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VA High School Programs Kick Off!

By Shaima Ahmad, VA High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Shaima Ahmad, AALEAD Staff

The past few weeks have been super exciting for AALEAD’s VA High School program. After many a lunch recruitment session we officially began after school programming this week. The students at Annandale High have shown much interest and have been very keen to find out what AALEAD is all about. The lunch sessions gave the them the opportunity to get more insight about what the after school program entails. At this time students watched an introductory video and were able to ask questions about AALEAD. The kids enjoyed pizza for lunch and hanging out with their friends.

This week students worked on basically getting to know each other through fun ice breaker and team building activities. They broke up into groups and played a few highly competitive rounds of Tic Tac Toe Trivia, and gasped their way through an extremely creative round of 2 Truths and A Lie. The students also compiled a list of expectations and goals they hope to gain from AALEAD this year. This collaborative brainstorming process led to some great ideas. Some said they hoped AALEAD will help them be more prepared for the college process, while others simply want a place where they can have fun and hang out with friends all while gaining more exposure to their community.

The future looks bright for AALEAD at Annandale. As a team we hope to reach our goals and expectations for this year, all while having immense amounts of fun!

Intern Introduction: Greetings from Dong!

By Dong Zhou, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of Dong Zhou, DC Elementary School Program Intern

Hello everyone, my name is Dong Zhou, and I am Asian American LEAD’s (AALEAD) Fall 2014 DC Elementary School Program Intern! I am currently a college student studying Education at American University. This fall, I am a part of the Washington Mentorship Program, which gives me the chance to intern twice a week to explore my interests and get experiences outside of the classroom.

I have been in the United States for four years now. I went to high school in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Louisiana. I know it sounds a bit weird that I went to high school in three different states, so if you want to know the reason why, don’t be afraid to ask! I love playing ping pong (table tennis) and I also enjoy cross-country skiing. I played ping pong for seven years in China, and I also participated in cross-country skiing for two years when I was in high school. If you’re interested in these sports as well, let me know and maybe we can play together sometime!

I applied for this internship with AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Program because I am interested in education and understanding more about youth development. I also personally identify with many of these children and am eager to use my Mandarin language skills to learn more about this population in DC. I am excited to get to know all of the students soon!

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

This past Saturday, the Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) Mentoring Program held our first ever Bowling Social! Ten of our mentoring pairs gathered at Lucky Strike DC for an afternoon filled with fun, food, and friendship. After introductions were made, youth and mentors laced up their bowling shoes and put their game faces on; it was finally time to begin!

As pairs walked towards their respective lanes, they also engaged in some friendly, competitive banter. Youth enthusiastically praised their mentors’ skills to their peers, while mentors were eager and excited to share a favorite pastime with their mentees (some of whom have never been bowling before!). As mentors helped youth enter their names onto the screens, some pairs set goals for the scores that they wanted to achieve, while others excitedly caught up on each other’s lives.

After about an hour or so of bowling, mentoring pairs regained their energy by chowing down on yummy snacks such as chicken tenders, mac and cheese bites, chips and salsa, and pretzel sticks! Students were eager to begin bowling again after the break and even began to cheer on their fellow mentor-mentee pairs each time someone bowled a spare or a strike. As the Bowling Social came to an end, a strong sense of community could definitely be felt as pairs enjoyed one another’s company and continued to build on each other’s strengths and skills.

Events such as the Bowling Social serve as a great opportunity to not only team build, but also teach our youth that leadership can be comprised of a multitude of things. Sometimes being a leader means speaking in public or leading a larger group, but being a leader can also mean: trying something (like bowling) that you’ve never done before, being persistent and patient when you are learning something new (like bowling) for the first time, or even encouraging and cheering on your fellow peers.

We had an awesome time kicking off the new school year at Lucky Strike DC and look forward to what the rest of the year has in store for all of us. Thanks to all of the mentor-mentee pairs who participated — hope you had a blast and can’t wait to see all of you again soon!

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

AALEAD’s MD High School Program kicked off last week and the generative momentum for the coming year is already impressive. On our first day of programs at both Einstein and Blair High School, youth participated in a contest focusing on teamwork and leadership skills. They were tasked to work together to build a tall structure with a limited number of building materials.

After the energetic competition—filled with laughter, the sound of popping balloons, encouragement, and inventive techniques—youth had a chance to discuss what the activity meant to them. The insights drawn from this activity exemplified everyone’s eagerness to engage in building their own and each other’s leadership skills as well as creating a team-oriented atmosphere. One youth reflected that “It was all about the base. You have to build a strong foundation. When you have a solid base, you can build anything on top of that,” connecting our activity to building skill sets and accomplishing goals in life. Youth talked about setting a strong foundation for the new school year.

We wrapped up our exercise with “Shout Outs.” A “Shout Out” is when one person shares something they appreciate about another person in the group. This could be an idea that they thought was great, a strength or skill that was helpful, or anything to acknowledge and affirm another person in the room. The ease with which youth were able to relate to their peers and see their many strengths was inspiring. Holding in theme with our building activity, the “Shout Outs” created our base for building on those strengths moving forward in the year. After the activity was finished, the teams created so much more than a simple balloon tower: the room was filled with a sense of camaraderie, support, and excitement.

Youth also got a chance to generate goals for the year moving forward. Conversations varied from the reasons youth came to AALEAD, to the types of experiences and skills youth were looking forward to have together. I was warmly surprised by the mixed variety of responses. There were many new ideas for projects, events, and workshop topics. Some youth goals focused on acquiring specific skills such as leadership experience in leading groups and public speaking. Other goals focused on developing a sense of friendship and family within AALEAD. The varied responses about why youth came to AALEAD echo why I was drawn to AALEAD: we are learning and gaining new skills together while remaining centered in a sense of family and community.

Looking at all of the youth’s goals, I can confidently say that this year will be one to remember. Everyone is equipped with goals in mind as well as an open mind to try new things. There was one word that was shared in most reflections: Fun! We will be sure to have immeasurable amounts of fun with all of the events, projects and experiences we have to look forward to.

Hi my name is Shaima Ahmad and I am the VA High School Program Coordinator. I began at AALEAD as a DC Elementary School Summer Program teacher. I was able to make such a strong connection with the kids that I found it hard to say goodbye, and it was hook, line and sinker for me.  I transitioned over to the role of Site Coordinator for our program at Thomson Elementary School, where I have continued working over the past year. What I love about working with AALEAD is the sense of family that has transpired through all levels of the organization. Although I will miss working with the elementary school youth, I am excited about the prospect of expanding the AALEAD family into Virginia.

My family is originally from Pakistan, and I was raised in Maryland. After graduating from high school, I had the opportunity to move to Beijing and complete my bachelors in Business Administration. The 4 years I spent there were a life changing experience for me and actually directly linked to why I connected with AALEAD.

I am currently living in Northern Virginia with my family and love to spend my free time reading, trying new cuisines, and volunteering in the community. I absolutely love to travel and will get on a plane to almost anywhere in the world!

The group at the wonderful Eid celebration from last Friday, organized by the amazing Eid Squad! Photo Credit: AALEAD Youth

Hi all! My name is Ari Pak and I excitedly join the AALEAD team as the new MD High School Program Coordinator. I first found AALEAD in my search for volunteer opportunities with APA youth. I began volunteering for the DC Elementary School Program at Thomson Elementary school as a Teaching Assistant with 3rd and 4th graders. I fell in love immediately; not only with the youth but with the program as a whole. Eventually, I transitioned into the lead teacher role for the school year and the DC Elementary School Summer Program. Every day, I am amazed by how continuously the youth in our programs inspire, support, and challenge each other to grow. One of my most recent favorite moments (there are so many favorites) was when one student won a highly coveted class prize and, without second thought, gave it to a peer. When another teacher asked why he had given away the prize of the summer, he said with a shrug and smile, “Well, he just really wanted it.” This generous leadership anchored in a sense of community is one of my favorite parts about AALEAD. I look forward to sharing moments like these with the youth that I will be working with in the coming months and can’t wait for what we all have to offer each other!

No introduction is complete without random tidbits so I will leave you with these:

-I have been longboarding for over 8 years and try to do it daily, even if it’s just to commute to work. Incorporating something I love into my every day routine centers me and helps me to stay productive.

-I can wiggle my ears. I might do it when you’re least expecting it, watch out.

-Some of my pastimes include: art/painting/drawing, cooking and exploring new foods, climbing trees, writing poetry, and coffee (making it, drinking it).

Photo Credit: My Nguyen

Goodbye for Now, AALEAD!

By Alex Neeley, DC Elementary School Program Intern
Photo Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

As the DC Elementary School Summer Program came to a close, I sat in a classroom recalling the past five weeks. Where had all the time gone? It seemed like it was just yesterday that I was sitting in a circle in the Tiger Class, imploring the students to take part in an icebreaker. Now as the program comes to an end, it amazes me how many fun experiences we have had together and how quickly I have built relationships with these students.

There are so many things I will miss about Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), from the early mornings in the cafeteria, watching the students color pictures and play Connect Four, to the laughter and fun throughout the day. I will miss the field trips to the farm, the pool, the Newseum and Six Flags. I will miss refereeing, and occasionally participating in their recess soccer games. I will miss watching them practice the Hakka and do yoga.

Most of all, I will miss the creativity of the students, not only in their productions of two AALEAD newspapers, but in their various methods for having fun as well as for solving problems.

While this blog post is written to say “goodbye” to AALEAD, it is most certainly not a “goodbye forever.” I look forward to coming back and seeing the continued growth of these exceptional young students, so instead, I’ll say goodbye for now, AALEAD. See you all sooner rather than later.

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

Becoming AALEAD Family

By Heein Choi, Development & Communications Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

It is amazing how much can happen over such a short period of time. For the little time I have been interning for Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), I have learned from the youth, my supervisors, and my peers. I was fortunate enough to experience AALEAD as a whole these past seven weeks. Starting from the DC office, I saw the grueling process that staff had to endure in order to make all of AALEAD’s programs possible. From countless hours spent logging in data and requesting funds from foundations, AALEAD’s staff does a remarkable job that often goes without recognition. Often times they work longer hours and juggle multiple tasks to make sure all of the programs are going as planned. The dedication and time they invest is all a testament to how much they love and are willing to sacrifice for the youth they serve.

On Mondays, I always visited the DC Elementary School Summer Program at Thomson Elementary School. One aspect of the kids that was the most surprising was how energetic and active they were. Whatever they did, the kids always did with energy. The excitement that the kids bring everyday shows how much AALEAD means to them. When I arrived at Thomson for the first time, I tried matching the youth’s energy, and before the day ended, I was exhausted and ready to pass out on the ground. To be able to do this on a consistent basis every single day, the DC staff is amazing.

In addition to visiting the DC Program, I got the opportunity to bond with the youth every Thursday at the MD Summer Kinect Program. There is no other word that describes these students better than welcoming. Every single one of them tries to create an environment where they embrace everyone. Nice and caring, these students made me feel that I was part of AALEAD for multiple years. They embrace and care for one another, forge a feeling of community, and create a sense of belonging in everyone they meet. The amount of student leaders in the MD Summer Kinect Program always surprised me. Whenever there was an event or activity, the high school leaders were the one to organize them and make sure the kids enjoyed themselves.

Although working from the office and visiting the programs were great, the highlight of my summer was the 3rd Annual AALEAD APA Youth Summit. The students hosted this event in hopes of bringing life to issues that Asian Americans face everyday. Workshops ranging from stereotypes to writing music, all the activities were relevant to how individuals can express themselves. The poetry workshop stood out as my favorite moment of the day. What started off as an awkward beginning, evolved into a fruitful discussion of race, identity, and stereotypes. As the students began to express their thoughts through their own poetry, it became evident that these youth experience the same racial issues that many adults struggle with everyday. Issues of who they perceived they were clashed against what society told them to be, and incidents of dealing with racial barriers all came out as verbal art from each student’s mouth. AALEAD has created a safe space for these kids to discuss issues that many are forced to keep to themselves.

I asked a youth what he thought of AALEAD and he simply responded with “family.” As I pondered on how I would describe my feelings toward AALEAD, I always ended up with the same word—jealousy. As the Youth Summit came to a close, I couldn’t help but wish I could trade spots with many of these students to have this experience again next year. I was terribly jealous of the fact that these youth can continue to grow and thrive in an environment that encourages all of their students to achieve their full potential. I was jealous at how most of these students had reliable leaders to discuss any issues that they were facing. However, after some time, the envy quickly turned to gratitude. I am honored to have been part of an organization that puts so much emphasis on youth advancement. From developing a shy kid to an outspoken leader and creating an environment for youth to make everlasting bonds, AALEAD is changing students’ lives every single day. Each staff member at these programs has a genuine interest in every single kid, and the leadership in every facet of the organization is strong. The impact AALEAD will have will only continue to expand and grow.

AALEAD is home to many—including me.

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

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!**