Tag Archives: school

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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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

No More Shootings!

No. No. NO! Not another one. I can’t believe it. I don’t want to believe it. How could this happen? What the hell is going on?Image Does every city have to be tortured with the horror of a massacre? Every time there’s a shooting, I cry, but this time I wept…a lot. Something about it being in a place close to home where I have friends, where I lived and rode my bike to college just shook me in another way. The news of the shooting in Isla Vista made me ache and took me back to my feelings after Sandy Hook. As a teacher and a mother of a fourth grader, I panicked just thinking about the possibility of that happening in my world. I rushed from work, desperate to see my son walk safely from his classroom. Tears ran down my face when I saw him.

“Why are you crying, Mom?”

“Just happy to see you, honey.” I hugged him tight.

No way could I tell him why I cried. He didn’t need to know that so many people would not stop crying for years because their children were murdered. I don’t know how those parents survived after hearing that their child had been shot to death at school. I would die.

            This week more parents must hear that their child was killed while at school, UCSB, my Alma Mater. No parent should ever hear such news. I cried while I watched one parent of a murdered young man rage publically. He yelled and screamed, demanding to know why nothing’s been done since Sandy Hook to prevent such tragedies. He shouted in honor of his son’s life and in honor of all the young children killed before. I wanted to yell and scream with him because I never want to be in his shoes. I never want anyone else to walk in his footsteps, but what do I do? What is the answer? You’d think a society full of as many intelligent people as we have could figure out how to prevent the mass murder of its citizens, but we can’t…or we won’t.

            The tragedies will continue. It’s only a matter of time before someone else’s plan comes to fruition. Whose city will be shot up? Whose children, family, or friends? The news will be shocking, but will we shocked anymore? Are we becoming so used to it, that we turn our heads and count our blessings that it wasn’t our family, friends, or city? After a few days, another news event fills the headlines and we move on. We forget so we can live. We forget so we can still take our kids to school and send them off to college or just go see a movie without a bullet proof vest. Forgetting is our coping mechanism, but it’s preventing us from uniting and finding a solution. We are all vulnerable and our children are too. Our society has created its own version of the suicide bomber, the suicide shooter, and we need to do something about it. WE, all of us.

            Nobody seems to have the answer, but at least we need to look for one. We can’t stop the discussion in the quagmire of gun control controversy. Some think the answer lies in gun control, but the truth is that there will always be access to guns and weapons. Plus, people can kill with anything. The previous killing in Isla Vista was with a car. Sure automatic and semi-automatic weapons make it easier to commit the crime, and we can wish those weapons away, but that’s like teaching abstinence from sex to teenagers and thinking it will prevent teenage pregnancy. Guns will never go away, but teaching responsibility and training gun owners might help. The gun industry could provide some training to those who buy guns. They could require a class or seminar that would help weed out those who shouldn’t own guns. That’s right, some people shouldn’t own guns. Why not require that people bear arms responsibly? What’s so wrong with that? Anyone who buys a gun should have to be accountable for some training and proof of competence. Yes, proof of mental health and stability. If someone recently spent time in a mental health facility or has posted YouTube videos about killing people, maybe he or she shouldn’t be able to buy a gun. Just a thought. When we apply for a job, employers often do background checks and internet searches to learn more about us, why couldn’t the gun industry do the same? It could save lives. Sure it would be complicated and some privacy issues would come up, but just like our bags have to get searched to board a plane, our personal baggage should get searched to own a lethal weapon.

            The bigger issue at hand is the lack of mental health care in this country, the stigma that surrounds issues of mentaImagel illness, and the unwillingness of people in authority to take mental illness seriously. All of us who know and believe that something needs to be done to stop this continual violent rampage must not forget this time. We must continue looking for solutions that address mental illness across the board. We can’t pretend like it doesn’t exist in our neighborhoods, schools, or homes. It’s everywhere. Just be honest about your own depression or someone you loves’ anxiety and people will talk about their issues. Mental health issues are everywhere. Everywhere. We need to talk about it and demand help. We need to educate ourselves about it. Everyone. We collectively created this mess. We collectively need to solve the problem. No one gets a pass. No one is safe from mental illness or the results of mental illness. It’s all of our responsibility to embrace this issue and start finding solutions. The clock is ticking. Someone else is planning another shooting. What are we going to do about it?