Aya Academy of Excellence


Atlanta Surges Into the STEM Sector

 

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On Friday, March 21, 2014, the city of Atlanta kicked off an eight-day celebration of all things STEM.  The event, The Atlanta Science Festival, was over two years in the making, according to one of its co-founders Jordan Rose of Emory University.  The leadership team and advisory committee pulled together several dozen disparate organizations throughout the region to provide educators, families and scholars a glimpse into the emerging STEM sector that has been embraced by the nation and that has been heavily courted by the city.  The old guard, including Georgia Tech and Emory University, leaders in engineering and bio-medicine, stood side-by-side with institutions which have newly recognized the significance of the sciences in other fields.

Throughout the week, the doors to community-wide centers were open to showcase ongoing programs and to provide support and engagement opportunities to the public.  Within three days, I traversed across throughout the city to participate in some of the most feted events offered during the festival.

Last year, during our Summer’s Cool academic camp, my students and I visited the Carlos C. Museum while we toured the campus of Emory University.  The three story museum’s collection spans thousands of years several continents.  The smattering of artifacts, including African masks, embalmed Egyptian mummies and  shards of Greco-Roman vases, became the featured resources of integrated STEM lessons.  Using a problem-based approach, students engage in an inquiry based on conservation methods employed by museums.  The teachers who presented during the event were highly enthusiastic about the activities they created.  Among the several showcased that evening, the fibers inquiry to test the acidity of paper was  the most accessible to all learners. This activity, which also included a reading about the Egyptian goddess Isis, would undoubtedly pique the interest of young people in the classroom.

The following day, I scooped up my ladybugs and headed over to Spelman College to see their all-girls robotics team, SpelBots.  The auditorium-filled expanse of giggly tikes were amused by Sugar and Spice, the two humanoid robots which responded to audio commands.  The kids were amazed by how the robots were able to move and interact with the people in the room.

Our three-day exploration into STEM was rounded out by a visit to the stellar Tellus Museum. This science center includes galleries featuring dinosaur fossil replicas, remnants from space shuttles and minerals from around the world. My ladybugs were enamored with the hands-on children’s learning gallery.  Within it, they were able to participate in several investigations related to light, meteorology and energy.  Although we did not have an opportunity to visit the onsite planetarium, we did have a chance to explore the Solar House constructed in 2002 by a team of Georgia Tech students. This phenomenal space showcased how different energy choices can positively impact our environment, including the use of LED lights, water cisterns and celestories.

Kudos to the Atlanta Science Festival team for delivering a high octane STEM experience to the city of Atlanta.  I’m sure this is only the beginning.

 


Single Mom’s Club Movie Review – Tyler Perry’s Take On Family Engagement

Tyler Perry's Single Mom's Club Actresses

As a single parent, I was curious what Tyler Perry’s take on single mommiehood would look like on screen. He consistently gets hammered, often unfairly, for his depictions of African American women and their relationships with men.  While catching a matinee of the film on opening day, I was amused at how Tyler…we are on first name basis…call me Tyler.  o;)… paralleled five distinct personalities and lifestyles while linking them together with a common cord – single parents need support.  Looking past the unrealistically well-appointed homes and outrageously gorgeous wardrobes of most of the characters, there was a realness in the challenges they each faced.  Looking at each through the prism of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, it was evident that they were all capable of addressing the parenting challenges they were encountering after experiencing the blessing of a support system,.  –> Spoiler Alert – a few of the details of the story are listed below. Tyler, forgive me.  :o)

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Parent Engagement and the Five Love Languages

1. Time – Jan, the ever busy ”I am Woman, Hear Me Roar’ mom is painted as a selfish, acidic professional who has not struck a balance between her at-work and at-home responsibilities. And she does not seem have found joy in either.  Her child feels unloved and invisible due to her mother’s penchant for signing her up for extracurricular activities to enable her to stay at work late.  Lesson: Our children should feel our excitement and joy at being a parent.  Children are highly perceptive beings and can sense when we believe that time spent together as a family is meaningful or when they are being regarded as an unnecessary appendage.  On a personal note, my ladybugs had to admonish me for my social media use; I am now on a 12 Step Plan.  There was a time when I would be physically present with them but emotionally detached because I was OD’ing on Facebook and the crack of all social media, Pinterest.   Pinterest gives me the munches…O_o.  That was my first step.

2. Affirmation – Lytia, the bad wig-wearing (the wigs were killing me – Atlanta has a sea of well-groomed women who regardless of income have an eye for authentic Remy hair.  The crew in charge of hair needs an intervention led by, Paula Britt, the owner of Blendz) stereotypical boisterous brick house Waffle House hostess.  I liked her.  She started her family as a teenager and was cognizant that she made missteps in her parenting with her eldest sons.  Raising children in crime infested neighborhoods requires diffrent competencies than raising them in affluent, stable communities.  I imagine that affluent Single Mom’s sent their children to the elite private school to ensure their kids got ahead while Lytia was ensuring that the school was a step to aid her son in staying alive. Her son, played by the cutie patootie DeVion Harris, by all accounts is a bright boy attending a private school.  But Lytia is living under the immoblizing pressure of her past parenting mistakes.  Believing she was too soft with her older sons, she consistently throws the mistakes of his brothers into conversations when reprimanding Hakim.  Lesson: Speak love to your child by affirming who they are and the positive attributes they possess.  Some of us live in the shadows of dynamic siblings and are let with a feeling of not measuring up while others are oppressed into thinking that they are clone of a wayward brother or sister.  I was listening to Don Miguel’s The Fifth Agreement this morning and he sums up the power of words by stating simply that words are truth; distorted knowledge are lies.  Stop comparing our children with others because that is perpetrating a lie.  They are not other people.  Instead, speak to them about the truth of who they are.

3. Gifts – Esperanza is my physical she-ro.  Good grief can this lady rock a pair of pumps on a midday afternoon to go no where else but her ex-husband’s dealership.  When I grow up, I want a better shoe game. On any given day, I wear Chuck’s and knock-off Uggs like nobody’s business.  I blame Bentley.  He’s my leather-lusting 2 year old Shiat-zu. He has consumed most of my pumps and one day I will replace them all.  On top of that, I don’t crave hammer feet (remember that scene from Boomerang…those gnarled toes must have been the result of  wearing stilettos).  Esperanza GAVE LIFE to the term power walking when she rocked those heels at the dealership.  So when when strutted into her ex-husband’s business the moment and the shoes were a symbolic gesture of her putting her foot down.  The relationship with her ex-husband could be truncated into one word: control.  He used money and the lifestyle that money afforded to control her personal life and household although he had moved forward and entered into a new marriage with someone else.  In her younger years, she worked at a factory plant and undoubtedly she was afraid of losing the financially glamorous existence her child support was affording her.  Lesson:  As lovely as gifts are, beware of the Trojan horse because there may be some unwanted things hidden inside of attractive packages.  Esperanza’s ex-husband lavished on their daughter parties and electronic devices as a means of showing his love.  Temper the desire to ‘buy’ someone’s affection and remember that authentic gifts, like Esperanza’s homemade cake, are just as lovely and heartfelt.  Spoiling children with material gifts can be highly damaging to their character because the yearning for more things is an insatiable desire since material things are temporal.  So if you purchase the latest, hottest phone – how long will it take for that gadget to be considered an archaic relic?  How can you things that lose their monetary value quickly? Most of the ‘must have’ items available for the holidays are slashed in price by the end of January and tossed into the trash bin a year after purchase.  Gift-giving are a wonderful means of demonstrating love but be aware that these gifts need not be expensive. By the way, I tried to get my girls to celebrate the gift exchange part of Christmas on December 26th, but they wouldn’t go for it.  We are still working on this lesson.

4. Service – Hillary, the stay at home mom with a maid befuddled me.  If you have a maid, does that count as being a stay at-home mom?  Does Tyler have a Have Hillary’s Lifestyle Sweepstakes to promote this film?  My life would be forever changed with a housekeeper and handyman!  I’d pull Alice out of retirement ASAP!  We must pause for a commercial break: I loved her home.  The porch replete with swings overlooking the lake made me consider finding the residence and squatting.  Must. Check. Georgia. Homestead. Laws. After becoming a member of the Single Mom’s Club, Hillary introduced herself to her daughter.  I would have thought this moment was weird if I hadn’t had a conversation two weeks prior with my own daughters about the distance I was feeling with my eldest.  She’s an introvert and I am a silly fourteen year old boy packaged in a forty year old body.  I can be too much and our Felix and Oscar relationship can be a challenge for us both.   Lesson: As a parent, we cannot shirk the every day responsibilities to others and expect to feel bonded to them.  Life is about the little moments – doing homework, volunteering at school, braiding hair.  We show love through our actions and explicit support of our kids social, emotional and academic development. And we have to make an effort to know our kids.  What are they thinking about?  What are their aspirations?  Are we stuck in time thinking of who they were when they were seven or have we accepted that their maturation is ever evolving and that they are a  more complex being then just a year ago.  Get to know your kid again by engaging them in conversations.

5.  Physical Touch – Nia Long’s character May Miller is an aspiring author raising a son fathered by a man struggling with drug addiction.  Last Sunday, I attended East Gate Church in Cumming, GA and had the pleasure of listening to the powerful message by a gentleman who in his younger years succumbed to meth abuse.  Representing the Christian-based No Longer Bound drug rehabilitation center, this man challenged our perceptions of who a drug addict is and what it takes to become free from the shackles of substance abuse.  May’s son Rick, during the most heart-wrenching scene in the film, was left on the steps of his school when his father once again failed to show up.  He asked his mother, “Does dad love me?” while they drove home.  At that moment the impact of substance abuse on a child really hit home.  Like all of the other kids pictured in the film, Rick was being raised in a loving home.  But a mother’s love is not enough.  Children want to be rooted and that’s difficult if they are wondering who they are and whether a parent loves them.  Lesson: May hugged and kissed her son after his dad failed to show up.  One parent’s love does not erase the other parent’s neglect but the physical touch of one parent can ease some of the uncertainty and loneliness.  A gentle kiss on the forehead conveys to a child in one brief moment that you will be there by their side for a life time.

I read a recent report that the White House was seeking to ramp up the Pre-K Head Start program.  I love it but wonder what great impact could be made if they invested in developing parenting classes too.  Parenting is a learn-on-the-job lifetime commitment with precious little training opportunities.  There are times when you know you’ve nailed it and then there are those other times when only a glass of wine and a whole lot of Kleenex and bucket loads of prayer can get you off of the ledge.  I hope Arne and Barack (I am on first names basis with them too) take parent engagement into consideration as an avenue to achieve student success.  Strong, stable families are possible with support and the impact on children is immeasurable.  Cheers to man Tyler and The Single Mom’s Club!  To all of the single mommies, continue to love your children and build a support network to help you through the toughest job on the planet.

Peace and Joy,

Stephanie
P.S. LIKE us on FB to learn about family engagement activities and share our posts to spread the word about our summer camp, parent engagement workshops and academic mentoring.  www.facebook.com/ayaacademyofexcellence


Teaching About Social Justice: The Holocaust Through the Literary Novel Night

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Night by Elie Wiesel is a gripping autobiography about a young Mann’s tortuous experience during the Holocaust. Although the book has a low page count, it is not a quick read. To fully absorb Wiesel’s journey, the account can and should be juxtaposed with other literature and documents. The images above are of a novel study handout I created for my student to accompany their reading. Questions posed were the basis of longer discussions we had in class about the Nazi’s treatment of Jews and others deemed dispensable. During these discussions other instances of social injustice, including the treatment of African Americans prior ti the passage of the Civil Rights Act, were discussed. The universal themes of power and resistance injustice were the topics of dialogue as we challenge how people have acted in the past to other ethnic and racial groups. This enabled students to challenge contemporary instances of social injustice.

Students also created thematic poetry using examples we read from those composed by children residing in ghetto Terazin. Analysis of quotes and images, including a mountain of collected shoes from souls lost to the gas chambers of a concentration camp, provided students an opportunity to think through the points of view of opposing voices during this conflict.

The students also created their own illustrations to depict events occurring within Wiesel’s account. The image above was from a highly artistic student and i realize in hindsight that she could have contributed an even more illustrative contribution had I provided more time and resources to this component of the novel study. In the future, I would have the students create their depictions on larger paper to create a museum exhibit akin the Washington, DC Holocaust Museum.

Night is an amazing book to use as a springboard for understanding the importance of social justice. Mr. Wiesel’s experience captures a place and time that is unique in history and highlights the societal issues of prejudice and power mongering which are timeless and universal.


Confessions of a Bad Blogger

Confessions of a Bad Blogger

I met up with a collective of dynamic women online writers today for a session focused on the nuts and bolts of blogging. The participants, comprised mostly of lifestyle-focused writers, divulged their personal and professional experiences regarding why they started blogging, what techniques they used to reach their audiences and which technologies best supported their growth as online writers. I was captivated by the breadth of expertise within the room – one participant has been blogging for less than a year and has accumulated a mass following for her posts on motherhood, fashion and everyday living. I was in awe. I realized that I’ve been doing so many things ‘wrong’ (there is truly no right way but I’ll revisit that later.)

1. I don’t market my blog. Some of the bloggers spend significant time checking SEOs to see where people are finding their posts and use that info to drive more visitors to their pages. They tag their images and do not rely on automatic links to share their content. Me…I click the Pinterest button and then I’m so done. I felt like an underachiever…and I may be OK with that…more on that later.

2. Image(s) is EVERYTHING! I use my cell phone to take pictures – and although the images are reasonably clear, for crisp images, a higher quality photo, and therefore camera, can be a deciding factor for people to visit and follow your page. Images tell a story as much as text and I’ve been telling half the story.

3. Plug it in, plug it in. I don’t have plug ins because my blog is a supplement to Aya Academy’s online presence. Currently I have a separate website, Pinterest, Twitter and blog all using the same AyaAcademy handle. Converting to a full fledged website would mean changing the identity of either the blog or website….I feel to merge them would make me feel a bit like Norman Bates…psycho…I’d have two identities operating in one space. After today’s meeting I realized the blog is more a teaching and sharing tool while the webpage is an operational tool to brand and sell our services and programs.

4. One track minded. Throughout the session, I kept pondering whether I was doing it right….and for the right reasons. Page views didn’t matter to me until I realized that I was a dwarf in the midst of page view giants. Am I just pecking my thoughts out to an empty room? Does it matter? I had a come to Jesus moment and realized that the blog has been a cathartic exercise in the past but it is time to let it evolve so that it is reflective of the growth of our company. Who wants to be the best kept secret?

5. Size does matter. I write way too much at times. And it is ok to share a succinct thought, now and again. I blame Ms. Wolf and Ms Bryant, my former lit teachers who imposed 1,000 word count essays for that.

6. A One Track Mind. It’s ok to have a little variety in our posts. Veering from purely instructional posts is ok. Breathe, and repeat, it’s ok.

So I have been doing it right until the moment my eyes opened to realize that I want more for this blog…it’s not merely an online journal but an interactive space to share and connect with others. Now that I know that, to keep doing what I was doing would of course be wrong because it would stunt growth. I appreciated every second of being amongst this contingent of ladies today and am looking forward to getting the Most Improved award the next time we meet.



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