SIS November Blog: Elizabeth Moraff

Posted in Uncategorized on November 30, 2011 by umdcsl

The concept of results is a funny one, especially when we’re talking about community service. This semester marks my seventh semester working with Partners in Print, my fourth as a Team Leader. In the calmer moments, when I’m not bustling about answering a mentor’s question or chatting up a site supervisor, my mind drifts towards this elusive construct. I often find myself wondering, as I hold up a sign that says the mentors have six minutes before switching to teaching the next literacy technique, what am I actually doing?
Most of my life as a student produces tangible results. I study, I get a good grade. I write a paper and feel its weight and the printer’s heat on it as I slide it into the appropriate notebook. Dark circles appear under my eyes in perfect proportion to the amount of sleep I lose. Every Wednesday and Thursday in these local schools, though, the most tangible consequence of the night seems to be a dearth of handouts for each literacy technique and a list of names of the parents who came.
At least, that’s how it felt this month as I pored over a grant application with the coordinator of Partners in Print this month. Each of the questions asked us to prove how effective the program is, asking for specificity, for numbers. Granted, the coordinator provided the best numbers we have. Each night after the workshop, we ask parents to evaluate the program and assess how the program has helped them or not. Their feedback encouraged me. Over 90% of parents said that the program was helpful, and that they had used literacy techniques that the program taught them at home. Somewhere around 87% of parents had reported that they felt more confident reading with their children and helping with their education because of Partners in Print. Certainly, such feedback constitutes results to be proud of (and hopefully to garner a grant, we’re always short of funding). Reflecting on that grant, and those numbers, I think that is the most tangible the results of Partners in Print will ever get.
They also happen to be the least important. When I think about Partners in Print’s effect, I think of when we went to a school called Thomas Stone. The principal and the site supervisor stayed the entire time, greeted the parents, even ordered them pizza. At the end of the night, as we had wrapped up our things and were ready to hit the van, one of the presenters sat talking with a dad at a table. The presenter, who joined PNP this semester, sat listening intently, responding emphatically, for at least fifteen minutes. At the end of the night, I had to signal him away.
When I asked what they were talking about, the presenter just said the dad had been telling him about the struggles he was having helping his child in school and navigating the system for him. While I’ll never know the exact details of the conversation or its effects, I know that a presenter got to connect with one of the parents at a deep level. More than percentages on a paper, I hope that is the result that Partners in Print can produce.

Students in Service: Dhara Patel

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11, 2011 by umdcsl

During my work at America Reads America Counts this month, I feel like the mentors and I are getting closer as a team with a mission of helping our community. We help parents become closer to their children as well as promote literacy by introducing valuable reading techniques they can try at home with their children. We are taking steps to overcome the language barrier in today’s schools.  As a team leader I have the ability to guide our fellow mentors in growing as leaders—ones that foster the growth of others while achieving common goals. We debrief on our experiences each month and try to make the Partners in Print program better and better. Compiling workshop ideas for each month from the mentors and fellow team leaders, we incorporate our community’s needs and wants to make a difference in the elementary schools we visit. The ideas we have gathered are very creative and new, and I am excited to use them for the future.

This month I have come to realize that there are so many things I can do to make Partners in Print (PNP) a success if I can make time to do them. It has been tough to give the program my entire attention due to the stresses of classes and other responsibilities like being a UTA and director of Innoworks—a non-profit organization that prepares for a science camp for underprivileged middle school students.  However, with the right motivation and time management skills, I am sure to achieve my goals.  My goal for this upcoming month is to document all my ideas in an organized fashion. I will make a list of past and future team building ideas/workshops I would like for future PNP team leaders to implement in trainings.  There are so many great ideas that get tossed around but are never done because we simply do not have time this semester. I also hope to schedule times outside of work that the PNP team can just hang out or have fun together.  In addition, during the second month we have seen fewer families visit our workshop as opposed to the first one. This is a trend we expected due to weather, but I want to for the future prevent this from happening and have our numbers grow up until we are finished for the semester. This requires ensuring parents that we will have different techniques each month and reminding them of the next time we will be back.

As director of Innoworks, I am trying my hardest with my numerous other responsibilities to plan meetings regularly and get tasks done on time. We had closing duties to take care of from the camp from August, recruit new members for this year including deputy directors, guide the new members in how the program works, assign tasks to everyone in each of the four committees, make sure tasks are done on time, and in the end ensure the success of the camp.  The committees that the members can join are curriculum, recruitment, public relations, and finance.  In short, we organize the entire camp meaning deciding which viable experiments to do, recruiting children for the camp/making sure they complete the application, letting the community know about our organization, and acquiring the right amount of funding for this non-profit camp.  The directors and deputy directors of this program need to attend a weekly 2 hour skype meeting with the head of several chapters all over the nation to ensure that we are on track. This is quite a bit of responsibility but I feel in the end we make a big difference in the lives of those kids who now want to attend college and focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math).

16th Annual Service Day sends College Park Scholars into Maryland, DC communities

Posted in Uncategorized on October 10, 2011 by umdcsl

By Graham Bennie, Senior Editor, College Park Scholars

Seated in the Comcast Center early one Friday morning to eat breakfast and be welcomed to the University of Maryland and to the College Park Scholars living-learning program, first-year Scholars students watched the Impact video, which focuses on the idea that everyone can make a difference. Service Day is designed to demonstrate just that.

On August 29, 2011, roughly 800 Scholars students, joined by program faculty, administration, and student leaders, made their way into surrounding Maryland-DC communities for a day of volunteerism.

Scholars students were divided up into 27 different teams and sent out to their various service sites to complete projects ranging from clearing fallen trees and debris from the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens to preparing meals, sorting clothing donations, and organizing a storage facility for programs run by Interfaith Works, a non-profit organization designed to help those living in poverty in and around Montgomery County, Md.

This year’s Service Day was as successful as ever, although it had its challenges. “Some of the sites in the community had more for us to do because of [Hurricane Irene], but some had to direct their attention to other issues rather than orienting a group of students from Scholars,” said Martha Baer Wilmes, Scholars associate director for Student affairs “We had to balance the value of the program to the community with what their immediate needs were.”

Many sites were still without power following the wind and rain of Hurricane Irene. Among these were two Prince George’s County Public Schools that closed down, forcing Arts Scholars to adapt their Service Day.

“Usually we go in and paint murals on some of the walls in the schools,” said Harold Burgess, director of Arts Scholars. “Our students paint the murals and at some point the school brings out some of the elementary school students and their faces just light up when they see it.”

Instead, this year Arts Scholars painted the murals on paper in the Cambridge Community Center. Burgess said the program is sorting out a date to go present the schools with their work.

An annual tradition at College Park Scholars, Service Day is at the heart of the program’s mission, and it continues to resonate with generations of new Scholars because it demonstrates to students that Scholars is not just about learning; it’s about living and learning, through service to your community, forging new friendships, and everything in between.

Postcards From My Country

Posted in student projects with tags , , , on September 8, 2011 by sassyfrasscircus


The 2011 Postcards from my Country journal is available to read online! A collaboration between UMD students in the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House and students at Northwestern High School, the journal showcases poetry about the experience of immigrating to the United States and other topics.

Postcards from My Country

Posted in Why we serve with tags , , , on April 29, 2011 by sassyfrasscircus

Postcards from My Country is a one-credit service learning course offered by the Jimenez-Porter Writers’ House. Postcards places mentors from the University of Maryland with teenagers at Northwestern High School. Over the course of the semester, the students at Northwestern work on producing poetry for Postcards from My Country Journal, under the supervision of their mentors and a Writers’ House staff member. This year, the program was conducted entirely after school (instead of during students’ English classes) and therefore, students were self-selected—they choose to come each week.

I was interested in the program, partly because of my own experience moving to Maryland eleven years ago and the role that writing has played in my life. Postcards seemed like a great opportunity to share both my immigrant and creative experiences with high school students. Although, I don’t think that I intended to share as much of myself with the kids as I have. On our first day of mentoring, we introduced ourselves to the students and assigned them a writing prompt. I reclined back in my seat and started to look around.

We work in an ESOL classroom tucked in a corner of Northwestern, decorated with words and phrases in English and Spanish. Their teacher has posted their new years’ resolutions on the back wall. A recurring theme is a desire from the students to learn English, to do well in school, to make new friends.

My casual observations this first day were interrupted by our supervising Writers’ House staff member, Jesse Freeman, letting the mentors know that we were also expected to work on the prompt with the students. Now, in all my altruistic calculations, it never once occurred to me that I would have to write poetry. When the time came to share with our small group, I found that I was more nervous than some of the students. However, I think that it made the experience all the more rewarding for them to see the mentors have to tackle the same prompts and big ideas. Ultimately, this helped to build camaraderie and to help the students perceive us as facilitators rather than “teachers”.

One day that I think I will as always remember was 3 or 4 weeks ago when Rebecca Roberts, our faculty liaison at Northwestern, came over to us and said bluntly, “Something bad happened in the ESOL hallway this week,”

She took a poster featuring a poem from last year’s journal, off her desk.

“So, you know, they had the superintendent visiting some of the ESOL classrooms. He came in here and I said to him, this is what we do in my classroom.”

Yes, I thought, this is what we do in Room 1116.

–Jihan Asher, Junior History Major

Thin v. Thick Service

Posted in CSL with tags , , , on April 21, 2011 by sassyfrasscircus

By Jenna Brager

Mentoring with MMYC

Posted in Community Partners, student projects with tags , , , on April 11, 2011 by sassyfrasscircus

The most recent and profound mentoring experience I have had was at the Maryland Multicultural Youth Center in Riverdale, Maryland. A friend of mine informed me of the opportunity to work with high school students who are applying to college. I was asked to share my story with the students at MMYC before the workshop. I conveyed to them that even with dismal financial circumstances, it is possible to go to college without enormous student loans looming after graduation. I explained that as a senior in high school, I faced several obstacles. First of all, my guidance counselor told me I would not be accepted by University of Maryland because SAT scores were not high enough. After raising my scores, I applied to the University and was accepted a few months later. The next obstacle was how to pay for college. By late spring, I had applied for a total of sixty scholarships. At the awards ceremony at the end of the school year, I received only four scholarships. However, those four financed about ninety percent of my tuition. I hoped the group of students would be inspired by my story and hopefully follow on the same path.

During the workshop, I was grouped with two young ladies who would soon finish a GED program with MMYC. Immediately, I was struck by their determination to succeed. After about an hour of talking with them, I learned that both girls became mothers at only sixteen and twenty. They spoke about the struggles of raising a child while trying to complete an education and the financial strain they felt to provide for their children. My heart was heavy when I heard their stories, especially because my own sister is just sixteen. However, their dedication and attitude inspired me in a new way. I couldn’t help but wonder if they had ever had the opportunity to talk and be listened to. I felt a lot of compassion for these girls and wanted to guide them to their goals.

Throughout the course of the workshop, I worked with them to write personal essays for a local scholarship to a two year vocational school of their choosing. The two girls were on two completely different career paths. One wanted to be a social worker after working as an assistant in the local Department of Social Services office. She was inspired to help the local hispanic community due to the help she received from community organizations after her daughter was born. The other student wanted to become a sonogram technician because of a particularly helpful and inspiring nurse she met during her pregnancy. She explained being a sonogram technician makes people happy by revealing what gender their child will be. I was impressed with the way the girls had been inspired to pursue careers based on those who helped them during perhaps the most difficult chapter of their lives. I started thinking about the idea that we are driven to certain things because of our experiences with people who we see as role models. I hoped that they would not soon forget their experiences in this workshop. By the end of the night, they both thanked me profusely and hugged me goodbye.

This experience was one of the best of my entire life. I often think about the students I met and hope that they find their way. The idea that I could help these students was incredibly fulfilling. Additionally, inspiring young women, especially those who have faced adversity, is something I am interested in pursuing in the future.
Grace Toulotte, Class of 2011,  Studio Art

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