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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!**

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!