read more
  • Kristen: I'm looking forward to hearing about your experiences with this read more




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