Reflections on My AALEAD Summer

By Laura Ma, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

My seven week internship with Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Elementary  School Program has been – to put it frankly – awesome. Although the time was short, I felt comfortable very quickly with all of the staff, teachers, and kids. I was hopeful about this internship when I left my semester of study in Shanghai not only because I would be able to continue using my Chinese, but also because I would be able to interact with students. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with such a great group of people who are truly dedicated to the families they serve. Much of the learning I have done these past few weeks has come from simply observing the teachers and AALEAD staff.

Micah, the DC Programs Manager, works tirelessly to ensure that every student is having fun, being safe, and most of all, learning. Watching her arrange field trips, work with the kids, and simply input data have all been helpful to me in my learning experience. I found myself mimicking her and some of the other staff and teachers during my days at Thomson Elementary. This did include techniques for reinforcing rules, such as walking in the hallway and staying quiet in line.

However, my responsibilities did go beyond asking the kids to go back to where they started running and walk. Working on the administrative side of the non-profit also gave me a closer look at how a smaller organization functions and how each role has a larger effect. Non-profit work isn’t easy, and seeing every staff member at AALEAD give 150% really inspired me this summer. This internship has been a rewarding experience and has given me an opportunity to see education in a new and different light. I feel more confident to continue pursuing education as a career. Additionally, I am seriously considering returning to AALEAD to work as a Teaching Assistant next summer. I’m grateful to Micah, Tina, Surjeet, and all the other AALEAD staff, teachers, interns, and students for making this summer such a great experience.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: AlexBhadonDavid, and Heein!**

Reflections on My MAC Summer

By Bhadon Shalakin, Mentoring Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Hello, it’s me, Bhadon. This will be my last official blog as an Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring and Volunteer Program Intern. I truly have had the best summer in a long time thanks to AALEAD. I started off the summer hopeful, but was still nervous about working with students in such a new capacity. However, as the summer progressed, so did I. Each workshop I led helped build more confidence in myself. I learned from my mistakes and was able to use these lessons to continue helping my Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) students.

Although this summer was hectic, it wasn’t such a bad thing. I was able to grow and adapt to situations I have not experienced before. Teaching students that are from four very distinct age groups was at times troubling, but it worked out really well. I built important characteristics as an individual through teaching students from 5th graders to a college freshman! My students impressed me in exceptional ways through their leadership, kindness, and intelligence every day. I could never be as proud of them as I am now. Although I was planning to stay home this summer and relax, I’m really glad I decided to spend my final summer with my AALEAD family. AALEAD has helped me grow both personally and professionally. Though this is my last official blog, I’ll definitely still be around – so I won’t say goodbye, I’ll say see you later.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: AlexDavidHeein, and Laura!**

Gratitude & Reflections on Summer Kinect

By David Ma, MD Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Students

The past 6 weeks have been a really memorable experience for me. Although I’ve participated in Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) summer programs for the previous two years as a high school student leader, I’ve never seen the programming through the eyes of a staff member before. No one really expects it, but there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes, especially with the paper work.  Now that I think back on all of my experiences with AALEAD, I’m so thankful for everything that the staff has done for the students. So, I guess it is better late than never: thank you staff for all that you’ve done for us.

My internship experience this summer was mind-blowing with the amount of students and the area of space we had to use. I’m glad that all of the students had 6 weeks to bond with other youth and staff, though I do wish the program could last longer. It felt like the program just started yesterday and I had just begun to adapt to being a good intern; just like that, as soon as I got the hang of everything, the program ended. I will truly miss everyone, especially our MD Programs Manager and my former High School Program Coordinator, Francine Gorres. It is because of her that I’m not shy to share my poetic talents and that I continue to grow as a leader every day. AALEAD will always be my second family, so this is my farewell, but not goodbye.

**Read additional Summer 2014 Interns’ reflections here: AlexBhadonHeein, and Laura!**

AALEAD MAC: A Fun Finale!

By Bhadon Shalakin, Mentoring Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Two weeks ago, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) students celebrated the end of the summer program by joining the elementary school students at Six Flags! Everyone was excited for this day after weeks of hard work. Our trip began with a bus ride, which was spent getting to know each other further through the game 20 Questions. We were asked our favorite movies and what fruit best describes us (turns out I’m a pomegranate!).

We finally got to the amusement park, and everyone was delighted it wasn’t raining. The weather was lovely, clear blue, and mild. After entering the amusement park, we made our way to our first ride, the Flying Carousel. Wanting more adventure, we set off towards the Renegade Rapids and were doused in water from head-to-toe. We then made our way to the final ride, the Wild One (it sure was wild!). It was finally time to leave, and we all enjoyed ourselves very much.

The last day of the AALEAD Transitions workshops was this past Wednesday. It was my last formal workshop with AALEAD as both a student and intern. We began the session with our middle and high school students engaging in a dialogue about diversity and identity with Ari, one of our Elementary School Program teachers. We continued this discussion with a Step In, Step Out circle where students continued building relationships with one another and learning more about each other’s personalities.

After a brief break, the MAC youth held their final workshop with the elementary students. The topics of the day included diversity and an overall reflection on the AALEAD Transitions summer workshops. The activity we participated in was a game where students talked to each other and compared similarities and differences. The objective was to teach the youth that even though it is easy to spot differences between people from different backgrounds, the similarities between people are just as important and are what can bring people together. Lastly, we moved on to the reflection portion of the workshop where students illustrated their most memorable MAC moments throughout the summer. It truly was a special day for me as it was the last workshop that I facilitated with the students, and it was amazing.

DC Elementary School Program Final Week!

By Laura Ma, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

To wrap up our blog posts for the final week of our amazing summer program, I have interviewed both members of the staff and students to get their take on their summer with Asian American LEAD (AALEAD). It has certainly been a busy five weeks for staff and students alike, so let’s see what they had to say about our field trips, workshops, and the summer as a whole!

Interview with Brian, Panda Class, Kindergarten

Laura: What was your favorite field trip?
Brian: I think…picking.
Laura: Picking the blackberries? Why did you like picking blackberries?
Brian: I like to eat it.
Laura: What’s your favorite part of the day?
Brian: I don’t know. I like recess.
Laura: Why do you like recess?
Brian: Because I like slides.
Laura: What do you think makes Miss Micah really happy?
Brian: I don’t know! Maybe AALEAD?

Interview with Lisa, Lion Class, 4th Grade

Laura: What was your favorite field trip this summer?
Lisa: Six Flags!
Laura: Why did you like it?
Lisa: I liked the water park.
Laura: What about your favorite workshop?
Lisa: Hakka dancing.
Laura: What is your favorite part of the day?
Lisa: Recess. Because I get to play soccer.
Laura: What do you think makes Miss Micah happiest?
Lisa: When people enjoy AALEAD.

Interview with Melat, Tiger Class, 6th Grade

Laura: What was your favorite field trip this summer?
Melat: Six Flags! It was fun. Swimming, roller coasters, food!
Laura: What was your favorite workshop this summer?
Melat: In the afternoon, we got to learn about other people’s traditions.
Laura: What’s your favorite part of the day?
Melat: Afternoon. Because of the workshops.
Laura: And what do you think makes Miss Micah happiest?
Melat: Listening and paying attention.

Interview with Miss Ari, Tiger Class, Morning Literacy Teacher

Laura: What was your favorite field trip this summer?
Ari: I loved going to  Six Flags because I got to have some individual time with the kids. I had a group of 5 girls, so we got to hang out and get to know each other and goof off. It was just a really exciting, low pressure day where we got to know each other on a more personal level.
Laura: What was your favorite part of the day?
Ari: My favorite part of the day was probably when we would do fun activities, and there would be a little bit of resistance to start at first because they had never done that sort of thing before. We played a few new games, but once they got into it, they were really excited and started encouraging each other. I really love when those moments would happen, and they would always surprise themselves with getting really into things.
Laura: What do you think makes your students the happiest?
Ari: I think feeling like they have agency over what they are doing. And also feeling like they are getting tools that are useful for them. So I think getting to have a balance of getting useful tools that they don’t already have and feeling like they have a choice in what they are doing makes them the happiest.
Laura: And what do you think keeps Miss Micah the happiest?
Ari: (laughs) I think seeing the students really having fun and not even realizing that they are learning. And when things are going smoothly on all ends, and when she just gets to come in and be a part of what’s happening rather than have to mitigate anything. That’s kind of the dream, right? That her team of teachers has all the tools they need to be able to run their programs, and she can just check in to make sure everything is okay.

Interview with Micah, DC Programs Manager

Laura: What was your favorite field trip this summer and why?
Micah: I would say the farm, actually, because the weather was good; it was one of the first field trips that was just relaxing in a way. And to be able to step away from my desk and put down all of the work and just enjoy the kids, the farm, and the blackberries. And it didn’t hurt that blackberries are my favorite fruit.
Laura: What about your favorite workshop series?
Micah: Oh. That one is hard. I really love the middle school transition workshops that the middle and high school students are doing because it’s awesome to see the students – many of whom I knew when they were in elementary school – step into that leadership role and work with the younger students. It’s also been amazing because I’ve seen one student in particular who would refuse to even get up and say her name in front of the class be really excited to do the skits. So to see her just come out of her shell a little bit more and be less shy has been awesome. The other one I really enjoyed has been seeing the Hakka (dancing). The little pieces that I’ve seen of it. It’s just so energizing seeing the kids doing it.
Laura: What is your favorite part of the day?
Micah: Sometimes the quiet at 5PM when all the kids go home, and I can sit at my desk and get work done. But that’s not really the right answer. You know what? My  favorite part of the day is anytime I am able to step away from my desk – not for a behavioral issue – and am able to spend some time in the classroom because that’s a little rare for me.
Laura: What do you think makes the students most happy?
Micah: Recess. Definitely recess. I wish it was something else, but it’s recess.
Laura: And what keeps you the most happy?
Micah: Coffee.

The summer program is now over, and it’s been such a privilege for me to work with people such as Miss Micah and see what the students at AALEAD  get to do. I hope they continue to take advantage of the amazing programs and workshops that AALEAD provides and, of course, enjoy recess.

My Meeting with Mayor Gray!

By Bhadon Shalakin, Mentoring Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of DC Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (OAPIA)

Last week, Surjeet Ahluwalia, Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Executive Director, and I met with Vincent Gray, Washington DC’s Mayor. I previously asked President Obama his opinion on DC statehood, and the exchange was featured in the press with dozens of articles and broadcasts. Our meeting came about through the increased publicity of DC statehood and with the help of Julie Koo, Executive Director of the DC Office on Asian and Pacific Islander Affairs (OAPIA). I was extremely nervous when I arrived at the Wilson Building. I felt that it was going to be a great meeting and with a deep confident breath, I entered the Mayor’s office. I was greeted by Julie and the Mayor’s personal staff. After a brief wait, I finally met with the Mayor. We sat down in Mayor Gray’s office and began the meeting talking about my interests in DC politics and current events involving the city. After voicing my opinions on DC statehood, we chatted about our personal connections to the city and how we both shared similar visions for the city. It was a great honor to be able to speak to the Mayor about issues that concern me. I would like to say thank you to the Mayor for allowing me the time to speak with him, Julie Koo for helping to set up the meeting, and Surjeet and AALEAD for helping me build my confidence to engage in a dialogue with the President and Mayor and speak freely about my personal opinions.

AALEAD MAC Visits the Capitol!

By Bhadon Shalakin, Mentoring Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

Last week, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Advisory Council (MAC) had a wonderful opportunity to visit the United States Capitol. It was a sweltering day (the hottest day of the week!), but we decided to brave the weather and followed through with our plans. The students met at Thomson Elementary and made our way to the Capitol. Along the way, we passed important federal buildings such as the United States Department of Justice.

We finally arrived at the Capitol Visitor’s Center and met up with the DC youth from Columbia Heights as well as our volunteer and tour guide, David. David works on the Hill as a Legislative Correspondent and was kind enough to give us a tour of the Capitol. After brief introductions between David and the youth, we made our way to see the Crypt. Everyone was fascinated with George Washington’s tomb and the statues of famous historical figures from the thirteen original colonies.

We then ventured over to the Capitol Rotunda and were in absolute awe as we learned about the history of the United States through the eyes of various artists and sculptors. Other areas we had the opportunity to check out were the Old Senate Chamber, Old House of Representatives, and the Old Supreme Court. Visiting these rooms was especially great because we got to learn interesting facts, such as understanding more about what “passing the bar” means. We even got to see paw prints from the infamous “ghost cat” and found the secret spot where people can hear conversations from 30 feet away!

After the tour was over, we made our way to the Hart Senate Building by train. This was a really cool experience since none of us knew that these underground trains even existed! David invited us into his office and told us more about his career path and how he became interested in working for Congress. All of the students had insightful thoughts to share with David as they voiced their opinions on important issues around the world and why they matter to them.

We are so proud of all of the students that participated and can’t wait to celebrate all of the awesome memories that we have shared over the summer this week. A special thank you to David for helping us organize the tour of the Capitol and for taking the time to meet with us and answer our questions! Until next time, everyone – see you soon!

By Francine Gorres & Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff and Students

Over the past two years, AALEAD youth have been hosting the Annual APA Youth Summit to empower their peers to learn more about culture, identity, advocacy, and leadership. Each year, the Student Planning Committee works very hard to think of relevant, interesting, and engaging topics for their peers.  One thing our youth really wanted was something…DIFFERENT, something that moved the bar a little bit in regards to their personal growth and understanding of diverse peoples, particularly around the topic of stereotypes, racism, and cross-cultural collaboration.

This work is never easy, and can often be challenging..but our students were ready to open the doors for these tough conversations!

Opening Ceremony!

As students began to take their seats and finish breakfast, AALEAD staff and students welcomed all students from different schools, backgrounds and ethnicities to the 3rd Annual APA Youth Summit.

Surjeet Ahluwalia gave the opening keynote speech to our youth and congratulated our youth on choosing such a relevant and important topic for the day! She shared parts of her own bi-racial identity with youth and how important it is for everyone to understand that we are all different and unique, yet similar in our experiences.  She encouraged the youth to step out of their comfort zones and to get to know youth they didn’t already know.

Shortly after Surjeet’s speech, students from AALEAD took the lead in splitting up 60+ students for icebreakers and team-building. As students began to introduce themselves and participate in team-building activities, bursts of cheers, laughter, and clapping began to echo through the DC streets and into the empty halls. Could it be? It’s only 10:30am! There was incredible energy being shared among all of the youth and students had not even attended one workshop yet! Amazing.

As students came in for their first workshop, students broke out in their groups and attended a workshop around cross-cultural collaboration. One workshop focused on the cross-cultural work of Yuri Kochiyama and how her leadership impacted many different communities. The other two workshops focused on personal identity and the impact of stereotypes. Students started to have fruitful discussions about cultural identity and had great pride about who they were individually. As we got deeper and deeper into tougher conversations about stereotypes, students began to realize that there’s a lot they have in common when it comes to feeling misunderstood and misrepresented. Here are a few sentences from an activity that tried to dispel stereotypes about their individual identities:

“I am a woman, but that doesn’t mean I am weak.”

“I am quiet, but that does not mean that I don’t have a voice.”

“I am Asian, but that does not mean I’m Chinese.”

“I am Black, but that does not mean I can’t swim.”

“I am a male cheerleader, but that does not mean I am gay.”

“I am Black, but that does not mean that I am ghetto.”

“I am Asian, but that does not mean that I am a genius.”

Each student, contributed something to the discussion that made everyone think about how they interact with one another, and brought each of them a little closer. A student even said, “We go around thinking about how different we are…but we don’t even stop to realize how similar our lives can be.” Throughout the day students continued to build on their relationships, but also had the opportunity to reflect on themselves as leaders by attending workshops around goal setting, leadership behaviors, as well as a mock trial!

Students then had the chance to explore their voice in a different way, through performing arts workshops.

Some students had the opportunity to incorporate the arts and their individual histories into one by participating in a workshop on poetry and fluidity; they read poems and expressed them physically, then had some time to write their own pieces and share them with the group. Others explored their self-confidence and love for music through a dance workshop, a DJ sampling workshop, as well an audio production workshop! To say the least…..these youth are talented!

To close the day, Simone Jacobson, shared her story with the youth and expressed how important it is to share your individual voice, especially if it is not being heard.  She also encouraged youth to explore their own identities and values in order to find out what it is they want to do. You are your own compass that points north. These words resonated with all of the youth and helped students to realize their own individual agency in this world.

No words can really describe the energy throughout the day, nor the kind of connection students created amongst themselves and guest speakers. It was truly a special day and some students even expressed that this was the BEST Youth Summit to date because it was different, fun, relevant, and engaging. AALEAD students are raising the bar every year and stepped up to the challenge to make this space safe for everyone to participate. The work is not over…there is still much that needs to be done in regards to cross-cultural work…but for their first swing at it, I’d say it was a home run! Congratulations to all of the youth that participated in the AALEAD APA Youth Summit!

Special thank you to:

Chipotle – Thank you for your kind generosity and for donating food for our youth!

Jude Dizon and Neha Singhal (UMD), Jessica Lee, Elizabeth Lee (OCA), Tip Fallon, Ryan Chan & Enoch Chang (APALRC), Stan Robinson, DJ AAROCK, Desmond (Kaution Dance Kru), and  Simone Jacobson….without you this would not have been possible. Thank you for being an inspiration to our youth and for sharing your words of wisdom, love and time with us!

AALEAD Staff -  Thank you to all of the staff who helped to support youth and helped to make this Youth Summit possible. The future of our youth is boundless and whenever we set the always seems they go above and beyond. Truly an inspiration to see all of you at work!

What happened to July??  I can’t believe that the summer is going by so quickly and that it is already the last week of summer programs at AALEAD!

I have been so inspired by the work our staff have been doing on behalf of our youth.  Our blog has been very active the past few weeks – you can see many of the activities there.  This has been a record year for AALEAD with over 150 elementary, middle, and high school youth as active participants throughout the summer!

Just this past weekend, our high school youth held the 3rd Annual APA Youth Summit.  I was so impressed to see that our youth leaders got 60 of their peers – both AALEAD youth and not – to attend the youth summit beginning at 10 am on a Saturday AND that there were such sophisticated conversations about cross-cultural understanding, identity, and leadership.

After we conclude summer programs, we have a staff retreat next week to review our performance management data from this past year and develop goals for our next year of programming.  We are also continuing our strategic planning work.  In the fall, we will share highlights of our strategic plan for the next three years of AALEAD.

It’s an exciting time for us at AALEAD.  Thanks for being part of it!


By Laura Ma, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

The summer is truly flying by at our DC Elementary School Summer Program and it is such a treat to see our youth growing both as students and individuals. In Week 4 of the summer program, all of the classes are gearing up for the August 1st party and performances. Whether it is artwork or a play they have scripted and directed, every class will display something to their parents and guests at our closing ceremony. The older students have taken on many responsibilities including: taking charge of the newspaper, writing and performing their own play, and performing a dance. Dancing is a common theme as our little Pandas have also been dancing during their Health and Wellness workshop. There is just something about Katy Perry that gets them excited! While the Dragon Class is not particularly interested in pop stars, they will be utilizing their love for Pokemon to put on a play. All of the performances and art displays are well on their way toward completion. The summer has proved to be a great time for our youth to explore different methods of expression. We are very excited to see their performances next Friday!