Because I kept my eyes open

Posted by adrionna on Feb 4, 2013 in Teaching

Today I began my experience as an “official observer” of classes within an elementary school on Chicago’s near-north side. It’s a very diverse school where, sadly, 40% of the population is homeless, or in temporary housing. I briefly (30 min) sat-in on a class last week, where I was able to get a feel for the lay-out of the school and the dynamic of having kids coming from so many different backgrounds.

My assignment today was to watch/interact with the first graders. There are about 25 students in the classroom and each love -and need- attention. This is difficult with one teacher in the room, so the school is excited that my class is working with theirs. This school stresses building relationships with students so that the students are held accountable in more than just a student-teacher relationship, but rather an apprentice-mentor, or co-partnership. I’ve been given two charges, K and D. The administrator who assigned me to them described the students as those “who have needs, but who shouldn’t be having those needs.” After interacting with the students for the first time today, I understand why. They are smart, they are creative, they are funny, they are kind. But they need to know they’re doing something worthwhile, and its through these personal relationships we build with them that they put school on a higher pedestal than anything else. It’s school that will help them escape poverty. It’s education that will open their minds to the world.

This is what a teacher hopes for, anyway. This is what I hope for.

I ride public transportation often, but I rode it more often today. I people watch sometimes, but I really saw people today. I had my eyes open all day long. In essence, I was seeing these people as the first graders all grown up. Here’s what I saw.

After I left the school, around 10:30am, I saw two women on the corner, smoking cigarettes, telling each other they don’t really care what others think about them. One smiled back at me when I looked over. That was nice, but I want more for J than that. She wants attention and thinks that being silly and acting out will get her that. She’ll get attention from me for really trying to spell words during the break-out session tomorrow morning. But what if it’s not enough?

On the train, I saw someone who looked like he wasn’t really going anywhere. With a big brown paper bag in the seat next to him, he just looked happy to be somewhere warm. I was so happy that all those kids today were able to be somewhere warm, with breakfast, lunch, and dinner to look forward to. I’m proud that we, as a society, have created a place for our most vulnerable to be shielded from the harshest elements so that they can learn and better themselves.. that they’ll better the world through their efforts. I think JA will appreciate that when he’s older; he read like a champ today, and I am so looking forward to the next time he reads me a story. He was so proud of himself, reminding me an hour later “I’m a good reader.” But what if it’s not enough?

During one of my walks, I heard a dad yelling. Loud. He was holding the hand of his little boy, while his brother was walking behind them, holding the hand of their mother. There was such a lack of peace: there were tears, loud cries, and just.. unrest. I couldn’t believe that adults would act so irresponsibly around such young children.. around Kindergardeners. Around kids that would be in the first grade next year. This is where these kids are coming from. They don’t need to know about Rosa Parks as much as they need warmth, kindness, and a sense of love and security. Someone in their lives constantly showing support and encouragement. Good teachers are ready to give this to so many kids that pass through their classrooms, but what if it isn’t enough?

At this point, you can imagine I’m getting a little disheartened. It’s late, I’m getting a little tired, and I’m seeing a world working against all of the kids I tried to reach earlier in the day. This is when a young man sits down in front of me on the train and just starts talking to the family around me. No prior meeting, just a young black man eager to start a conversation with a white woman with her two young girls. What? After living through the stark privileged/underprivileged dichotomy of the day, I was surprised. Suspicious.

Turns out that just asking “Are yall on your way home?” can incite an amazing conversation with an incredibly nice woman that gives the eavesdroppers (like me) inspiration to keep going. The young man is a math major, hoping to do something really great with it. Story goes that he had a great teacher who made math really exciting. Because of those teachers, he is all about math and science and excited about what he can do in the world with that knowledge. He doesn’t think he’ll go to grad school; but he hasn’t even considered it, really. He just has his eyes set on a degree so he can make something of himself.

I’m nearing my stop and interrupt them. I tell the young man hurriedly that I started observing at an elementary school today. I told him I hoped the kids turn out like him.

He looked a little shocked, but I know it made him feel good. I hope it did, anyway.

Because he gave me an incredibly valuable gift. It’s one full of inspiration, motivation, and encouragement. Everything that I need to give those kids tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

Because, just like the young man who had his eyes open and started a conversation with a random stranger at the end of the day, I never know who I’m reaching.


Because I love to laugh at stuff like this.

Posted by adrionna on Nov 15, 2012 in Just for Giggles


Stress and Memory

Posted by adrionna on Nov 14, 2012 in Information Station

Finals week has begun! I’m studying for my Biology of Emotion class now, so it’s great that I find it absolutely fascinating. There are so many concepts we learn about (fear, love, personality) that are very applicable to daily life. The professor makes difficult ideas accessible and her extra effort motivates me to try and really learn — and remember — what she thinks is most important for us to know. Despite my fascination with the subject, the fact that the exam is tomorrow stresses me out a little. I will need to remember a lot of information. What does that mean about how I will perform on the exam? Doesn’t this situation directly connect to what I learned about stress and memory in class? One of the points on the study guide asks “Know in detail how stress affects memory, aiding it on some occasions and disrupting it in others?” To help put this stuff in my long-term memory, I need to rehearse it. What better way to talk about it than on a prettynerd blog? Seems like a match made in heaven.

Here’s the deal: stress can either help me remember my biology of emotion information, or it can absolutely sabotage my exam.

Timing is everything:

  • I have a better chance of recalling information if I stressed earlier in the week.
  • If I just started stressing out now, the night before the test (“late and chronic stress”), the stress will inhibit memory.

Amount of stress:

  • Mild, acute stress enhances memory. [Fun fact: Yerkes-Dodson Law states that moderate arousal will aid memory in accomplishing difficult tasks (like taking an exam or parallel parking). For simple tasks (like picking up an apple from the ground or ducking from a projectile coming towards you), increased arousal helps memory.]
  • Severe, chronic stress disrupts memory. It disrupts explicit memory (your conscious, intentional recollection of previous experiences and information) and long-term potentiation (the process of strengthening neurons, and thus connections). It literally degenerates your dendrites (“dendritic atrophy”), which help connect your neural synapses to each other. Furthermore, chronic or high stress can be toxic to neurons located in your hippocampus (which is responsible for learning in memory) so then you have a smaller hippocampus. This loss of neurons results in poor memory. Not a pretty picture of chronic stress, I’d say.

So there you have it, folks: stress early and not too much; moderate arousal is a-okay for difficult tasks. Increased arousal is better for simpler tasks, but chronic stress starts deteriorating your brain and limits what you’ll be able to learn in the future (because of a smaller hippocampus).
Thanks for helping me study!


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Driving your life.

Posted by adrionna on Oct 30, 2012 in Wisdom and Life

You drive the car, but ultimately the conditions outside let you know how fast or slow you need to go, or whether you need to detour. Just keep your eyes on the road–be alert–so that you a) don’t run out of gas and b) don’t crash into a tree.

Follow those directions and you’ll be happy once you reach your destination, wherever that might be.


A Different Way of Looking at “Opposites Attract”

Posted by adrionna on Aug 19, 2012 in Wisdom and Life

A couple posts ago, I wrote about the stay Cody and I had in an Arkansas cabin two years ago. Dark surrounded us and the dead quiet seemed so unnatural to a pair of kids who had gotten used to city noise. I had mentioned Cody’s sudden protective, almost primal, reaction to the silence and our presumed openness to vulnerability. He was hyper-aware and cautious of any potential dangers, while I was feeling pretty much the complete opposite. It seemed that the more I sensed his nervousness, the more I felt I was okay – I felt stronger and more reassured than I ever would have in such a creepy situation. I guess I wanted my tranquility to seep into his anxiety. I suppose I just wanted him to know that, even though it was incredibly gentlemanly (and attractive) that he wanted to protect me, I was okay, and he would be okay, too.

Just yesterday, Cody and I decided to grab a quick dinner at Portillo’s and got our entrees before we got 2 cheese fries orders (that’s about a 30 min wait for fries; turns out they lost the receipt). Cody was understandably upset: he was really hungry, and there’s really no reason for a 30-second job to multiply into a half hour one. While I could sympathize with Cody, I could also forgive the employees – we had arrived at dinner time and there were a lot of orders to keep up with! We just happened to be the unlucky order that got lost in the sea of receipts. Cody made a valid point when I told him to mind his temper, though: “If I weren’t upset right now, you know you would be.” He was right – if he would have been calm in that situation, I probably would have felt more upset than I did. Rather, I was what he needed – the tranquility that just wasn’t happening in that moment. I balanced him out. We balance each other out.

And isn’t that what a relationship is about? “Opposites attract” might not mean what we generally take it to mean. Maybe it’s not “good girl and bad boy” or “preacher’s daughter and high school drop out.” Maybe we are attracted to the people who are acting the way we would like to act more often. The person who’s losing her patience might feel attracted to the guy who’s holding the door open for the elderly woman who’s still feet away. Maybe the homebody-girl who’d like to get out more often finds the opportunity in the club-guy who goes out all the time.

Perhaps we’re really just looking for a balance, and we find that in people who are acting differently than we normally do. Don’t get me wrong: a solid foundation built on common beliefs is necessary for a relationship to work and grow and thrive. It’s interesting to consider however, that in the beginning, when we’re trying to find our other half – the one who’ll share the weight — the one who completes the part that’s missing within ourselves.. we’re attracted to our opposites, first.

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