Tag Archive: AALEAD

Back at AALEAD!

By Neel Saxena, Development & Communications Director
Photos Courtesy of Neel Saxena

Hello AALEAD family, I am excited to be back after a ten year stint in the DC Mayor’s Office, rejoining as the Development & Communications Director. I have seen AALEAD grow and thrive during my time away and will bring my energy and experience to continue the wonderful work.

I am the son of two immigrant parents who came to the US to study in the 1960s and went back to India to have me in 1978. We came back to the US shortly after I was born and spent a few years in upstate New York before settling locally in Montgomery County, MD. I went to undergrad at the University of Maryland, College Park where I also gained a better sense of what it was to be Asian American and the struggles faced by people of color. I was involved in many advocacy initiatives at UMD and served as an AALEAD mentor during my senior year. After college, I went on to work at the Gates Millennium Scholars, followed by a brief stint at AALEAD, and then ten years with the DC Mayor’s Office.

Through my personal and professional experiences I developed a belief in and witnessed that building capacity leads to long term success. As AALEAD builds the capacity of young people, I look to contribute by building the organizational capacity of AALEAD to expand and improve the programs. I approach work and life by looking at big picture and filling it in as I go along, seeking support and guidance from those around me. I bring this philosophy to AALEAD in my role to build upon the great work that has already been done.

I am excited to join AALEAD not only because of the work but because of the people. I believe the people who make up an organization are where its key strength lies. The AALEAD family has welcomed me with open arms and I believe we will accomplish great things together. I can’t wait to share what people have told me is a boisterous laugh with the youth, staff, and board – if you’re going to laugh and enjoy life I think you must do it 110%. I also subscribe to the idea Pablo Neruda once said that “laughter is the language of the soul”.

In my time away from work, I love spending time with my wife, two boys, and dog. I also fashion myself as a weekend mechanic and handyman, although some in my family think otherwise. You can probably find me with grease or paint on my hands come Monday from a weekend full of projects.  Currently, I’m finishing a second story addition to our house which I am super excited to finish!

By Madeline Sumida, Elementary Program Teacher & Site Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Madeline Sumida

The Kindergarten through second grade AALEAD team earned artistic accolades for the class submission to the 15th Annual Mt. Pleasant Youth Arts Fair. At a special reception held at the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library, judges announced that the AALEAD artwork had earned 15 out of 15 possible points and a prominent display in the children’s section of the library.

This year’s theme encouraged young artists from seven different local schools or school-based organizations to find inspiration in the heroes of Mt. Pleasant. Participants had the freedom to define how to accomplish this mission. Real-life heroes such as police officers, nurses, and principals entered the contest alongside fantastic superheroes with special powers.

The AALEAD team chose to make a comic strip with a twist: their hero story took the form of an Asian-style scroll measuring several feet in length.  Youth learned the value of taking time and care to make a public exhibit. The process had several stages: planning the story, sketching each scene in pencil, inking and erasing the pencil marks, coloring, and gluing together the components of the scroll. Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders conceptualized and drew themselves as regular students by day who transform into nocturnal warriors in order to save Bancroft Elementary School. Together, they fight the nefarious Zack the Electro-Elephant, a bad apple second-grader who wants to steal the smartness of Bancroft’s best. Each superhero persona reflects qualities of the actual AALEAD youth. Want to find out what happens? Take a trip to the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Library—the scroll will be on display through May 31!

By Sharon Choi, Development & Communications Manager

Aaannd, AALEADers are back with their second youth media project!

We partnered again with the Gandhi Brigade to mobilize youth to create film projects around cyber civility. Last year, our youth created two videos around stereotypes and identity. This year, our middle and high school youth from AALEAD’s MD Middle School and MD High School Programs planned, directed, and produced a video around cyber bullying: Upstanding Upload.

Youth had the opportunity to reflect, discuss, and brainstorm around how they could relay a message important to them around cyber bullying. This video is a result of a project being led by youth from beginning to end with support from staff. We are so blown away by the work put into this project by our AALEADers. Go AALEAD!

Our video, along with youth-produced videos from all Gandhi Brigade partners and the community, will be showcased at the 8th Annual Youth Media Festival at the Civic Center in Downtown Silver Spring on Sunday, May 31. All youth videos around cyber bullying, including ours, will be shown at 12:15 pm. We hope to see you there!

Thank you to our MD Programs Manager, Melor Suhaimi, for providing support, encouragement, and love to our youth as they worked to complete this project. A huge thank you to the Gandhi Brigade for their commitment to empowering youth to express themselves through media. And most importantly, shout outs to our amazing young people who led to the awesome end result of their video: Airah S., Anna M., Dana O., Dzaky H., Fucheng L., Katherine H., Mae S., Pearl T., Rachel K., Sevin H., Sophia Y., Thanh N., Zach D.

We hope that you will continue to stay connected with AALEAD! For more photos and updates, please make sure to visit our Facebook pageTwitterYouTube and Instagram accounts for the latest updates.

AALEAD at Fiesta Asia DC 2015!

By Chelsea Iorlano, Development & Communications Associate
Photos Courtesy of Chelsea Iorlano

This past Saturday, May 16, Asian American LEAD joined the festivities at Fiesta Asia DC.  161 youth, staff, and mentors came out to represent AALEAD and celebrate Asian Pacific American Heritage Month at the 10th annual Fiesta Asia street festival!

The day began bright and early as our AALEADers from elementary, middle, and high school gathered at the East Stage and performed our 4th annual Asian Fusion modern dance, choreographed by our 6 AALEAD lead choreographers.  The dance was an exciting opportunity for our youth across programs to meet one another, work together, and continue to strengthen the bonds of the AALEAD family.  Our youth showcased their talent and hard work through the performance; some youth even had the opportunity to highlight their passion for dance with a solo spotlight during the performance!

The MD Middle School Youth Council stepped up their leadership by preparing and operating the AALEAD booth as part of the street festival.  AALEADers drew in curious members of the crowd with a trivia board about Asian culture and traditions, a photo both, and face-in-the-hole stand-ins that showcased traditional Asian attire.

Youth also had free time to walk around and explore the festival, learn about other Asian cultures and organizations at a variety of booths, try different Asian cuisines and cool down with bubble tea and sugar cane juice, and watch performances at any of the 5 stages.  After a full morning of dancing, picture taking, and exploring Fiesta Asia, our youth came together once again to represent AALEAD during the Fiesta Asia Culture Parade.  AALEADers celebrated their community, carrying signs they made for the parade and chanting and cheering to express what AALEAD means to them.

A special thank you to everyone who came out to support our youth and made the event a fun and rewarding experience!

Thomson Tales: AALEAD Flea Market

By Justin Fogata, Elementary Program Teacher
Photos Courtesy of Justin Fogata

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which [youth can] deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”  -Paulo Freire

The 4th and 5th grade youth at Thomson Elementary recently launched their first AALEAD Flea Market.  Throughout the school year, the youth have been directly involved in the lesson planning process in an effort to encourage ownership and empowerment in their education.  After brainstorming potential experiential classroom projects, the youth mentioned their interest in starting their own businesses.  This educational venture was more than just “playing store.”  Youth split into groups and discussed the potential steps for a successful start-up business.

For the past month, the class has been hard at work; from drafting business plans to organizing inventory lists and item prices.  To tie in the concept of “one’s trash is another’s treasure,” the youth also had the opportunity to find items from home to sell in their stores. “XTSD” (Xtreme Thrift Store Deluxe), a business led by 4th graders, added toys in good condition, school supplies and comic books to their “inventory list.”  A few groups incorporated our “Earth Week” unit into their businesses, creating sellable items out of recycled materials.  “Tic Toc Shop,” established by 5th grade girls, created hand-made origami crafts, necklaces and bracelets.  “The Sugar Shack,” a business developed by a creative and resourceful group of 4th graders, brought candies and treats left over from Easter to sell in their store.  Youth assigned job responsibilities as well, including positions such as store manager, accountant, marketing executive and customer service representative.

Lisa is her store’s “accountant” – she is writing
receipts and calculating the change for Ricky.

“Marketing executives” were hard at work, creating and designing fliers on the AALEAD class computers.  Student accountants determined prices and monitored the store budget.  Customer service representatives practiced elevator speeches and sale pitches to prepare for opening day. For our official opening, the youth transformed the classroom.  Groups arranged the desks and incorporated student-made store decorations/fliers to create a true-to-life shopping experience for our 2nd and 3rd graders.  The AALEAD Flea Market ended up being a huge success.  The 2nd and 3rd graders had a blast “window shopping” and purchasing items.  The 4th and 5th graders did an amazing job, from keeping their stores clean and organized to providing excellent customer service.

Once we closed shop, our youth debriefed and reflected on their experience.  The class did not expect it to “feel like the real-thing,” and one student added “that was stressful but fun too!”  Groups felt accomplished and proud of their work, the majority of the class asking if we can open our doors one more time.  On a future Friday, the 4th and 5th graders will open and expand their business to the Kindergarten and 1st grade classes.  Youth are currently revamping their business plans and brainstorming on how to make AALEAD Flea Market 2.0 bigger and better.

AALEADers Meet with Varun Ram!

By Sharon Choi & Chelsea Iorlano, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff

Last Friday, May 8, AALEADers had an amazing opportunity to meet with the University of Maryland Men’s Basketball Team’s Varun Ram. Varun, a guard for the Maryland Terps, received media attention during the NCAA Tournament in March where he made a crucial defensive play, allowing the team to make a 65-62 win against Valparaiso. While he has received attention for being 1 of 5 Indian Americans in the nation to play for a Division 1 basketball team, Varun said in a Washington Post article that “…in terms of the way I train and my outlook, I really don’t like to think about it. Race is only skin-deep.”

We were inspired by his story and journey as a basketball player who overcame the challenges and pressures of being Asian American as he pursued his dreams. Many of us are able to relate to the challenges that come with the model minority stereotype cast against Asian Pacific Americans. With May being National Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, this event provided an opportunity to examine and discuss how Asian Pacific American identity and representation in basketball has impacted Varun’s experience.

AALEAD youth learned about Varun during programs and had a chance to submit questions for a question and answer session during the event on Friday. Varun was able to share his experiences and give the youth valuable insight about working hard, setting high standards and expectations for oneself, regardless of what the outside pressures and expectations may be, and staying motivated and passionate along the way.

Everyone was excited to hear from Varun, who emanated positivity and humility. Youth also had a chance to shoot hoops with Varun and a fellow teammate, center Damonte Dodd, following the Q&A session right on the Xfinity Center Court!  The event allowed our youth to interact with someone that they can look up to as a role model and inspiration for how to pursue their own dreams without other people’s perceptions or expectations limiting what our youth can dream for their futures.

A special thank you to Varun, Damonte, Jamal, and Jonathan from the UMD basketball team, Janelle and UMD’s Asian American Studies Program, and our alumni hosts Marjan and Jackey, for helping to make this event a success for our young people!

By Madeline Sumida, Elementary Program Teacher & Site Coordinator
Photos Courtesy of Madeline Sumida

The Bancroft Kindergarten through second grade crew learned that the smallest creatures do some of the most important jobs on the planet. We kicked off the unit with an April Fools Day gag. I taught a mini lesson on earthworms—how these animals help make good soil by ingesting soil and enriching the soil with their excrement. Then I brought out some little cups filled with dirt and told the class that they would pretend to be earthworms by eating it (dirt, after all, has more nutrients than your average bag of potato chips). Youth dug in after getting a good sniff of the “dirt”—it smelled a lot like Oreos—and enjoyed the spoonfuls of yogurt and gummy worms hidden beneath the cookie crust.

Youth also learned about honeybees and their essential role as pollinators. Without these little gals, we wouldn’t have enough food to feed all the hungry animals. Herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, detritivores—all depend on honey bees (a keystone species) to help plants produce the seeds that keep things growing. The class learned that honeybees are in danger: they’re dying off for mysterious reasons and because of predators, parasites, and habitat destruction. Youth learned the round dance and the waggle dance that bees use to communicate to their hive members where to find food. To test their knowledge, the class divided into teams to play Bee Bingo. Finally, youth made their own little hives, made out of paper boxes that they covered with honeybee facts, and sculpted honeybees out of clay. Youth wore their finished bees to remind everyone that these tiny creatures are capable of amazing things and deserve all the respect and help that we can give them.

By Yuqiong L., Current AALEAD Youth
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff

At the end of last month, I went on the White House Spring Garden Tour and visited the Jacqueline Kennedy Garden, the Rose Garden, the White House Kitchen Garden, and the South Lawn of the White House with two other Asian American LEAD (AALEAD) mentoring pairs. The gardens were very pretty and huge! I used to think the White House was small, but now, I know the White House isn’t small at all. The first thing I saw was the back of the White House and the podium where President Obama makes his speeches about important topics in the United States. It was awesome to see the gardens at the White House!

What I liked most about the White House gardens was the porcelain water, especially how it goes up in the fountains and the ducks that live in the pond. It’s so pretty and gorgeous! President Obama also planted vegetables in the White House Kitchen Garden so he can make salad. It was really fun to be out during that weekend since the weather was awesome and nice. I’m glad I got to spend the day with my mentor, Nancy, and the other mentors and mentees.

My experience with my mentor has been great so far. We have been matched for three months. Nancy is really nice, friendly and helpful. During this event with AALEAD’s Mentoring Program, I got to know her better and spend time with her. It was really hard for me to talk with Nancy at first because we just met. Lots of things were very different since I have had one other mentor before, but I am getting to know her better and better as time goes on. I also like that Nancy knows Cantonese because it helps my parents when they try to speak with her. Nancy always hangs out with me, and we have lots in common. She has taught me a lot about leadership skills and shared her own life with me. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to go on the White House Spring Garden Tour, hang out with my mentor, and meet some new AALEADers during this event. I am also thankful for both my former mentor and Nancy because without them, I wouldn’t be a great leader now.

Some of our AALEAD students have been hard at work these past few months creating original works of art for submission to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) 2015 National Art Competition.

The theme of this year’s contest is a student’s favorite Chinese food memories and  this has provided a great platform for students to reflect on their own experience with Chinese food and Chinese Americans. Students have drawn pictures of hotpot feasts, new year’s banquets, a special ice cream Sunday served on a third birthday in China, and more. Students in third grade and older also wrote short paragraphs describing their work of art and what it represents to them.

A huge thanks to the Chinese American Citizens Alliance for providing this fantastic opportunity and impetus for students to reflect on their own identity and experiences through art!

By Ari Pak, MD High School Program Coordinator
Photo Courtesy of Ari Pak

What did you do this past weekend? When asked this question, the first thing that comes to my mind is the inspiring and energizing AALEAD MD High School Youth Council meeting that I attended. I know what you’re thinking; how could a meeting be inspiring and energizing? Aren’t meetings usually filled with monotonous lists and reports, pencil tapping, and clock-watching? Let me tell you, I left this meeting filled with excitement, gratitude, and pride in the work that the AALEADers had accomplished and would have loved to stay for longer if only to see them work their magic more.

I’ll give you a few snapshots of the day, in the hopes that you can share in some of the excitement and pride in the work that the young people on MD High School Youth Council accomplished.

11:12 a.m. Marierose, a freshman in the AALEAD MD High School program, is leading a teambuilding and leadership activity with the group. Everyone is gathered around in a group, working collaboratively to accomplish a shared task. The room is filled with laughter, suspense, and group bonding. It is already clear that everyone has come dedicated and ready to engage fully in every portion of the agenda.

11:45 a.m. Eljoy, a junior who has been with AALEAD since middle school, is the lead facilitator of the meeting, ensuring that all agenda points are addressed. He facilitates a discussion with the group around how to continue improving AALEAD programs. They elect to include a study hall and homework help portion time into program days to support each other’s academic success. They discuss the importance of all AALEADers holding a responsibility to attend AALEAD and contribute to the AALEAD community. The group comes away with an action plan to ensure the success of program engagement. Anyone in the room can feel the determination to create better, more engaging, and more sustainable programs emanating from each Youth Council member present.

12:38 p.m. Youth Council members share activities they have just finished planning and will facilitate over the remainder of the semester. Youth council member Ram shares his group’s plan to host an AALEAD Alumni College Panel in programs. Aisha, another member, shares about the mental health activities her group has planned to hold during the AP Exam weeks. These activities will support AALEADers in caring for their overall wellness during the stressful periods of testing. All members excitedly share feedback and suggestions for how to improve and execute all ideas. The end of the year curriculum is quickly becoming exactly what the AALEADers want for it to be: their own, engaging, meaningful, and dynamic.

1:14 p.m. The Youth Council has just finished creating drafts of the mission and vision statements for the Asian Pacific American Youth Summit. They recognize that a mission and vision statement will create an even more powerful, impactful, and sustainable APA Youth Summit, which they are all dedicated to creating. Their desire to empower their community, within and beyond AALEAD, rings true in their discussion around the APA Youth Summit, just as it does in their Youth Council vision board. Their motto sums it up: “LEAD by Youth for the Youth: One step at a time.”

1:25 p.m. The meeting is wrapping up and everyone goes around sharing one-word reflections from the meeting. “Productive,” “exciting,” “really-good!” “inspired” are a few of the feelings shared by individuals, and clearly held by all.

1:35 p.m. As I leave with Shobana, DC High School and Middle School Program Coordinator, we reflect on how efficient, productive, and positive the meeting was. Not only was the meeting run completely by the young people themselves, but they were also able to keep their energy and creativity high the entire time! How amazing is it to see what folks can do when we give them the space to expand?

This sort of work, the work that allows young people to step into generative and innovative leadership roles, is why AALEAD is so special to me and to so many other people. The MD High School Youth Council meeting serves as a snapshot of the ways in which AALEAD allows young people to grow into leadership roles in ways that matter to them. I am grateful and proud to have the opportunity to work with such inspiring and dedicated young people daily.