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Volunteer Voices: Vinh’s Story

By Vinh Tran, Current AALEAD Volunteer
Photos Courtesy of Tina Ngo & Micah Shearer, AALEAD Staff

The AALEAD Volunteer Program consists of committed and enthusiastic individuals who spend one to two days out of their week helping our after school programs staff manage classroom behavior, teaching lessons, and spending time with our youth. To kick off National Mentoring Month, we would like to recognize our amazing volunteers who not only dedicate their time to our students, but also serve as wonderful mentors and positive role models as well. To our fantastic volunteers, thank you so much for all that you do! We are grateful for you and continue to be inspired by your passion, creativity, and energy every day. Please enjoy Vinh’s story, and Happy National Mentoring Month! -Tina, Mentoring & Volunteer Program Coordinator

From my point of view, everything in the United States was new and extremely different from my country, Vietnam. I wanted to learn everything I could about Americans – not only for my own knowledge, but also, so that I could begin to have meaningful interactions in my new home – which is a feeling I think many of the AALEAD students I’ve worked with can relate to. Additionally, I am especially interested in education, and I love working with kids. Those are some of the reasons why I became a volunteer for AALEAD.

AALEADers are really smart, well-behaved, and eager to learn. I love the environment that AALEAD creates, which definitely encourages me to come back and volunteer every week. The most memorable experience I have had so far was the first time I had a chance to teach the students on my own. I was really excited to be able to step into a teacher’s shoes, even if it was only for one day. Though it was just a simple art lesson, it was wonderful teaching the students how to draw out their own ideas and make their own creations.

Through volunteering for AALEAD, I have gained some very important teaching skills, which are helpful for me because I want to become a teacher in the future. In particular, I learned how to be flexible with unpredictable situations, work in a team with the other teachers, and how to plan engaging lessons. I also had the opportunity to be a kid again by learning how to play with the students and help them develop their own unique abilities.

Working with everyone in AALEAD has been an amazing experience. The teachers are friendly and helpful, and I am thankful for the opportunity to volunteer with such a great organization.

Intern Introduction: Greetings from MinhAn!

By MinhAn Nguyen, AALEAD Intern
Photos by MinhAn Nguyen, AALEAD Intern

Hi everyone, my name is MinhAn, and I am super excited to be the new Fall 2013 Elementary School Program Intern! I was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and I migrated to the Silicon Valley in 2002 with my family. I am currently pursuing an International Relations degree with UC Davis. Upon graduation, I hope to dedicate my time to assist students from the United States and foreign countries in traveling and studying abroad.  I, myself, love to travel, and my top three destinations are Japan, Egypt, and the Czech Republic! Please let me know if you’re interested in visiting these places; I would love to share my experiences in these amazing countries with you.  However, as much as I love to travel, I have decided to settle in Washington D.C. for the next 3 months.

Despite the large population of Vietnamese people living in Silicon Valley, it was definitely not easy for me to integrate into the schools I attended and the community at first.  It was through the AmeriCorps Young Heroes program that I found  the support I needed to build up my self-esteem,  which helped me to be successful  (academically and socially) throughout  my years in middle school as well as high school. As a result, I want to be able to provide the same guidance and support to the Asian American elementary students living in the area during my time here in Washington D.C. I believe that by working together with AALEAD, I’ll be able to create a big impact on the lives of Asian American students, who will contribute great things to this constantly developing and globalizing world.

By Yenling Yang, AALEAD Elementary Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Interns

The DC Summer Elementary School Program has officially ended. As I hurried around the cafeteria, clearing the last of the tables where we held our closing celebration, I was sad to know that I had to say goodbye to these amazing kids. Their excited, loud screams, their light-hearted giggles, and the knowledge that they spread through each classroom will sorely be missed. As I turn to exit the doors of Thomson Elementary for the last time, their laughs are still ringing in my ears. I am sad also that all the friendships and mentorships that were formed with staff members must take an indefinite break as I venture off into another city to continue my own education. I already miss our 19 staff members. I already miss our 115 kids. And I already miss our fabulous DC Elementary School Program manager, Ms. Micah.

Despite heartbreak or goodbyes, it has been a solid 5 weeks here at AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Program! So much movement has flowed in and out of these halls over the past few weeks, as we headed out for field trips to museums, farms, and Six Flags; then, we scuttled back in for workshops on health or identity or service; afterwards, we whisked back out again for trips to the library to further expand our minds; and then we sprinted back in to meet our Tai Chi instructor and one of our favorite authors (Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu)! Trampling over summer learning loss, no one missed a beat the entire summer!

We took a moment to celebrate this great program on Friday, August 2, with a variety of acts (plays, dancing, rapping) and displays (portfolios, painted flower pots, stories). The energy in the room, filled with students, staff, volunteers, and family members, was boundless. Kids could hardly keep still in between acts! There were cheers for fellow peers, laughter (when appropriate), and such an eagerness to see what the kids have been working on for the past 5 weeks!  As an intern, primarily placed in the AALEAD office at Thomson, to get to see the kids interacting with each other is a blessing. To see students put on funky shades and rap with their teacher or wear a mask to pretend to be a ballerina or do kicks off a wall to promote a health drink inspires me to work hard too! It’s obvious that these kids have so much potential and I can’t wait to see where it will take them!

As the doors for AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Summer Program closes for summer, the doors of AALEAD will be closing for me as well. The internship is officially over and as I pack my bags and prepare to leave the city, I will be thinking of the fond memories and lessons that I have made here at AALEAD. The biggest lesson that I have learned is that when working with kids, in order to have the greatest impact, one must build and maintain solid relationships with them over time. Face-to-face interaction is particularly necessary in learning how to socialize, work as a team, and sustain friendships among their peers. After all, communication is more than just words; it’s about body language and tone and attitude. Kids can tell if you’re not interested in them – even if you say you are. They can see that your body is not facing theirs or that your eyes are wandering elsewhere or that your voice is dreary. To let them know that you care, you have to feel it! Relationships are a two-way street. If you love them, they’ll love you back!

Well, that’s all from me for now. So long AALEAD! Hope to see you again in the future!

An Extraordinary 5 Weeks with AALEAD

By Julie Kwong, AALEAD Elementary School Summer Program Teaching Assistant
Photos Courtesy of Julie Kwong

I didn’t know what to expect when I accepted the Teaching Assistant position for AALEAD’s Summer Elementary School Program. I heard so many great things from returning staff about the students during training week, but all of the tips that were given and all of the experiences that were shared ended up entering one ear, lingering for a bit, and then shooting out the other; in order to really understand what was being said, I had to be in the moment and a part of that experience. Now, almost five weeks later, I can say that I finally understand those moments and have even collected some stories and advice of my own to share.

If I could only share one thing that I have learned, it would be this: these kids are like presents: full of surprises. The first thing I noticed when I met these kids was their adorableness. They are the epitome of cuteness, excitement, and happiness all contained in a miniature-size hyper package. However, beneath this outer shell, they also have so many untapped talents, ideas, and dreams. Jonathan, in the beginning a very talkative kid, adjusted his behavior in recent weeks, thoughtfully completing assignments and paying attention in class without repeatedly being asked to do so. On the first day, he half-heartedly fulfilled the dream assignment, declaring that he will be a billionaire in the future with a great mansion and pricey car. Recently, in our mini class talent show, he patiently taught the class how to dribble a basketball through their legs. He told us that he enjoyed basketball because he was inspired by his brother to play and improve. Unlike his far-fetched (but, still possible!) dream in the first week, he admitted that to be a great basketball player, he would have to dedicate a lot of time and hard work. He’s up for the challenge, but also understands that not everyone can just join the NBA. This and countless other similar stories have surfaced among my students in the past month. Setting high expectations and truly believing in the potential of these kids are the only ways to avoid the side effects of these inevitable first impressions and presumptions.

I am without a doubt reluctant to wrap up my time with these students. I will miss each one of their smiling faces and unbounded mouths that endlessly spill brilliant thoughts and ideas. I will miss seeing their eager faces during reading time, watching their hands wave vigorously in the air to answer a question, and sharing laughs at their witty remarks. Most of all, I will miss discovering their priceless surprises and helping them see what I see in them: great potential and a bright future with endless possibilities.

By Yenling Yang, AALEAD Elementary Program Intern

AALEAD’s DC Elementary School Program is continuing its streak of fun and laughter and as we wrap up our fourth week, we have an announcement! Our 114 students have worked tirelessly for 5 workshop days and we are proud to release our first issue of our AALEAD Summer 2013 Newsletter!

Our 1st through 5th grade youth have channeled their creative talent these past weeks into drawings, paintings, poems, essays and much more! They have reflected on our field trips to the farm and to the museums and written about our different workshops and activities. Our students have also delved deeper and have written pieces about identity, goals, bullying, and friendship. With so many ideas bouncing around their heads, it’s no surprise that they cultivated a mountain of pieces that were suitable for submission to our newsletter.

Speaking of submissions, we could not be more proud of our rising sixth graders who have taken charge of this project and have been responsible for putting the entire newsletter together. At the beginning of the summer, our sixth graders were divided into three “Committees”: Submissions, which chose (and then edited!) the pieces that made it into the newsletter; Graphics, which worked on typography and created our amazing header; and Layout, which experimented with different newsletter outlines in an effort to craft their own! These students have worked diligently to make sure all the words were spelled correctly, colored inside the lines, and make all text boxes the same size. No time was wasted as we looked over everything once, twice, and even three times! Luckily, all the hard work paid off because we are now able to release our first issue. It was eye-opening to see what a group of young people was capable of doing when given the opportunity to take charge of a project that represents the entirety of our AALEAD elementary summer program!

Check out our newsletter here!

Kudos to all our elementary summer program kids! You all did a great job! Stay tuned for the next issue!

By Yenling Yang, AALEAD Elementary Program Intern

A student's yummy poem about pizza!

Another poem about ice cream!

These poems drafted by some of our AALEAD rising sixth graders display the art of showing, not telling. According to Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Wendy Lu, this is what writers do. In addition to writing and rewriting and rewriting, a writer’s job is to manipulate the English language so that it depicts a scene, a picture, an illustration with specific sensory details, so that readers feel like they are taking the same journey as the main character. Instead of stating, “Ice cream is delicious,” a writer might prefer something like this: “The ice cream cone tasted refreshingly cold and overwhelmingly sweet on my tastebuds, as some of the ice cream also trickled down my hand.”

How’s that? I think I picked up a thing or two during Ms. Shang’s workshop!

The enthusiastic Wendy Shang dropped by two weeks ago for workshops with our third & fourth grade classes, and stopped by again last Thursday to get the minds of our rising fifth and sixth graders churning with creative juices. After reading an excerpt from her book, she explained her fascination with describing food, using sensory details such as sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing. She then introduced the concept of a cinquain (or a 5-lined poem) and it seems to me like we have some potential thought-provoking poets in AALEAD! The kids were asked to write about their favorite food, which resulted in poems about pizza, ice cream, french fries, seafood, and many more! A plethora of action verbs and adjectives surfaced during the workshop, from chomping to slurping to rotten to smooth to moist. So many satisfying mental images popped into my head as the kids read their poems that I was nearly salivating by the end of their recitations!

Way to go fifth and sixth graders!

One last cinquain!

By Yenling Yang, AALEAD Elementary Program Intern
Photos Courtesy of AALEAD Staff & Interns

Summer has just begun and so has our DC Elementary School Summer Program! On July 1, we kicked off our 5-week program at Thomson Elementary School with over 100 youth (114 youth, to be exact – almost double the number of students in the program last year!) and 19 part-time staff members. Even though we are only about two weeks into the program, the enthusiasm from staff, students, and volunteers has been tremendously overwhelming and absolutely contagious, as each day is filled with laughter, smiles, and lots of learning. The students have already gotten to know their teachers and it’s only a matter of time before we get to see each relationship blossom into long lasting relationships.

Ms. Sophie with some of her students at the Newseum!

This summer, we are so lucky to be working with an amazing team of part-time staff members with a wealth of professional and personal experiences, ranging from teaching abroad and in DC schools to extensive experience working in the community (particularly the Asian American community). They hail from all around the DC metro area, the country, and even the world! All have been eager to share their gifts and talents with their colleagues and their students and are doing an amazing job facilitating lessons and activities designed to help our students combat summer learning loss, explore their identity and place in the world, and develop into visionary leaders.

Ms. Katie and the Eagle team!

During these five weeks, our schedule is packed! During the morning programs, our students are immersing themselves in a literacy program, whose highlights include “Fractured Fairytales” and “Reading Buddies. “Fractured Fairytales” take classic fairytale stories and turn them upside down! For example, instead of reading The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf , they are reading The Three Little Wolves and the Big Bad Pig. The students have indulged in mini-art projects, creative writing, skit-producing, and grammar activities that are structured to help them expand their vocabulary and find fun in the pages of books. During the morning portion of the program each week, our students take a trip to the library, check out fascinating reads, and engage with one another as “Reading Buddies.” As older students read to the younger ones, the laughter and smiles that have erupted have been magical to see!

Last but not least, our students also get to delve into learning about themselves, their peers, and their community as they transition into the afternoon program. As part of this year’s “I Am the Difference” theme, our youth have been participating in four areas focused on health, community, identity, and presentation (creating a newsletter). Using creativity and some thinking outside of the box, both students and staff have made smoothies, practiced yoga, met with an author (Wendy Shang, author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu), gardened and gone swimming, among other activities. In addition, every Friday, youth take a field trip around the area! Last week, we visited Homestead Farm in Poolesville, MD, where we picked fresh and organic blueberries, while this week, they headed to the Newseum, where we learned about journalism, reporting, and broadcasting.

Students at Homestead Farm with an alpaca!

Learning at the Newseum!

So much has been accomplished these past two weeks and we are so proud of our students and staff. With only three more weeks left, let the fun continue!

Intern Spotlight: Are you in on Yenling?

By Lynda Nguyen, AALEAD Summer Development & Communications Intern

Photos Courtesy of AALEAD

Today’s ‘Intern Spotlight’ focuses on Yenling, our DC Elementary Summer School Program intern! Yenling is a rising senior at Brown University, studying health and human biology (a field she is very invested in). In addition to studying health, Yenling is also a dedicated member of the Asian American Student Association at Brown.

Through her time here at Asian American LEAD (AALEAD), she has been able to combine both of her interests, health and Asian American community development. As the ES Summer Program intern, Yenling has taken on many roles that has helped her define what “health and wellness” exactly means here at AALEAD. Continue to read below and see what this native Kentuckian has to say about her experience with AALEAD.

Q: Describe your role here at Asian American LEAD.

A: My position is the DC Elementary School Program intern, so I have an interesting combination of jobs: teacher’s aide, friend, organizer, database entry person, administrator, point person, teacher, map, copier, entertainment, etc. It couldn’t get any better!

Yenling having lunch with some AALEADers.

Q: Why did you choose to volunteer at AALEAD?

A: I chose to volunteer with AALEAD because I was interested in how an Asian American-based community organization could affect the health of Asian American kids. As a human biology major, I’m quite fascinated by how the many facets of our environments can impact our bodies. Thus, working in a school, where I could see what is being fed to young students, both literally and figuratively, peaked my interest. Plus, I adore kids and their care-free natures!

Q: How has working with AALEAD impacted you as a student, advocate, and/or educator?

A: AALEAD has taught me that patience is vital in working not only with students, but also with peers, mentors, and other members of the community. Even though we desperately want the best for our kids and sometimes, we want it now, it seems as though learning how to be patient relieves some of the frustration/tension. However, patience definitely does not equate to a lack of productiveness, so “productive patience” seems to be the best way to approach people and topics from what I have learned.

Yenling with the ES Summer Program on a field trip to a local farm.

Q: What are three things you most enjoy about your program?

A: Genuine laughter, vibrant pictures that are not colored within the lines, and unexpected enthusiasm!

Q: What is one word that encapsulates your summer thus far?

A: Spectacular!

Yenling with a student from the ES Summer Program.

By Tina Ngo, AALEAD Staff
Photos Courtesy of Sophie Zhao, DC Elementary School Program Teacher

This past weekend, AALEADers, mentors, staff members, and our friends over at CAPAL (Conference on Asian Pacific American Leadership) participated in the 25th Annual Potomac River Watershed Cleanup. Though it was a bit chilly in the morning, the clouds looming overhead eventually drifted away, and all that could be seen for the rest of the day were bright blue skies. As our students made their way over to Rock Creek Park, their energy and enthusiasm could be heard in their cheers and laughter.

The day started off with a brief orientation by our site coordinator, and off they were! AALEADers were handed gloves and trash bags, and then they were assigned to an area of the park to clean up. As they trudged their way through the mud, across the river, and over the grassy patches, AALEADers found many interesting things. From shoes to fossils, a CD, and even a car door, they discovered a myriad of items that were simply thrown away or forgotten in the park. In doing so, AALEADers became quite the explorers as they climbed over rocks and marched through the grass in order to do their part in keeping our Earth clean.

After two hours of picking up trash and recyclables throughout the Park, AALEADers were ready for lunch. They gathered with our mentors, staff members, and CAPAL volunteers at the nearby picnic tables to munch on delicious granola bars, fruit snacks, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Once everyone was re-energized, AALEADers began to mingle with the new friendly faces that they did not have the opportunity to meet and get to know earlier that morning.

By helping to make the park a more beautiful and vibrant place, AALEADers learned about the importance of civic engagement, and how one’s actions can both positively and negatively impact our community and the world around us. As the event came to an end, AALEADers reflected on their surprise at the great amount of trash strewn across the area and discussed what they could do to help make their neighborhoods a cleaner place to live. Their motivated and lively conversations about what they could do to make the world a better place highlight the significance of community service and the positive impact that these opportunities have on our youth.

Special shout out to all of the elementary school students, mentors, mentees, staff, and CAPAL members who were able to join us! Also, our deepest thanks to CAPAL for providing the snacks for our students and Doug Barker from the Rock Creek Conservancy for helping us coordinate this event. We are so happy that we were able to share this wonderful experience together, and we hope to see you all again soon!

Our AALEAD Elementary School students at Bancroft ES had a great afternoon yesterday studying positive role models and reflecting on their own strengths and goals.  The class was introduced to Asian American singer songwriters, Clara C and David Choi.  They first watched interviews and music videos of the pair and then discussed what challenges Clara and David must have faced. Next, they discussed ways to overcome struggles and challenges in their daily lives.  Students finished up the activity by making themselves into a walking poster-boards celebrating their strengths and the goals they wish to achieve some day. Check out a few of these up and coming positive role models: