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Posts Tagged ‘mentor’

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Photo: John Waire/Washington Post
Richard Antoine White behind the scenes during the filming of “R.A.W,” a documentary about his life and musical career.

What is it about tuba players and altruism? Maybe I should say, What is it about Baltimore tuba players?

Not long ago I wrote a post about a Baltimore tuba player’s inspiring outreach to young impoverished musicians (here), and now I have a related story about a tuba player who grew up poor in Baltimore and now mentors kids.

Tim Smith writes at the Baltimore Sun, “Richard Antoine White looks back on his life — poverty and an unsettled family life growing up in [the Sandtown section of Baltimore]; tuba studies at the Baltimore School for the Arts, Peabody Institute and Indiana University; his current jobs with the New Mexico Philharmonic and University of New Mexico — and sums it up simply: ‘The American Dream is still alive and well.’ …

“White’s successful pursuit of that dream has been chronicled in the documentary ‘R.A.W.’ (White’s initials) by Baltimore filmmakers Darren Durlach and David Larson, co-founders of Early Light Media. …

“ ‘I feel honored and humbled that they wanted to do a film about me,’ says White, 45. ‘There was an awe factor when they showed up in Albuquerque. I thought, you guys are really going to follow me around with a camera? But I trusted them to tell this story appropriately.’

“Storytelling is a specialty for Durlach and Larson. They formed their production company not only to make a living (clients for their video work include companies and foundations, local and beyond), but also to give themselves an outlet for spotlighting worthy individuals and causes. … The duo decided to direct that interest into Invisible Thread, a venture they envisioned as a series of ‘people-driven stories.’ …

“[Their first film] had a screening at the Baltimore School for the Arts, where Durlach and Larson met the school’s director, Chris Ford.

“ ‘We were talking with him about an idea we had for a feature film about the arts, specifically arts education, in our culture,’ Durlach says, ‘how the arts are misunderstood, underfunded, and underutilized. And Chris said, “You know who you need to talk to is Richard White.” …

“ ‘The second we met Richard, we fell in love with him and were inspired by him,’ Durlach says. … For several days, the filmmakers shadowed White to chronicle his life in Albuquerque, where he is principal tuba in the New Mexico Philharmonic and associate professor of tuba/euphonium and associate director of the Spirit Marching Band at the University of New Mexico.

“The action then shifted to Baltimore, where more filming took place at the Baltimore School for the Arts and Peabody. The filmmakers also accompanied White to places in Sandtown, where he spent difficult years as a child and had largely avoided revisiting.

“ ‘Family members would sometimes let my mom and I sleep on a couch,’ White says. ‘Sometimes I slept under a tree or in an abandoned house. My mom had problems with alcoholism and finally gave me up. Her foster parents took me in. …’

“After White’s life smoothed out with the help of his foster parents, he found himself drawn to music — first the trumpet, then the tuba, which he learned partly with the help of a self-teaching tape. That gave him the confidence to go to the Baltimore School for the Arts, ready to audition for admission. … White gained admission.

“ ‘That proved to be a good decision on our part,’ Ford says. ‘He was an incredible worker. Through sheer grit, he was pushing past everyone. And he was a delightful individual throughout. ….

“ ‘Richard moved from someone who needed a handout to someone who now puts his hand out to help others,’ Ford says. ‘He’s been really powerful mentoring some of our kids.’ ” More at the Baltimore Sun, here.

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Photo: Elissa Nadworny/NPR  
Cathy Meaney (right), a volunteer with International Neighbors, has befriended an Afghan refugee family in Charlottesville, Va.

Here’s a story of how one person can make a big difference. The one person I’m thinking of is a teacher who started a nonprofit to help refugees in Virginia. After launch, there was another “one person” and another and another.

In fact, quite a few kind Virginians were concerned to learn that refugees have to start taking care of their own needs in 90 days — a nearly impossible task in a strange place where you don’t know the language.

Elissa Nadworny has a report at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Here’s a number: 90. That’s how many days most refugees arriving in this country have before the basic resettlement money they get from the government runs out.

“But once that three months is over, there are still so many things recent arrivals need. That’s what Kari Miller saw over and over as a teacher in the public schools in Charlottesville, Va.

“In her classes, students who had recently arrived in the U.S. as refugees were struggling with all kinds of problems, like serious dental issues, or a lack of winter clothes or just the challenge of adjusting to life and school in a new land and a strange language. …

“She asked her principal for permission to take children to clinics, to buy them winter coats, to go home and meet their families. … Seeing them every day at school gave her an idea: Connect these families to their Charlottesville neighbors.

“Working out of her garage, Miller started the nonprofit International Neighbors. That was two years ago, and the organization has now grown to more than 200 volunteers. Many of them work full-time jobs but are ready to jump in to help families in that crucial period after the government aid runs out. …

“There are so many questions: Where can I get a car? Is school closed today? How do I turn on my shower? And, please, help me fill out all this paperwork!

“Paperwork, that’s the real currency in the United States, says Liza Fields, a member of International Neighbors’ board. … Fields helps refugees fill out those many, many forms — mostly for medical care but also dental work, school needs and, of course, paying bills. …

“The No. 1 request refugees make of International Neighbors is for a car. That’s usually followed closely by another related request: driving lessons. The organization provides money for lessons. But some volunteers like Helga Hiss are willing and able to give lessons. That, says Kari Miller, is the sweet spot. …

“Last fall, Hiss started giving driving lessons to a woman named Neegeeta, who moved to Charlottesville with her family from Afghanistan about 2 1/2 years ago.

” ‘It was very, very difficult life,’ Neegeeta says as her 18-month-old son, Musadiq, crawls into her lap. She asked that we use only her first name in order to protect family members who remain in Afghanistan.

“That first year in the U.S. was so hard, Neegeeta says, that they thought about moving back to Afghanistan. She felt isolated. She was working on her English, taking care of her three children, and dependent on a bus transfer to get her to appointments. …

“But, month by month, things got better. Her husband got a good job. The family got a car. They moved into an apartment downtown.

“Neegeeta credits much of this newfound confidence to volunteers like Hiss, who she says helped her feel welcome as she drove around her new city, laughing — and praying — in Hiss’s Toyota Camry.

“Those lessons, Neegeeta says, changed everything. Gave her freedom.”

Read about the nonprofit’s varied programs — including the one that pairs Charlottesville and refugee families who have similar characteristics — at NPR, here.

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The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Some reasons: required minimum sentences, for-profit prisons that lobby officials to get more business, lack of programs to treat addictions. Most US prisons don’t help people who commit crimes to learn better behaviors, and it’s hard for ex-offenders to find jobs when they get out.

According to the Sentencing Project, “In the last forty years, incarceration has increased with rates upwards of 500% despite crime rates decreasing nationally.”

The good news is that here and there, local sheriffs are experimenting with techniques to reduce recidivism, as are individual states. Whether the new programs are motivated by the wish to save public money, by compassion, or for any other reason, the trend is promising.

Mikaela Porter writes at the Hartford Courant about an initiative in Connecticut.

“For years John Pittman was known as a lifer in the state prison here. But now, he’s taken on a new identity: mentor. …

” ‘My philosophy is this: no one is going to save us but us,’ Pittman said in an interview. ‘I’m older than these guys – grandfather age – and if they can learn something from me without being in my situation with a life sentence then I felt I did my job.’

“The pilot program, called T.R.U.E. (Truthfulness to oneself and others, Respect toward the community, Understanding ourselves and what brought us here, Elevating into success) was set up [early this year] for about 70 18- to 25-year-old offenders at the prison. …

“The pilot program started with a visit to Germany, when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Correction Commissioner Scott Semple, Vera Institute of Justice President Nicholas Turner toured prisons there.

” ‘We saw people behind bars who had keys to their own cells, cells [they] decorated themselves,’ Turner said. ‘They wore their own street clothes and they cooked their own meals and they worked in the community. People who were there left better off than they had come in.’ …

” ‘This population of 18- to 25-year-olds is responsible for 25 percent of the incidents that we respond to within our correctional institutions,’ Cheshire Warden Scott Erfe said.

“Erfe said approximately 100 correction staff over three shifts will work in the unit, and that workers have taken three weeks of training on human development and behavioral impact, motivational interviewing, mediation and conflict resolution for young offenders, trauma-informed interventions for young adult offenders and family engagement.

“The program includes work on life skills, educational assistance, team-building exercises and family assistance.

” ‘Although this unit is still in its infancy, it is clear that this has a chance to be something truly special,’ Erfe said.” More here.

I particularly like the “U” of T.R.U.E. I believe a lack of self-knowledge probably underlies most of the world’s problems, not just incarceration rates.

Photo: Lauren Schneiderman / Hartford Courant
Inmates talk to Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy about a rehabilitation program at the Cheshire Correctional Institution. Mentors work with offenders between the ages 18-25 to both make facilities safer and prevent young adults from returning to prison.

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Sometimes it just takes one person to be a catalyst. Internationally known jazz musician Danilo Pérez is a catalyst for a growing jazz scene in his native Panama. He has a special focus on getting young people excited about jazz and giving them a chance to become musicians.

At the NY Times, Melena Ryzik writes, “Even in jazz, which has a long tradition of mentorship, Mr. Pérez, 49, has emerged as a singular figure. Nearly 30 years after he left his native Panama to study jazz composition at Berklee [College of Music in Boston], he has made promoting musicianship in Panama — using music as a springboard, cultural unifier and teaching tool — his life’s work.

“In 2005, a year after he started [a] jazz festival with his family, he created the Danilo Pérez Foundation, a nonprofit center for music education and outreach; the festival, which draws as many as 30,000 people over its six-day run each January, provides money for the foundation. The club, which opened last February at the new American Trade Hotel, a luxe outpost of the Ace Hotel chain, is, in his view, the last piece of the puzzle.”

Read more.

Photo: Jennifer Shanley
Danilo Pérez (right) directs the Berklee Global Jazz Institute inaugural class.

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I came across a nonprofit organization called BUILD on the website of the accelerator incubator MassChallenge (where Erik is among 26 finalists who will be honored at Tuesday’s awards). BUILD helps inspire students to graduate from high school by getting them engaged in an entrepreneurship project.

“MassChallenge Partner BUILD Greater Boston is gathering a select group of entrepreneurs to mentor student business teams in some of the city’s lowest performing high schools.

“BUILD is an exciting 4-year college success program that uses entrepreneurship to motivate disengaged students to excel academically, graduate from high school, and succeed in college. …

“To help students become college-eligible, BUILD also provides tutoring, test prep, mentoring, and college planning advice. Entrepreneurship is the hook — but college is the goal. Over the past 13 years, 95% of BUILD seniors nationally have been accepted to college, with 88% accepted to 4 year colleges and universities.

A student team calling itself “the Dream Team and their mentors, including MassChallenge Alumni Shonak Patel, won 1st place at the Youth Business Plan Competition at Northeastern University on June 2, 2012, receiving $1,500 to start their business.”

According to the Bay State Banner, the Dream Team’s product is an “inspirational iPhone case, made of bamboo and customizable to have the purchaser’s own dream etched into it.” More here.

See video highlights of the competition from the Boston Business Journal.

Being a BUILD mentor gave me the opportunity to use my passion for entrepreneurship to inspire greatness in others.— Shonak Patel, Charlestown Mentor and MassChallenge Alumni. 

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Having blogged about the troubling documentary “Waiting for Superman” here, I thought you might be interested in hearing about a school district that has found one way to overcome a significant barrier to quality education.

The documentary’s critique of U.S. public education centers on the inadequacy of teacher evaluation and the near impossibility of firing bad teachers.

Montgomery County (MD) doesn’t have that problem. Can you guess why?

Deep, broad collaboration. Critical constituencies are in on the evaluation and the decisions about coaching and firing.

A June 5 NY Times story by Michael Winerip, “Helping Teachers Help Themselves,” explains.

“The Montgomery County Public Schools system here has a highly regarded program for evaluating teachers, providing them extra support if they are performing poorly and getting rid of those who do not improve. The program, Peer Assistance and Review — known as PAR — uses several hundred senior teachers to mentor both newcomers and struggling veterans. If the mentoring does not work, the PAR panel — made up of eight teachers and eight principals — can vote to fire the teacher. … In the 11 years since PAR began, the panels have voted to fire 200 teachers, and 300 more have left rather than go through the PAR process, said Jerry D. Weast, the superintendent of the Montgomery County system, which enrolls 145,000 students, one-third of them from low-income families. In the 10 years before PAR, he said, five teachers were fired. ‘It took three to five years to build the trust to get PAR in place,’ he explained.”  Read more here.

Having started out my work life as a teacher, I feel pretty strongly that teachers have been given a bad rap lately and that most are experienced, creative, and deeply dedicated (and overworked and underpaid). My daughter-in-law is also a teacher.

But there is no doubt that the bad apples are hard to fire and that every year that they get away with bad teaching turns thousands of children off the whole idea of education, to the lasting detriment of the nation. So I hope everyone will think about the PAR program described in the Times and how they might help influence school policy.

I will post comments sent to suzannesmom@lunaandstella.com.

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