Fieldnote 7 Nov. 2012

At the elementary school on the northside for a few hours, then off to another school just down the way, also on the northside, for an event for the local Hispanic Education League, to which I’ve been added on the board of directors. I’m not sure what to expect about that, but first, to start with the students . . .

I met with the Spanish-speaking student, and again was crowded by several students vying for my attention, and each shouting at me to help them with their math homework. One thing I’ve begun to realize is that many of the students don’t ask me for help with language homework, but always with mathematics. I can’t think of a single time I’ve helped any students write anything longer than short sentence responses to prompts. I suspect for some of the fourth graders there will be more drive to do so after the winter break before the test season begins.

Most of the students I help seem to need assistance with borrowing numbers when subtracting. I see that most of the students I help at this school are struggling with math.

On a back table, some students who finished their homework were browsing through cards of animals donated by one of the instructors. Hadassa asked me if she could make a card. I asked her who she wanted to make a card for, and she answered her parents.

“Do they read in English?”

“Spanish.”

“So then we should write in Spanish.”

“I don’t know how.”

“I can help you,” I said.

“I want to write it in English.”

“But how will they understand you?”

“Then English and Spanish,” she answered. “I’ll write Spanish on the top and English on the bottom.

She chose her cards. For her mother she chose a polar bear, and for her father, a whale’s tale emerging from ocean. First we drafted on a different piece of paper what she wanted to write. She decided she wanted to write, “To Mom/Dad, have a good day. I love you.”

Our initial plan was to compose the messages in both Spanish and English.

I composed the English sentences with her guidance and left this as a model for her to work with. We decided to wait on the Spanish sentences until after she completed the English ones. Her greatest difficulty was not in coming up with sentences or a message to write, but rather with writing in straight lines with out guiding horizontal markers. She grew frustrated with her writing.

“I can’t do this, I don’t want to do it anymore.”

“But we still have to do the Spanish ones.”

“No, I’m just doing this, no more.”

She did complete the card in straight horizontal lines eventually after several tries and lots of erasing. By the time she finished her father’s card, he had arrived to pick her up.

“I’m going to give this to my Mom and Dad because it’s the same.”

—————

After I finished with the school, I drove just down the street to another school hosting a parents’ night. The Hispanic Organization invited me to the event. I was not sure what to expect, but I understood it was an event for parents. When I arrived, I was guided into the cafeteria where there was pizza. I met with J, my lawyer friend, and he introduced me to Sierra, a VISTA volunteer working with a local legal clinic helping local Latinos with employment claims and also DACA forms. She was from North Carolina, a math major, and I told her about my VISTA experience in Alaska.

I came to learn that J was here to present to parents in Spanish about the school’s lackluster performance on the most recent round of standardized tests. J was not sure what he was going to present on, and the school’s Assistant Principal met him just before he met with parents with a fact sheet for him to read. I realized that this whole event was rather impromptu, and that I really had no role here aside from being an observer.

Tim eventually showed up, and I learned from him that much of the work of the Hispanic Organization was “reactionary” and that what happened with the organization typically followed as the result of various issues, but never anything directly outreaching without something to react to. He and I are both learning as we go along.

J presented the material to about 20 parents and children. After he presented, two lawyers from the legal clinic presented. The first lawyer spoke Spanish, well, tried, and he had a terrible accent. He had a larger vocabulary than me, that I don’t doubt, but he had difficulty speaking to the audience. His assistant Sierra didn’t fare much better. They relied heavily on their Powerpoint presentation to guide them along.

“This is painful,” Tim whispered to me as we watched the proceedings. The information was useful, however. He spoke about filing legal charges against employers discriminating against employees, and also about how to demand worker’s compensation.

The second lawyer used no visual aides, but he seemed to have better control of his Spanish. He spoke with the Spaniard accent. I tuned out most of what he had to say, but I noticed that more of the audience paid attention to him because he had better command of Spanish. Toward the end of his presentation, several of the children in attendance began to get restless. He finished up his talk, J thanked everyone, and the lawyers stayed around after to distribute business cards and to offer informal advice.

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