Sunday, March 23, 2014

Program Started!


We started our program!  We started at Holy Cross/Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Back of the Yards!

This past Friday was our second day!

It's been 1.5 years in the making, but we finally did it.  We crossed one line and now we're onto the next one.

I'll have pictures up once we get picture release forms from our children.

Day 1:  1 child: Maritza.

Day 2:  3 children:  Maritza, Chantal, and Stephany

We've gathered invaluable data on our materials and classroom activities.  We've learned the following:

1.  When you only have one child, group activities go by too quickly.

2.  Make sure it's not the first time a child has been left alone by his/her mother.  You'll force one of your volunteers to spend time resolving the issue instead of teaching.  Have the mother/parent stay for one or two sessions for a good thirty minutes.

3.  Even if disruptions force you off kilter, stay focused.  Remain composed and gain control.  Breathe and just do.

4.  Call parents a day before hand to remind them of a program available to their children, if they are not already enrolled.  Calling them means you're serious.

5.  Always collect phone numbers of parents.  You'll need them.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Major Update: These Need to Become Regular


We have exciting news.

But first, let me explain the organization's 2 month silence.

Our group focused on, well, focus.  We realized we had spread ourselves too thin, trying to do a million things at once:  create a full-fledged organization with a website, members, panels--without first making sure we had a minimum viable product and a method to evaluate our product's success (or shortcomings).

So, we hunkered down and we started actually creating our in classroom materials and instruction materials.

You can check them out here:

The book we pull from is Ana Epstein's Language Literacy and Communication  HighScope donated the book, and we scanned it for personal use within the organization only.  Not to distribute.  We also pull from massive help in developing instruction strategies from Catherine Corr and her masters' students in Early Childhood Education.

Without her support, we'd be nowhere.

By the end of January, we will have a full months' worth of lesson plans.

Also, looks like WE'VE FINALLY FOUND OUR LOCATION at a local perish in New City.  My team and I meet with Sister Angie and her director of youth programs this Wednesday!  CROSS OUR FINGERS.

So, we're still going strong after a restructuring and re-focusing.

No matter how bad things get, you gotta keep going--even if you slow down, even if you get tired, even if you stop for a few weeks.  As long as you keep pushing your steps forward to get your rhythm back.

Saturday, November 16, 2013


I don't sleep.  I have an opportunity to make a dream become a reality.
50 Cent

All right guys,

My team and I will have officially created our first prototype lesson plan for The Snowy Day, including the actual materials involved in the lessons.

This means:
1.  the actual book
2.  the questions to ask from the book
3.  the easels and easel pads for the picture word wall
4.  the final product from arts and crafts activities in the lesson plan
5.  the actual interactive journal (what it looks like physically)
6.  the nursery rhymes on the easel pad, too!

Overall this is what we've accomplished so far:

1.  We got all our books.  so we have our library fully stocked.  You can see it here.
2.  We're almost done with our first prototype.
3.  We're conferencing with Catherine Corr, our early childhood academic and friend, on how to create a truly bilingual after school program this Wednesday like bosses.

Ready to roll.  I'm not sleeping, broski.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Major Lessons Learned in Leadership and Life

Pain is temporary!  It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year.  But eventually it will subside and something else will take it’s place.  If I quit however, it will last forever.

Eric Thomas, Motivational Speaker

Look, when it comes to responsibility (any type, but especially the big type), sometimes you will feel like you are crumbling under pressure.  That's to be expected--or else you don't have enough responsibility on you and you're running low on commitment.

But remember, you will face lulls.  I have, especially the past 4 weeks.  ALMas faced 3 major issues which stalled our work.

1.  We were all confused, and I wasn't doing anything about it.  No one knew what I was thinking.
2.  We were in the dumps because our potential location never got back to us--so we just stopped working.
3.  As the club leader and creator, I ran away form having the hard conversations and keeping people motivated.

How did we respond as a group?

1.  I spent hours at night after school work to create process maps and mind maps to literally chart out all the steps our organization had to take so that everyone could see where we were, what work was left, and who could take up what responsibility.  It became our central hub for work direction and accountability.  You can check out the evolving chart at the bottom of this page!

2.  I just spoke with Catherine Corr, or educational consultant in early childhood education.  She knows the director of a program on 92nd street that would be open to housing our program's pilot working with siblings of elementary school latino children and families.  Score.

3.  I got my team together for an all board and member meeting.  I told them how I felt, how I fell behind, and how I was tired of running away from ALMas after setbacks and finally ready to run towards it again--and hard!  They opened up with their thoughts and frustrations.  Then we started coming up with solutions.

Now w'ere back on track.  We're creating our first minimum viable product this weekend to showcase for new volunteers, for training new volunteers, and showcasing it to our potential pilot's location.

But you have to understand, this is an entrepreneurial project.  Sure, we're in college starting out as a student organization on campus.  But that's not our long-term plans.  We're going for the big guns, because we believe and know we can reach more kids that way.  And given this is an entrepreneurial endeavor, I expect partial lulls, setbacks, but I also expect strength, vigor, and resilience.

It's never too late to be who you should be.  You just have to start hating being down on your knees.  Because you can't change the lives of those that need if, if you're constantly down for the count.  You'll never get up to do anything.  And that's love.  It's that recognition.  It's recognizing that you were made to do something on your feet--and you decide to stay on your feet until you've done it.

mind mapping software

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Importance of Social-emotional Skills for a Child's Success

The first 5 years of a child’s life are critical for their success as adults in the labor market.  Within these first few years of life (and even before birth), children develop most of their cognitive and noncognitive skills that determine the rate at which they learn and the size of the positive impact that schooling has on their lives.  Cognitive skills are the “smarts” of a child.  Being able to do math problems immediately and solve equations and puzzles.  The non-cognitive skills, also termed their social and emotional skills, are their “soft skills,” their ability to motivate themselves, to be patient, to persevere, and to sit down to study for long periods of time.  

Heckman (2008) explains that children with higher levels of non-cognitive skills are less likely to go to prison, less likely to become teenage mothers (if the child is a female), less likely to become high school dropouts, and less likely become smokers.  Children with higher levels of non-cognitive skills are more likely to graduate from college within 4 years and are more likely to earn higher wages.  Heckman even shows that among individuals with the lowest amounts of non-cognitive skills, any increase in their soft skills is associated with a large reduction in the probability of incarceration--a reduction greater than the decrease associated with an increase in the individuals’ cognitive skills.  He finds that these non-cognitive skills are just as important--if not more important--to the later successes of children than their cognitive skills.

Of course, a child must develop both of these skills because of the relationship between the two.  According to Heckman (2006)’s model of human development and skill acquisition over time, children with larger amounts of non-cognitive skills develop their cognitive skills faster.  They learn faster.  When they realize this, they in turn invest more in their non-cognitive skills too because they realize the complementary benefits of investing in both skills. This is dynamic complementarity:  it is a virtuous cycle.  And the more a child already knows, the easier it is to learn new skills!  This is self-productivity.

Simply put, a child that can study for long periods of time and remain motivated to learn is going to learn faster than another child that does not.  And the more the child continues to learn, the more the child will be willing to study longer, making learn even easier over time.

And there is a critical window in time in a child’s life where these skills first develop and are easiest to develop.  These are the years from birth to age 8.

So how do we ensure a child develops and invests in these social emotional skills we recognize are so important for a child’s ability to learn and be successful, productive individuals--not just their cognitive skills?  We provide them with nurturing, loving, and encouraging home and classroom environments.  This means children are not pit against each other in competition, but they are taught to work together in teams, to share with one another, to love and care for one another, and to to be patient and working at problems step by step until they are resolved.  This means we hug them, talk to them, ask them questions--if they get an answer wrong, we avoid bringing them down but guide them to the correct answer and let them understand their thoughts matter and that they should participate in discussions and conversations without the fear of feeling dumb or inadequate.

If they get into disputes with their fellow classmates, we teach them to resolve their issues not through violence but through listening, understanding, and apology.

Updates: Logo, Program Location, Volunteer Recruitment (and new Beta Website), and Brand Management

Our Logo
A graphic designer friend of mine, Shuwen Qian, used his amazing talents and created this logo for ALMas:

Pretty Awesome right?

Program Location
We're still waiting on the green light from Gage Park Library.  We submitted our program proposal to Ms. Elizabeth McChesney, and we're waiting for her stamp of approval.  It's been about 2.5 weeks, and I have followed up with her twice.  I will do so again tomorrow to see where we stand while letting her know our commitment to this program and the Hispanic community.

In other news, I was invited to speak to 60 seniors at UNO's Major Hector P. Garcia Charter School about going to college and what to expect.  The school largely serves Hispanic students and works to raise their achievement levels--only fitting, right?  Yeah!  I told the social worker there about ALMas and how we were finalizing our location.  She exclaimed, "YOU SHOULD DO THAT HERE!"  I told her that we should talk with the principal and see if we could get this going.  We would need to figure out transportation, because the UNO school is about an hour away by bus.  But this is an alternative option!

Volunteer Recruitment (and new Beta Website!)
It's the start to a new year the University of Chicago, and we have new students from around the country just waiting to serve their community--and we would like to recruit some of these new youngsters as founding program members and college teachers.  We've just started our first beta for our new website where we'll host all of our program information for volunteers, students' parents, and supporters.  You can see the skeleton of it here:

We've also created an awesome brochure for recruitment too!  Check it out:

Brand Management
I've been reading some fundraising books that unsurprisingly also act as brand development books!  I'll share what I've learned in a later post, but right now I can tell you that AIDA came from one of those books.  So now we're in full swing to get our program started!  We just need to tidy up a few things!

Friday, September 13, 2013

Third Revision: Elysia Liang's Help and Edits

AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action

The Hispanic community and its children in the United States are in danger.

Compared to all other ethnicities in the US, Hispanic students have the highest high school dropout rates, and they academically underperform at every grade K-12 compared to white students. Consequently, as adults these children can expect to be unemployed, earn low-incomes, and struggle as they straddle the lines between life and poverty.

These students’ gaps in academics and economics result from deficits in their cognitive and noncognitive skills which open up early in their childhoods and persist into adulthood.

Most of these skills develop in the first 5 years of a child's life. Because mothers spend the most time with their children early in their lives, they largely control these investments in skill development. Hispanic mothers know they must invest in their children, but with little formal schooling and knowledge of resources available, they don’t know how. Consequently, they read less to their children early; expose them to less vibrant, expansive language and vocabularies; and less frequently enroll them in high quality preschool programs.

As Hispanic students remain the fastest growing student demographic in the US, these children will continue to drop-out of school at the nation’s highest rates; they will continue to academically underperform relative to their white peers; and they will continue to struggle economically.

But we can change all of this.

If we intervene in these children’s lives early through high quality early childhood literacy programs and programs geared towards working with these children’s parents, we can raise their high school completion rates, raise their incomes and employment rates, and raise them out of poverty.

With the support of our donors, ALMas: Pre-K Literacy and Mentorship is doing just that. We’ve implemented an after school pre-k literacy program based upon the most recent research in early childhood education, and through that same program we work with parents to teach them how to help their children continue learning; growing at home; becoming productive citizens in a new and advanced, technical economy.

Only with our supporters’ and donors’ help can we do this. They are the reason why we can keep our program running and helping as many Hispanic children as we can.