Tag Archives: inspiration

Bragging Rights

Bragging Rights  12961728_605186556312191_2936564873169789097_n

I felt unsure about how it would go, but when I heard they needed a teacher who wanted to work with at-risk students, I decided to give it a shot. Teaching elementary school for twelve years had become isolating and routine. Earning my Master’s degree and my short experience as a high school and middle school counselor created a hungequestion-mark-1026530_960_720r in me for something different. When I walked inside the building, a nervousness that I hadn’t felt since I first started teaching shot through me. I wondered if I’d made the right decision. My new challenge faced me, teaching teenagers at a continuation high school. What was I thinking?

I hate to admit it, but I was a bit terrified. A tumultuous sea of teens surrounded me all day long. Their attitudes, moods, faces, “eff bombs,” gossip, bullying, and occasional laughter pierced into my being. They seemed so foreign to me compared to elementary children who, for the most part, would do anything I asked of them. Teaching young children has its challenges, but they generally love their teachers. Their little faces light up and they want attention so bad it hurts. “Teacher, teacher,” they’d yell out all day long. They’d depression-1250897_960_720sing and dance, read out loud, and do ten jumping jacks enthusiastically if I asked.  I didn’t experience the same types of responses from these teenagers. They did want my attention and just asking them to work could turn into a huge conflict. Their faces didn’t express joy for much of anything they had to do it school.

Many of them had years of tragically challenging experiences at home and in school that left them feeling hopeless and discouraged, but they showed up anyway. Even though they’d failed in the past, they wanted a chance to succeed. Many people, including themselves in some cases, criticized them, put them down, and looked at them as failures because they went to a continuation high school. Although people told them they couldn’t or wouldn’t succeed, they kept trying. Their strength and tenacity inspired me, but I still wasn’t sure how to reach them.

So we danced.

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I nervously started a Zumba class for P.E. At first, very few students chose the class, but over the years, the room filled with more new faces. When I lead them in Zumba dances, they became those enthusiastic elementary kids who would do anything I asked. They’d shake, jump, clap, shimmy, you name it. Oh to see them smile, knowing what I knew about their lives, created a happiness in my heart like no other. Pure joy.

I had a crazy idea of asking them if they wanted to perform some of the dances in public at a health fair and fundraiser. Surprisingly, they agreed and even showed up to after school events. They returned to the school they were kicked out of and performed with big smiles on their faces. Their enthusiasm and willingness to perform in front of people shocked me. In class their love for movement and music brought laughter and smiles, but to ta792298_10151429665388707_224105806_oke that outside of our safe haven required another level of courage. These moments of pride lifted their heads and expressed their tenacity. They showed people their unwillingness to be invisible or forgotten. Every year each new Zumba class brought new energy and crossed new boundaries.  Then the big moment came – a chance of a lifetime. For the first time ever, teen students from a continuation high school in little Red Bluff, CA would dance Zumba during halftime at a professional NBA basketball game. For me, a dream come true. 12963436_605186506312196_349463721530923816_n

When the day arrived of our performance at the King’s game half-time, I wished all the previous students who helped build the enthusiasm for Zumba over the last nine years could have been there with us. They graduated long before this opportunity arose, but they were key to making it possible. Their willingness to show off their skills during the earlier years changed my thinking. I realized these teenagers still had that youthful enthusiasm and courage. Even though life had pushed them down and took away their smiles so many times, their smiles could be unburied. Their joyfulness and confidence to take healthy risks could be reignited with the power of dance.

The amazing group that made it to the King’s game practiced relentlessly with me for weeks before the big day. They drove two hours to Sacramento the week before the 12973336_605185846312262_1360726372874898236_operformance to rehearse repeatedly with the hundred other dancers. A few were overcome with anxiety so many times at school that dancing in front of thousands of people in a stadium and for television struck a nerve way down deep, but they committed to performing. Before we made our way down to the floor, a few girls expressed their nervousness and fear to the point of wanting to back out, but they didn’t. We ran out onto the King’s floor full of excitement. I looked at the faces of the nine Salisbury students who stood there with me and knew they’d never forget that moment. Neither would I.12932775_605186679645512_4454442459524173230_n

We looked up into the crowds of hundreds of people and waved at the ones who came along to cheer us on. Giant cameras pointed at us. The announcer yelled out, “Let’s hear it for the Zumba dancers!” The crowd roared. The music blasted. We danced for three glorious minutes. Single, single, double. Step left. Step right. Shimmy. I smiled the biggest smile possible. The pride I felt to be dancing there with these incredible students was one of the best moments of my life. They remembered all the moves and they rocked it! The music ended and the crowd roared louder. People clapped and cheered. We ran off the floor, several of my students said, “That was amazing. When can we do this again?”12938304_605186566312190_3257568871448162589_n1

I don’t know when we will have the chance to do it again, but I am driven to find more opportunities for my students to shine. They deserve it and they need it. Their bravery catapults them and future students onto a new levels of accomplishment. They walked away from that experience with something that very few other people can say they’ve done. Yes, they’ve earned serious bragging rights. After everything each of them has been through, they can still push themselves and be amazing. It takes a lot of guts to stand up in front of people and dance your heart out, especially if you’ve been the person who never did things like that before. I hope they brag to everyone they know and meet that they danced Zumba at a King’s game, but even if they don’t, having those bragging rights in their hearts lifts their heads a little higher. Brag on Salisbury Zumba students, you are spectacular and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!

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Spirit of the Couch

12801250_1168729283138324_3296289806290059021_nSometimes ideas come to me and I don’t know exactly how they will manifest, but they often find a way into my reality in some form or another. As a teacher of teens at a continuation high school, I am challenged to find ways to reach young minds and motivate them to learn. I believe that life experiences teach more than pencil and paper so I try to squeeze in as many field trips as we can afford throughout the year. Other than field trips, this idea has been brewing: create some sort of business that the students can run from the school, like a bakery or producing some sort of craft that can be sold in local stores. They could get hands-on experience marketing, helping customers, dealing with money, making products, etc. I’ve been thinking about this for a few years, but I haven’t been able to make anything happen with it until this last year when someone asked, “Do you think we could have a rummage sale at the school to raise money for the Equine Assisted Learning classes for Red Bluff youth?”

“Sure,” I said, but I wasn’t positive it could really happen since I’m not the ultimate decision maker. The need to help students meet the new graduation requirement of community service made the idea more acceptable so the higher ups approved the event. We were off and running. Our school was going to hold its first fundraising event, a Spring Bazaar for a community organization, Daystar Ranch. Not quite a long term business, like a bakery, but a definite start.aasale

As far as all the planning, Daystar representatives did most of the work of gathering rummage sale items and promotion.  I assisted with asking staff for donations and encouraging students to help out on the day of the event.  I also had students hang up flyers around town, assist with moving rummage sale items into storage on campus, and pricing items. The Daystar representatives, Liz and Joni, were super enthusiastic and motivated. They asked for donations from the community and acquired many raffle prizes, including an ATV four wheeler! They even found entertainment and a food vendor for the event. Their high energy and motivation was what made it happen. While they were literally jumping for joy, I experienced a few moments of panic when I thought we were in over our heads and worried that students might not end up helping as much as we anticipated.

4:30 a.m. on the day of the event, I woke my six year old son and we prepared for the day. I grabbed some food and toys for my son, downed an iced coffee, and headed out with more coffee for the students who I planned to pick up a 5:30 a.m.  While driving to get them, I questioned whether or not they’d actually be there.  I mean, what teenager wakes up that early to go to school on a Saturday? I also questioned whether any of the other students who said they’d show up early would be at the school when I arrived. I didn’t know what I would do if they didn’t show, because there was no way that we could get everything ready in time without their help. Guess what?

Every one of the students showed up! Yep. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw those tired faces staring back at me before the sun had even risen. Not only did they show up; they worked hard. They moved pile after pile after pile of stuff out of the storage room out onto the basketball court. They set up tables, moved furniture, monitored the parking lot, helped customers, hung up clothes, made announcements, took direction from several adults, cleaned up, entertained my son, and a few even danced some Zumba with me to entertain to crowd. Talk about amazing.

So many times during the day, I would look around in awe because I felt so proud of them. I didn’t have to tell them to get to work or to stop messing around. They would ask me what they could do to help or they would just take the initiative and help a customer carry her things to her car. They gave it their all and asked when we’d do it again.

At the end of the event, 4:30 p.m. we were all exhausted. Some of the students had already left, but many stayed the entire day. They gathered together on the only comfortable resting place, the worn out, unsellable couch. That beast of a couch had been moved so many times that it seemed to suck the energy out of us all. We weren’t sure why we accepted it as a donation, but there it was, bringing us together, serving a purpose. We rested, took some pictures, and laughed. One student put a mask that he’d found in the rummage sale on a round pillow from the couch. He raised it in the air and yelled, “Spirit of the couch!” Everyone repeated in unison, “Spirit of the couch!” and laughed. We put a “free” sign on the couch and moved it unto the curb. Someone eventually took it home, but without the masked pillow.

Several months since the huge event that left me so tired I could barely move the next day, a student brought in the masked couch pillow and said, “Spirit of the couch.”  I laughed and repeated the chant. I know this sounds silly, but silently I thanked the couch for what it had taught me. When I saw all those students show up that day and work so hard, I felt a bit ashamed that I thought they wouldn’t show. Based on past experiences, I had reasonable doubts. Sometimes, with all the hard knocks they’ve experienced, the students can lack motivation and don’t want to participate in anything. In the past, they’ve failed in school, been hurt, and lost some of their youthful enthusiasm. Life has worn them out a bit, kind of like that couch has been worn out, but not as much as people might mistakenly think. With enough opportunities and a purpose, they will show their great potential. As worn out as that couch was, it served us well and held us up off the ground. Its potential not lost because of hard times.

My love for teaching grew that day, which I didn’t think was possible. The students inspired me to want to organize more hands-on, real life events where they have the opportunity to shine. The ideas are brewing. Something new and exciting is on the horizon.

Spirit of the Couch!!!

 

My Cousin Gave To Me

Last night I looked back at my journal. Every year in December I write down what I wish to happen in the future. I believe if we put our dreams out into the universe, there’s more of a chance they’ll happen. They may not occcyn 1ur in our time frame or exactly as we picture them, but some of them will happen in some way. I don’t ask God to accomplish my dreams and goals. I just write what should happen like, Cousin gets published. Become Zumba instructor before birthday. Buy a house. Meet George Lucas. Three out of those four happened. Still waiting on George, but seeing my cousin, Cynthia Kremsner, realize her dream of becoming a published illustrator is way above meeting the creator of Star Wars. (I’ll write that one again this year…still dreaming I am.)

Of course, my little wishes didn’t make her dream come true, all of her hard work did. She put in the hours, the sweat, and the tears. She challenged herself in a mentor program, learned and practiced new techniques, presented at workshops, took criticism, read the rejections, blogged, submitted, and never never gave up. I cannot list all that she did, but Cynthia dedicated herself to her craft and it has been incredible to watch it start to pay off. Her accomplishments make me smile and inspire me.

If I would’ve had pom poms, I would’ve been cheering like the cheer team captain the day I was able to attend a book signing with Cynthia at Barnes and Noble in Roseville, Ca. I could barely contain myself. I already love going to bookstores, but walking in with a published illustrator for her book signing…are you kidding me? Her husband even brought a keyboard so we could singIMG_5512 along to the Twelve Days of Christmas tune of her book, What My Puppy Gave to Me by Cheryl Dannenbring. I never had so much fun in a bookstore.

We gathered around the table where her books were on display and everyone grabbed a copy to read along. Cynthia introduced herself and started us off, “On the first day of Christmas…” One child held the puppy puppet while her mom sang the words of the book. Seeing so many people enjoy her artwork was so right. I couldn’t stop smiling. Seeing my children and my cousin’s children sing along and participate in this huge event in our family made me appreciate my cousin’s hard work even more. I didn’t know that was possible.  cyn3

I appreciate that she never gives up and is still moving forward no matter what life throws at her. Life tried to stop her and knock her down, but she got up every time. Not everyone does. Not everyone has the courage to put themselves out there for criticism and rejection while dealing with the everyday challenges of life. Many times, just doing life is all people can do, but not Cynthia. She fights the good fight. She works fulltime, raises two kids with her husband, and illustrates books. Yes, illustrates books! After a full day of work, she sits herself down in front of her art desk and she not only creates beautiful pieces of art, but also creates pieces of hope. Her own ambition is contagious. Her drive and belief in her dreams help her reach new goals, but they also help others dare to reach.

Go Cynthia Go!  cyn2