Category Archives: hope

Trickle-Down Help

The theme this week is asking how I have helped someone. I could go on about all my amazing successful students, of course. (There is nothing more rewarding than mentoring students.) Instead, I want to highlight how I have been helped … and how hopefully that help has trickled down to the students.

Before I came to the community college, I taught science in a Montessori Elementary setting, and I also handled the tough behavior issues that went beyond the classroom. I felt pretty good about classroom control and helping students learn from their behavioral mistakes.

Funny thing though, Montessori Elementary classroom management techniques don’t always work in a community college setting – for a host of different reasons. I can no longer ask students to check their cell phones in at the door. Moving people’s seats during a lecture doesn’t go over very well. Students who misbehave cannot be sent to another classroom, and they don’t get detentions or “write ups.” They cannot be asked to write a reflective essay on their behavior. Adult students expect a certain amount of freedom – after all, they ARE adults!

I know I am not the only one who can spot a problem brewing. When we see this, we must decide how far to take it. I usually start by speaking to the student individually. I can suggest, cajole, offer, etc. to students who need help to visit the appropriate support service (counseling, testing center, library, writing center, etc.) – but sometimes those students just do not follow through. Then, when the student is not getting what he/she needs outside the classroom, it shows up in classroom etiquette and other disruptive behaviors. As soon as it becomes a distraction to the learning of the others in the class, we have options and support.

The Behavior Intervention Team, a committee through the Dean of Student Life has helped me handle a specific difficult situation and become a better teacher at the same time. I had a student that was significantly disruptive and I frankly was concerned for his mental health. I started by having an informal conversation with Dr. Trisha Lavigne (fellow faculty are amazing), and then I followed through by filing a report online. I wanted the record to be in the system, but it was only in there for informational purposes. It is important to track things like this, as if the student repeats the behavior for another instructor, we at least have a paper trail. After the initial report was filed, we decided to have someone call him and offer services to help him get on track. Trisha gave me some words to use when speaking to the student about it. He got agitated, and the next class period, his behavior was even worse. I knew I was going to have to speak to him again, this time about his grade and what he was going to need to do to remain enrolled in the class. This is where Lt. Nate Achtizger helped me. He sat in the classroom and assessed the situation, then he sat outside the conference room when I met with the student. His feedback helped me feel more safe when the student was around. In the end, the student ended up dropping the class, which was helpful for everyone else – and maybe for him, too. Whew! Dodged a bullet! All through this process, Dean Monica Castaneda was aware and ready to step in if I couldn’t handle it.

The bullet was not dodged for long, though. That same student enrolled for another one of my classes this semester. Again, Dean Castaneda spent time emailing and talking with me to be prepare before the semester even started. While we tried to get the student to get the services he needs, he has refused. He is, however, doing much better this time around. And so am I. I know I am supported – the team has my back. I have established a new rapport with the student, and maybe, if he continues to not be disruptive, I will be able to reach him. Maybe he will eventually follow through on getting the services he needs. Just maybe. I hope.

So to answer the question, “How have you helped someone,” I can say that the GCC community has helped me. And in turn, hopefully, I can return the favor.

 

Providing Hope

During the Great Depression, a young child around the age of two and her older brother (not yet four) were dropped off at a church because their mother could no longer afford to take care of them, or at least that's what the siblings were told when they were old enough to remember. As the children grew older, they spent their entire childhood in foster care; they were never legally adopted by any family. The older brother, Walter, joined the Marines and the younger sister, Helen, began working in a department store.

The older brother fought in the Korean War and was killed during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Helen married and had two daughters--one of whom is my mother-in-law. When the girls were very young (about the same age Helen and her brother were when they were surrendered), their father, Helen's husband, was killed in a car accident. Helen considered doing the same thing her mother did when she was younger but decided against it--those girls were her only family and she wanted to do whatever she could to keep her family together. She remarried and the daughters eventually raised children of their own and those children raised their own children after that (my kids!).

Helen Simmons' story served as inspiration for Helen's Hope Chest, an organization by the Mesa United Way to help foster children and their families. State funding for foster care and kinship care (care from a family member who is not a biological parent) has significantly decreased and organizations like Helen's help to ease some of the financial cost of caring for foster children. Many times, children come to their foster family with only the clothes on their backs. Foster and kinship families can come to Helen's four times per year (once per season) and receive whatever clothing or supplies they need. Foster parents can also choose Christmas and birthday presents for their children as well as back to school supplies at the start of each new school year. No child leaves without a book. This is all free; as a result, Helen's relies on the kindness and donations of others.



Obviously, this organization is near and dear to my heart and that of the rest of my family. I try to contribute as much as I can, and when I can't, I do my best to spread the word about Helen's and what they need. Since they survive mostly on donations, they often run low on supplies--toothbrushes, body wash, etc. and boys and girls clothes sizes 5-10 (that age is roughest on clothes!). So while I can't make a difference all by myself, I try to educate my friends about the organization and encourage them to donate. You can also "like" them on Facebook and receive updates (positive stories and updated needs).

At my previous school, I learned that a student of mine was living in a group home. I told her about Helen's and their house mother loaded everyone up in the big van and took them to Mesa (it's far, but it's worth it!). They loved being able to have a shopping spree--something none of them had ever experienced.

As I talk about Helen's to different groups of people, I am surprised by how many people are involved in some way with foster care. What I mean by surprised is that there are so many people involved, but it gets very little recognition at the state funding level. The people who are involved do so because they care and they want to help. Telling them about Helen's is one way I can help. I also know that there are other organizations that help foster children and their families, but I really like the concept at Helen's. It's set up like a store which I think makes it seem more comfortable to the children who visit.

So, while it doesn't take place in a classroom, being involved with Helen's Hope Chest is one way I hope I am making a difference.