Tuesday, July 2, 2013

End of an Era

As I write my final post for the PP55 blog, I am going to take this opportunity to be cheesy and cliche and just go ahead and say it: it is the end of a brief but truly transformational era for me. I have reached the end of my second fellowship year, and the dominant emotion I feel as I look back on these past two years is gratitude. I am so thankful that have been a part of this program. It has been integral to my development, both professional and personally. It wasn't just the jobs to which I was connected. The work was certainly the central component of my development, but it really was the sum of the parts: the work, the seminars, the mentoring opportunities, and the broader opportunity to connect with Princeton alums who are similarly dedicated to serving others and building up a new generation of civic-minded leaders. All of these elements taken together are what make me feel confident and well-equipped to take on a leadership position in marketing and development at Mount Carmel-Holy Rosary School in east Harlem. This sense of self-assurance and the accompanying certainty that I am heading down the right professional path is relatively new for me--it certainly isn't something I had in large quantities upon graduating from Princeton. Two years later, I am exceedingly grateful that I have moved out of that place of uncertainty and into a place of more self-confidence and self-awareness. This is not to say that I can accurately predict what I will be doing in ten years, or even in five. But my two fellowships have enriched my interest in the education sector and how business strategies and models can enhance its effectiveness. And, to understate things a little bit, they have confirmed me just how rewarding it is to be working every day to help a struggling family and better the future of a child. So, to wrap things up, thanks Project 55--it's been a great couple of years, and I look forward to remaining connected to the AlumniCorps community for more than a couple more!

Friday, June 7, 2013

New York Fellows Closing Dinner

Last night, the NY fellows, mentors, and key people in the PP55 program gathered at the home of Judy and Sam Suratt to celebrate the end of our fellowship year. It gave me a chance to stop and reflect on my experience as a Program Associate at the Association to Benefit Children (ABC).

My responsibilities at ABC have been many and varied. I have managed all reporting, communications, and analysis for ABC’s small permanent supportive housing program, which operates through a contract with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.  I have taken the lead on managing all contractual, regulatory, and compliance related tasks for ABC’s Youth Alliance program, Family Resource Center, and Emotional Wellness Screening Project. Additionally, I have had the great privilege of attending various coalition meetings as ABC’s main representative. My favorite meetings to attend were those of the NYC Coalition on the Continuum of Care, a coalition of homeless housing and shelter providers, consumers, advocates, and government representatives working together to shape citywide planning and decision-making around the issue of homelessness. Furthermore, I have worked with my colleagues, including PP55ers Julie Leary and Taylor Leyden, on submitting major applications in order to secure funds that allow ABC to continue to operate its programs and provide services. These were some of my responsibilities, among others, and I learned a lot.

When I think about how much we accomplished at ABC this year and how valuable the PP55 fellows have been to ABC, I know that the other fellows have made equally important contributions to their organizations. I’m so proud to have been a part of the 2012-2013 PP55 fellowship program. May the wind be at our backs as we start new journeys or continue on the ones we are on now!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

May Highlights

There were many. One was getting to hear a little more about what the fellows in Connecticut are doing at their organizations--the Housing Developing Fund and the Norwalk Community Health Center--during a recent seminar that brought our two AlumniCorps communities together at the Rockefeller Foundation. Another was accepting a job in marketing and development at a Catholic elementary school in East Harlem--a position which I am thrilled about and feel extremely prepared for, thanks to my two PP55 fellowships. And a third was getting to see the American Ballet Company perform "Onegin" at Lincoln Center--for free, courtesy of Judy Hole, a very active member of the NYC AlumniCorps area committee. It's the perks like these that make me wonder...why am I not applying for a third fellowship?

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Family Day

This past Saturday, NYCCD hosted our annual Family Day, in which 200+ children, parents, teachers, and other staff crammed into a well over-capacity gymnasium for a full-on carnival. It was quite a spectacle, complete with face-painting, arts and crafts, animal balloons, and a live band that cranked out kids' songs at maximum volume for almost the entire two hour-long event. Due to my extensive involvement in NYCCD's mental health program (as opposed to our preschool program), I was not as involved in planning and organizing the event as it seems like past fellows have been. The time that I spend at the school has been cut down to 6 to 7 hours per week, and I have not had the opportunity to get to know the children as well as I might have thought at the beginning of my fellowship. However, watching 100 preschoolers dance around like crazy people, their faces decorated with a creative combination of paint, ice cream, and goofy little-kid smiles, would have made anyone feel more than lucky to be witness to the circus unfolding in that old gym--no matter how little time they had spent with the dancers, or how much their fingers were blistered and reeking of latex from the hours spent tying balloon swords in preparation for their arrival. The whole day served to reaffirm the importance for me of finding mission-driven work after my fellowship wraps up in June. It's impossible to be unmotivated or uninspired at work when you have a concrete reminder of what you're working towards--even if that reminder comes in the form of blisters and the ever-lingering smell of balloons.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Parent Outreach in Action

As per usual, there have been many memorable moments during my last month at New York Center for Child Development, but I think one of the highlights for me was our Open House, in which NYCCD's preschool for special-needs children opened its doors to prospective parents who are sending their three-year-old's off to "real school" for the first time in the fall. I think everyone present was a little nervous--the parents were understandably concerned about finding the right fit for their child while navigating the complex special education system, the staff was hoping to set the parents at ease while selling the unique attributes of our school, and I in particular was nervous because my supervisor had asked me to "say something to the parents"--without providing much more guidance beyond this. As a natural planner who prefers to have everything laid out in advance when it comes to public speaking, I was feeling my share of the communal sense of nerves. What could I say to welcome these parents that the senior staff, all of whom had already spoken before me, could not say more articulately and more knowledgeably than me? Yet when it came time for me to speak, I was surprised by how easily the words flowed. I shared with them not only an overview of some of the projects I work on as Parent Outreach Coordinator--from PTA meetings to family events to parent satisfaction surveys to a parent email listserv that I have started this year--but also the overarching purpose of all of the work we do with and for parents. Namely, our goal is to ensure that all parents feel knowledgeable about their child's progress at school, equipped to support their child's development at home, and connected to the broader New York Center community. I didn't speak for very long, and I certainly did not say anything particularly groundbreaking, but I could tell by the look on the parents' faces that my words resonated with them and their hopes for their children. As I reflected on that moment, I realized how much I had learned about New York Center's work with families in the almost nine months that I have been there, and I was struck yet again the importance of our mission. New York Center works to better the lives not only of the children who enter its doors and benefit from its services, but those of the child's entire family. By engaging parents and ensuring that they feel supported throughout their child's entire early childhood, New York Center can transform a parent's outlook on the future of their special-needs child, and I am very proud to be a part of that work--and to be able to speak about it without stumbling over my words too much!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

C-D-A-E-S...We are the best!

This year I have had the amazing opportunity to work at Community Day Arlington Elementary School (CDAES).  Having worked as a classroom assistant, social studies teacher, and after-school program coordinator at an elementary school through AmeriCorps my first two years out of college, I wanted to continue my work in education before I committed to law school.  So far, it's been a wonderful experience and I feel so privileged to be part of CDAES' first year staff.
CDAES is a special kind of hybrid.  Although the school is part of the Lawrence public system and is considered a regular public school (serving students from the neighborhood), our classrooms operate in a very charter-school-like manner.  Currently, the school serves K-1st, but will be serving up to 4th grade next year.  We have 8 classes total and the majority of our students are English Language Learners.
As a generalist, I get to do a little bit of everything.  I help administer tests (specifically any kind of ELL/ESL tests), assist teachers when their co-teacher is out or, if both teachers are out, serve as a substitute.  When I am not doing either of these things, I am working in specific classrooms that have specific needs.  Classroom instruction at our school is data driven and similarly, so is my schedule.  After a cycle of testing (MAP or STEP), we look at what classrooms might benefit from extra assistance.  K-1st grades spend a lot of time building and strengthening literacy skills, so naturally a lot of the assistance I provide is in that area.  I typically take a small group of students (2-6) and work with them on skills they are having trouble mastering or skills they need to practice.  This can include basics like working on letter sounds, to building words, to rhyming, to guided reading.

Most of my previous classroom experience was with 2nd-5th graders, so working with K-1st grades has been a new adventure!  Academically, the school year moves a lot more slowly, as much of our time is spent on reinforcing basic skills, but behaviorally and socially, you see so much more progress than with older grades.  Most of our kindergarteners came to us never having attended preschool and even some of our first graders had limited schooling in the US, so naturally there was a period of adjusting to the classroom structure.  It really is amazing to see how much each student has grown and I look forward to challenging our little ones and seeing them continue to learn, grow, and succeed.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Update From Norwalk

Things have been going very well here at the Norwalk Community Health Center! I've been learning a great deal about healthcare from both the clinical and administrative sides. There is always a lot of activity in the health center, and as Fellows our tasks vary widely. Some of the things we work on include processing medical record requests, completing medical chart audits for reports to be submitted to the Department of Public Health,  training doctors on the Electronic Medical Record system,  helping patients sign up for medication discount programs, and helping standardize clinical workflows across the health center.

Another exciting piece of news from the health center is that we recently launched a "Health on Wheels" project. In addition to looking snazzy, the bus pictured below contains two exam rooms and a nursing area. Our mobile unit team members travel with the bus to a local homeless shelter and public housing project to provide medical care, dental cleanings, and counseling services to those who otherwise may not have had access. The bus has been on the road for just over a month now, so there are still some kinks to work out to optimize the care we can provide, but so far the team has received many positive reviews!