Kids Off The Block

The look of Roseland, Chicago is a quite the contradiction to it’s name.  As one of Chicago’s most dangerous neighborhoods, many of its residents rarely venture outside, choosing to stay behind locked doors and bolted windows.  Rather than barricading her door like her neighbors, Diane Latiker prefers to keep it prompt open, welcoming in local gang members into her living room.  Since 2003, Latiker has been running a nonprofit organization, Kids Off the Block, that offers children support and a place to go.

Latiker’s story is like many of the children she now serves.  Dropping out of high school and having seven children by the age of 25, she turned her life around by pursuing her GED and getting remarried.  Surrounded by her own children, Latiker began to reach out to local neighborhood children, giving them a comfortable place to eat, do homework or just hang out.

As her program grew, Latiker began investing more of her own time into the 24/7 organization.  The young adolescents were taken on field trips and given tutoring sessions that encouraged the importance of school as well as increasing their own self-confidence.  Eventually, the organization grew so large that Latiker bought another building for extracurricular activities.  Latiker began seeing these young people turn their lives around, striving for more than they had ever imagined.  Many of them went on to not only graduate from high school, but from higher education as well.

At last, Chicago’s young people are no longer separated by gang association and violence.  As Latiker stated to CNN, “it doesn’t matter where they come from, what they’ve done,” Latiker said. “We’ve had six gangs in my living room at one time. … But that was the safe place. And you know what? They respected that”.

Gang violence, as well as any means of bullying, is a very real issue in many of today’s schools.  The main objective of many educators is to keep kids off the streets and find alternative means for them to spend their time. By redirecting lives into education, sports and extracurricular activities, young adolescents change their focus and are more likely to excel in their chosen interests.  Present the video on Kids Of The Block to your class and have them discuss the strategies implemented in the program to encourage the success of Chicago’s young people.  Because bullying is an everyday occurance for many young people, present students with a single objective that focuses on this issue.  What does a school need to do to prevent bullying?  If you had to create a program that addressed school violence (bullying, gang violence), what would it entail?  Give students time to view Latiker’s website that goes into detail about her program’s goals and accomplishments.

Building rapport with the young people of Chicago is no easy feat.  Latiker opted to create a rap video to get her message across.  Ask your students how they could send the message to end violence: write a poem, write letters to the editor of a popular paper, create posters to post not only in school but at local restaurants and bus stops as well.

As an educator, how do you eliminate bullying in your classroom?

More than just a school issue, violence occurs every day at all hours.  Where do you decide your role as a teacher ends and your role as an active citizen begins? How much can you really enter students’ lives as they leave after that final bell?

Ask your students the very same questions and what they feel is best.  Where do you think a teacher’s role should end in regards to school violence?  To encourage student investment, have them listen to Latiker’s own talk radio about ending school violence.  What do you agree with and what do you think needs to be changed?…/kids-off-the-block-welcome-dianelatiker 

Latiker is proof that the overwhelming issue of gang violence is more that can be tackled by one person.  But all it takes it one person to try.

“Our young people need help…all of them are not gang-bangers. All of them are not dropouts. But the ones that are, they need our help. Somehow or another, something ain’t right here. And why don’t we ask them about it?”

Diane Latiker


Feed and Bleed

A natural disaster is unavoidable, and unavoidably heartbreaking.  As the rest of the world watched in fear as Japan shook recklessly from earthquake after tsunami after earthquake, little did they know that the devastating visible damage was the least of their worries.  Underneath the mass amounts of shattered glass and collapsed buildings lay a silent enemy.  Japan’s nuclear plants were in danger of losing their cooling systems, which could lead to drastic overheating of the reactors.  A group of 200 young workers, later meriting the title The Fukushima 50, understood the danger this put the nation in and opted to work in the most dangerous zones after the earthquake to insure that the plant stayed cool.

There mission is entitled “feed and bleed”, where they feed the cold seawater onto the reactor to maintain its cool temperature while the steam bleeds away the heat.  Remarkably, many of these workers are anonymous and few know who actually stayed behind.  Even at this point in time, it is unclear the actual danger they are facing.  Nevertheless, they work relentlessly and with a purpose greater than themselves.

Our classrooms provide us with a shield to protect our children from the devastation outside our school walls.  We, as educators, have the capabilities to shut our blinds, close our doors and continue our studies on the Fertile Crescent and Roman Emperors.  However, are we actually doing more harm than good by not addressing the actual history that is occurring around us?  Often we expect too little from our students and believe that it would be too challenging or too inappropriate to present students with world news.  Yet, with a well-thought out plan and detailed preparation, teachers need to use these teachable moments to embrace current events as a learning experience for students.

Visual literacies are an effective means of portraying events to children in a manner that can be controlled and made appropriate for various ages.  Allow students to view pictures of workers and explain the task they are accomplishing.  Encourage students to share their own thoughts and responses to the pictures, videos or new articles that have been shown tothe class. After all, it is not unlikely that a student has a connection to the story in some form.

Or, some students may prefer to keep their thoughts to themselves and would require an alternative form of reflection.  Have students write a journal entry as if they were to put themselves in the place of a nuclear plant worker.  Would you see yourself as a hero?  Or is this just an unstated part of the job? Students can stay up-to-date on how they can help he Fukushima 50 by following the Facebook page attributed to the 200 brave workers.

As a teacher, how do you decide what to bring into the classroom and what to leave outside its doors?

Students, do you prefer the incorporation of world events into the classroom?  Why do you think current events should be a vital part of all classroom curriculums? Or, why not?

Lemons, Turnips & Beans, Oh My!

“People want to do good, but they need help”

Linda Fondren

As teachers, we ourselves take on the position of role models for the young minds that look up to us every single day.  Not only during the school day, but our lifestyle choices are reflected in every classroom.  As more and more attention is drawn to the epidemic plaguing our nation, obesity, knowledge begins in the classroom where we can show and teach our students how to lead healthy, active and happy lives.  After witnessing her sister die far too soon carrying 260 lbs on her 4′ 11” frame, Linda Fondren decided to make a change in her town of Vicksburg, Mississippi (yes, that’s right, the place that currently holds the first place title for ‘fattest state’).   Rather than preach and scold her overweight community, Fondren embraced the possibilities. 

She started a journey just like any other: one step at a time, literally.

Fondren and her other sister opened an all-female gym entitled Shape Up Sisters in 2006.  Having been a giant success, Fondren moved to bigger (and more fit) things, creating a movement across her town fittingly titled Shape Up Vicksburg.  Fondren founded her movement in the idea of convenience.  It’s not that people don’t want to change, they just needs the tools accessible to them to do so.  Thus, weight-in stations were at local Wal-Marts and free nutrition classes were offered across the city.

Healthy routines should start early.  Children should be encouraged to move every day and see healthy eating as fuel for their active lifestyles.   Students should take an active role in their health and, as teachers, we can provide them with the opportunities and let them know just exactly how important it is, as Fondren notes, to “take care of yourself first”.

Healthy eating habits start at the roots.  That is, the roots of a local garden.  Dedicate a small area of land on the playground to growing favorite fruits and vegetables.  Now is the time to present unique foods that many children shy away from.  Butternut squash? Why not. Yellow pepper? No harm in trying.  Have students bring in their favorite healthy recipes and create a classroom cookbook, through a little writing exercise in there while you’re at it.

Now, the other half of the equation.  Take advantage of a beautiful day and have a science lesson on the nature trail while on a hike around the school.  Or, encourage students to keep track of their activity outside of class and discuss ways to incorporate even more movement into their days.  Stay on top of community events and post flyers for local fundraiser walks/runs and express the importance of exercising for a great cause.

How can you demonstrate your own healthy habits during the school day?

Although many healthy routines begin at home, how can they be addressed (and changed) in the eight hours they are at school?

It’s important that children see the true benefits of a healthy lifestyle.  It is not about appearances and comparisons to others, but allowing yourself to be the best that you can be with all the enthusiasm, energy and the motivation necessary.  So, enjoy a cup of running, a tablespoon of nutrients and a dash of well-being and relish (veggie relish, that is) in your new healthy ways!

“But still, like air, I’ll rise” Maya Angelo

Denote Bridges was virtually unknown outside of his niche in Atlanta, Georgia.  That is, until he was the first black valedictorian chosen in his high school.  Having overcome extreme adversity, such as being robbed at gun point, the young death of his brother, and his mother recently being diagnosed with leukemia, the 18-year-old demonstrates that you are never too young to have the courage, maturity and resiliency to rise above the challenges which you have been given. 

Bridges’ offers a relatable and awe-inspiring speech to adolescents his own age.  Teenagers often have great appreciation for those that they can relate themselves to, thus increasing their personal investment into the discussion.  Incorporate Bridges’ by presenting his speech to you class and allow for an open discussion about his views on current issues plaguing high schools all over the nation: violence, education, higher education, drugs and popularity.  It is important to have a secure and comfortable environment with your students, offering them the chance to share their honest views while still maintaining the appropriateness and higher level of thinking called for in a high school classroom.

Denote Bridges falls back onto a single phrase that accurately demonstrates the control that he does have on his life: “Still, I rise”… Despite what hurdles you are challenged with, it is within your control to choose how to respond to it. Provide students a handout and have them write the challenges they have faced and how they have risen above it.  Encourage them to reflect upon what helped them face such adversity.  For a more poetic approach, give students a sheet with “I rise” at the beginning of each line.  Have students complete the sentences and come back together to give them the opportunity to present their struggles in the form of a rap, song, poem or alternative interpretation.

 Bridges notes that “my family and my desire to make a difference” (ESSENCE, 2010) was what motivated him in school. A full interview with Bridges can be found at

To further integrate Bridges’ message into your classroom, have students create their own purposeful and insightful interview questions for Bridges.  Bridges himself can be contacted through his Facebook page or Twitter account with careful teacher supervision:

Deonte Bridges is surrounded by some of the many trophies he has earned for his scholastic achievement. Bridges has overcome many obstacles on his path to academic success.

What obstacle have you had to overcome to excel in something you are passionate about?

Have these adversities helped you in the end?  What have you learned from these lessons that will help you in future endeavors?

“Continue to strive for excellence. Do not settle for less. Be thankful for what you have and remain humble. Anything is possible with hard work, determination, and patience”

Denote Bridges

You don’t need a cape to make a difference.

Defining a hero is a challenging task.  With newspapers filled with war, crime and depression, heroes offer a glimpse into society’s potential.  There are those among us plain ol’ ordinary folk who have taken it upon themselves to do more than what is required of the average citizen.  Typically noted for remarkable courage or simply a larger than life heart, a hero is not discriminated by ethnicity, gender, class or even location.  As educators, we need to do more than simple tell children how to behave.  Using role models and admirable figures, heroes can inspire children to see that one person can, in fact, change the world.  And that one person can be you.  This blog will offer a variety of resources that can be used both in and out of the classroom to incorporate positive figures  relating to current events into your every day curriculum.  It is vital for students to see that great deeds are not limited to those with money of fame, but occur every day in even the smallest of towns.  After all, there can be a Superman on every street corner and a Wonder Woman on every block.

Chef Bruno Serato loves pasta.  Even more than making pasta, Serato loves to share it with nearly 200 families, seven days a week.  Once just a hobby, Serato has made it his goal to make sure ‘motel kids’, children and families currently living in cheap and often unkept motels, have a warm dinner every night.  Currently rooted in Anaheim, California, and catering to the Boys & Girls Club Serato has plans to further his pasta-making program to feed even more families as well as spread to other ‘motel kids’ nation wide.  Serato was featured in CNN in March, 2011 where he was interviewed about his future endeavors.  This article can be used as a current events assignment as a means for teachers to incorporate authentic literacy texts into their current activities.

To expand upon the article, a visual literacy is fantastic for building upon students’ motivation.  The video below follows the life of a typical ‘motel kid’.  Not only will this expand students’ background knowledge, but will also open their eyes to a world unlike their own.

Viewing and embracing Serato’s accomplishments is a positive step forward.  However, this is what draws the line between a hero and, well, not.  Students can use his action to further the message and take action.  After reading the articles and viewing the videos, utilize Serato’s own site and see how you can help.  A pasta dinner at your school or neighborhood would be an excellent way to raise money to donate to Serato’s cause.  To further embrace Serato’s desire to feed those less fortunate, encourage your classroom (& school) to create a bank where food items can be dropped off to later be donated to the local food bank.  Students can make flyers, newsletters and signs to advertise the cause and promote their overall purpose. Donations can be made through his website below.

Ask your students:

Serato is making a difference not only by feeding ‘motel kids’, but also drawing attention to the larger picture of a current crisis in our nation.  What do you think this current crisis is in our nation?  How can you address it in your own community?

While note everyone has the talent or resources to cook for 200 people a day, in what other ways could you help those how are hungry?

For older students, the film “Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County” by Alexandra Pelosi is a great resource that further investigates these young lives.

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