1234 Education Never Done Before …


KinderCorps Story

I have been working with my students on documenting their experiences as teen mothers. It is difficult to find time for reflection while immersed in such complicated and busy lives, but each student has started to voice their own story through essays and video.

I have created a collection of KinderCorps photos and overlaid an audio story in a sort of collage of what my students experience. Future stories will contain video, but this is the first and an overview of the KinderCorps program.

I hope that this tribute to our program can be used as a tool for explanation. I would like to encourage potential donors to support the expensive and worthwhile childcare programs at American YouthWorks.


Podcast KinderCorp

I teach in a complicated classroom. I teach teen mothers who bring their infants into a classroom and multitask- bond with their babies and gain high school credit simultaneous. Below are student generated questions about teen parenting.

10 Questions for Teen Moms  

Since you have been a mom, has the way you used to think about being a parent changed?

How do you deal with school, work, and the baby?

How do you support your child?

Was it hard to leave behind the life you used to have to become a dedicated mom?

How hard was it for you to get adjusted to your new life the very first weeks?

What do you do when your child has cried all night long and you have to go to school or work next morning?

What feelings do have when you can’t calm your baby down?

How do you feel when you want to go somewhere, but instead you have to stay at home taking care of your child?

How does it make you feel that you not only have to take care of yourself, but also your child?

What are your goals for the future of your child?

Students begin making movie for school service day.

Fridays are different…

Fridays are different…

On Friday’s we (me, my class, and my co-teacher) leave behind any semblance of a traditional classroom.

Friday, class begins at a cemetery and ends with a construction site.

As we drove to a cemetery, I knew what my students were feeling:  they were excited and scared. They, I am sure, were envisioning bones and tombstones. They were concerned about the level of service they would be asked to perform. Some were also concerned about the neighborhood.

Despite their concerns, I was excited and unafraid. I drove the van with a smile on my face. I had had the same concerns, but was put at ease after investigating the cemetery.

We drove for about four miles listening to Prince along the way.

When we arrived at the cemetery, my co-teacher Emily gave them a tutorial about poison ivy. I then gave them the overview: the project was a school wide cleanup of the Burditt Prairie Graveyard. We would promote the event by taking pictures of the cemetery for a before and after. I distributed cameras and asked that each student take one picture.

The students jumped right into the Adopt a Grave Project. They were disgusted at the condition of the graveyard. They could not imagine how a cemetery could be so neglected. “How could people forget about their family?”

All of my students are teen mothers. I knew the project hit home when they found a tombstone for an infant. Not much was said, it was just quiet.

Once we had all the pictures we needed, we continued to the CVB worksite.

The students were excited to transition from the forgotten run-down cemetery into an area of renaissance. They loved the CVB houses. They were full of questions about the construction system and even the lending process.

Unfamiliar with student visitors, the CVB trainers were thoughtful and very forth-coming with information; they were happy to share.

Our last stop was a vacant CVB lot; the work site for the next CVB home.

I told the students about the How to Build a House portfolio project. They were excited and asked if we could return to see some of the construction steps.

I could not have asked for a better introduction into a new unit.


I sometimes remember and imagine what it would be like to be back in a traditional classroom. I think of it as a grey cold place. Students lined up in rows. Watching me from empty faces, their minds wondering to more interesting place, I counted the minutes until they could leave.  I feel like I did so much wrong in those days. I wasted my efforts and creativity on intricate lesson plans. My cold procedures were recited and posted with the authority of the Ten Commandments. Rigid rows of straight-backed desk – educational torture devices!

My new room is pure comfort. Student-made contemporary art hangs from the ceiling. Below our feet is shag carpet. Students enjoy cushioned rolling chairs. They may use the bathroom when needed, take walks when needed, move around, and eat when they are hungry.

There are no posted procedures or routines. I state the rules to each student I then create an atmosphere and culture that supports those rules.

It sounds so simple and I promise that it works very well, so it would be natural for one to assume that I have it easy. I definitely do not. I teach a group of students that have been so stigmatized that their public image precedes them in a way that burdens no other marginalized group. I can never explain what I do, even to people in with  in my field, without seeing a cold stare of an old judgment.  I know the stare, when I was challenged with starting the program that I have now been involved with for the past four years, I was a judger too.

For brevity purposes, I will say only that they are at-risk. I hope that this blog could be about more than just the scarlet letter of a label that my students carry. Mostly, I hope to share my teaching successes.

I now live and work on the other side of that grey cold classroom. My teaching world is whimsical we learn in the real world and find pleasure and laughter in learning. I hope to reach my counterparts in those grey cold teaching towers so that they too may reach the other side of those empty eyes.

Thursday I went on a pre-Friday scouting trip.

I am working on three class projects this fall: a unit on home constructions with ties to our Casa Verde Builder Program (CVB),  a fundraising project to benefit the Ronald McDonald house, and a cemetery clean-up scheduled for November 1st.

Monday, I sent an email to the program leaders responsible for the last cemetery clean-up. I wanted information on the location, logistics, and most of all, the safety of the cemetery. I am from New Orleans and cemeteries in New Orleans are tourist attractions and also places where you get robbed!

The responses from the email were not good. The first email warned of poison ivy. The second was a caution about the number of syringes found around the graveyard. Finally, I received a message about crack pipes with a suggested list of tools including chainsaws. Outlook: not good. I envisioned my students covered in festering rashes with cuts from drug paraphernalia while trapped in an isolated cemetery. News headlines read – “service project gone so wrong. “

On Thursday, I consulted CVB about the location of the cemetery. I found out it was located in the same Montopolis neighborhood where CVB was currently working. This was exciting because I would be able to visit the cemetery and then walk around the corner to the CVB construction site to collect information and photos for my home construction portfolio unit.

I was scared, the whole cemetery-crack- pipe- poison- ivy warning was off putting, but I drove to the Montopolis neighborhood anyway (that’s what teachers do). The cemetery was located in East Austin. The neighborhood was run down, but it seemed to have a culture and pride that reminded me of New Orleans. I saw many family owned restaurants and even a snocone stand. This was a good sign because where there is local food, and not chain restaurants, I know there is a neighborhood culture.

The cemetery was more of a lot on a run-down street. The grass was so high that you could hardly see the tombstones. With a quick look, passers would register it as a vacant blighted field. It wasn’t scary. It was sad.

I walked around the perimeter. I photographed tombstones. I thought about the promotional materials that my students would make with the sad photos of neglected tombstones. “Want to make this better? Adopt a grave!”

I walked two blocks to the CVB construction house. The walk from the cemetery to the CVB worksite was a dramatic transition. I literally left a run-down cemetery and ended up on a street of new construction. Not just new, but hopeful. The houses were small and well-built energy efficient with solar panels. The yards were well-kept with beautiful native plants decorating the edges of the curved walk-ways.

I took a deep breath and walked in the door of the latest CVB project. A few students were working on tasks around the house, but it was basically complete. It was beautiful! Open and airy- I knew my students would be excited about the potential of planning a house after they saw such a fine finished product!

I left the CVB street after taking a final picture of the CVB lot where the next home would be constructed. This construction would begin in two weeks. My timing could not have been more perfect.  My construction portfolio would be perfectly aligned with the timing of CVB construction.

Even if the cemetery was a complete failure, I knew that the CVB work site would be intriguing.


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Ryan Cummings - Instructor - SLCC

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