Life is going to shovel dirt on you, all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting out of the well is to shake it off and take a step up. Each of our troubles is a stepping-stone. We can get out of the deepest wells just by not stopping, never giving up! Shake it off and take a step up!
Today at church I heard a simple yet a powerful story that evoked in me the desire to share my testimony. I've written blogs about my journey coming to America; Another blog about my struggles as a high school newcomer student. However, I feel the need to share what God has done and continues doing in my life.
If you've never heard of the story, "Donkey in the Well", here it is:
One day a farmer's donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do. Finally, he decided the animal was old and the well needed to be covered up anyway, it just wasn't worth it to retrieve the donkey.
He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They all grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well. At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly.
Then, to everyone's amazement, he quieted down.
A few shovel loads later, the farmer finally looked down the well and was astonished at what he saw. With every shovel of dirt that hit his back, the donkey was doing something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up.
As the farmer's neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off!
I don't know about you but I've experienced a lot of dirt thrown at me left and right by the devil. Even before I was born, the enemy had a plan to destroy my life. I give God thanks for his timely intervention that saved me and changed my life. The donkey's story made me realize that through out my life I've been shaking off the dirt that was intended to bury me. I've over come not by my power but by HIS power and grace.
The enemy is pretty much scared about our potential when we love and serve God. That is why I believe he tries very hard to mess with our life at an early age. He throws dirt at you so you drown and don't see the possibilities.
My grandfather, Alfredo Bonilla, was a good man. I loved him...the memories I have with him are unforgettable. However, he did something that marked and forever changed my mother and my grandmother. He separated my mother from my grandmother. He walked away and disappeared with his 3-year-old splitting her apart from her mother's love and care. My grandmother spent years looking for and crying for her little girl. Her life began to fill up with anger and hate.
Meanwhile, my mother started growing up in a very abusive environment. Not only was my mother forced to work from a very early age, but she also was a victim of verbal and physical abuse. My mother couldn't attend school because she had to work. She would go from door to door selling whatever my grandfather would give her to sell. She would spend hours and hours sitting at a market selling what she had been given to sell. My mother recalls looking at other kids playing around having fun and she would long to be the kid she needed to be. People would buy from her not because what she was selling was needed, but because they would feel bad for her sitting there all alone. I can only imagine what her life was like. No other family members to engage with. No mother to hug and care for her. Just an empty and sad life.
At the age of 15, my mother met my father. She married him and hoped for a chance of a family and a good life. She had me at the age of 16. Sadly they separated a year and a half later. My mother didn't know that she was expecting another child when she left the relationship. When my dad was told about it, he didn't believe her and didn't recognize my sister as his child.
And so my mother's life as a single mother began. At 18 years old, she was trying to raise two children on her own. Without guidance and support, my mother did what she could to raise me and my sister. However, she didn't always make good choices. She would leave me and my sister with neighbors while she would go to work. Sometimes she was gone for days and weeks. So I grew up defending me and protecting my sister. I knew that my mother was out and about trying to make money for us to have food, clothes and a place to live. At the age of 20, my mother had her 3rd child. Things were getting harder now with 3 children to maintain. My mother found a way out of her struggles using drugs. She felt like the drugs were helping her escape her reality. At 23 she had her 4th child but this time things were a little different. My sister's dad was willing to help my mother get a place and gather all her kids so we wouldn't be scattered anymore.
It was the first time in 7 years that we able to be together and be under the same roof. The drugs, however, were still there. I learned to HATE drugs. I watched what it did to my mother and swore to never, ever, taste what was slowly destroying the one I love the most. I would beg her to stop. I would cry out to her to not do it again. She would see in my face the fear of ever losing her and she would promise me to stop. But it (the drug) was stronger than her will.
Because of her circumstances, I would see myself responsible for caring for my sisters. I would cook, I would bathe them, I would care for them. I was 'mom' when mom was there, but not really there. One day, she was laying in bed past out...and my sisters kept asking for her. So I decided to make a chicken soup and bring it to her with the hopes that she would get up and be the mother we needed her to be.
Because of her bad habit, my mother couldn't really sustain a job. She would get creative with things to do to make money for us to eat and pay rent. She would sell clothes, oranges, or whatever she would do to get by.
At age 25 mother had her last child. This time she had a boy. We were super excited since there were already 4 girls. So there she was. A 25 years old young lady with 5 children on her own! If it was hard before things were about to get harder.
A Way Out for Me
A 9-year-old kid should not be looking around for a way out of her family. But I was. I was tired. Tired of the situation we were in. Tired of being 'mom' instead of a daughter. Tired of seeing my mother mentally despairing because of the drug. You see, the enemy was trying to get me. The enemy wanted my life destroyed just like my grandparents and my mother. There was no future for me. There was no way life was going to get any better for me and my family. Statistically, I should've been wrapt into drugs and early childbearing. This was the future I was destined to because the devil had all worked out from the very beginning. There was no other way out...so I thought!
One a classmate must have seen how I was feeling and asked me what was going on. I started telling him how I felt and how I wanted out of my situation. He looked at me and said; "Why don't you go to Sunday school with me?" His invitations sounded like a way out to me!
My Encounter with Christ
A simple conversation with a classmate leads me to an encounter with my savior. I will never forget the peace and sensation I was feeling while seating there clapping my hands and singing to a love that was surrounding me and embracing my circumstances. I was presented to a God that cared about me and loved me for who I was. I encountered a love that gave me the strength to keep on living and keep on helping my mother and my siblings. From that day on, I never missed a Sunday at church. My friend's mom will come to my house to visit and wanting to pray for my mother but she would always hide in the closet. We would just pray out loud so she could hear God's love for her. I was baptized at the age of 12 and surrendered my life to Christ.
I have no doubt in my mind that God intervened in my life just in time. I brought Jesus into our home. I brought peace and hope into our home full of chaos.
But before things got better...they got worse! My mother didn't have work and her use of drugs was the worse it had ever been. I would get in trouble and sometimes beaten for throwing away her drugs when I found them in her pocket. I wanted nothing to do with something that was killing the very person who gave me life and was helping me survive.
I remember making a chicken soup for her just so she would have the strength to get up and be the mother we needed her to be. I remember standing over her bowl of soup and praying for her. Praying and hoping that somehow this soup would snap her out of her situation. But she didn't need a soup to snap out of it. She needed Jesus. She walked out and left without saying where she was going. I feared for her life. I feared that one day she would walk out and never come back. So I would pray for her. I pray for God to protect her and bring her back home.
Hope and a New Opportunity For our Little Family
That day my mother came back home but she was not the same person that had walked out the door. She walked in yelling; "I found the Lord! I found the Lord!"; "I'm cleaned!"
At first, I thought maybe she was drugged too much and not knowing what she was talking about. She wasn't making any sense to me. She sat us down and explained that in her desperation she had walked into a church and had a conversation with the pastor's daughter who happened to be there by accident. She was introduced to the Lord and she gave her life to Jesus. In that very moment, her life was cleaned and changed. She walked out of that church with a changed heart and clear mind. In a powerful and miraculous way, her body was cleaned instantly. With no trace of drug in her body.
Our little family was getting a chance to a new life. Our little family was being restored from a destiny the devil had very well planned for destruction.
You see, the enemy had a very good plan to ruin our lives. He threw dirt at us over and over trying to bury our potential and our lives. However, God also had a plan. A plan to restore. A plan with a full life, joy, hope, and happiness.
"I am the WAY and the TRUTH and the LIFE."
God gave me this verse years ago. No, I didn't hear his auditory voice talking to me. But while we were in the safe house waiting to be transported to the U.S., I would daily see this verse in a picture frame and it was a reminder that God was with me. I knew he was making a way. Everything was going as planned, but we were coming to the U.S. undocumented. So I would ask the Lord; "You are truth and here we are, crossing the border illegally. How is that truth?!?" But the voice inside me would still say..."I am the TRUTH and I will make a way." And so he did. If you read my journey to America you will see how my God made a miraculous way for me and my family to be in the U.S. with our legal documents. All the time we were at the airport, there was a body of Christ praying for us. Praying for God to make a way and help us. HE came through. All glory be to the one and only who keeps his word. To the one who NEVER let go. Now, I have the life I never in my mind would imagine to ever have. I live a life in a country that for some time it was only a hope and a dream. I live life with Christ. The one and only who saw a little girl with no hope. A little girl how was about to give up. He saw beyond my circumstances and stepped in to rescue me.
So all the dirt that the devil threw at me and was meant to bury me ended up being my stepping stone to get out and soar. Jesus didn't make the dirt go away; He was in the dirt with me making a way through!
So, is there any dirt in your life? What are you doing with that dirt? Are you getting buried?
Take the donkey's example and shake it OFF, step on it, and get out from that situation.
God is a faithful God who rebuilt, repairs, and revives! Isaiah 61:4
God bless you and Thank you for reading!
Grit: perseverance and passion for long-term goals.
When I went through high school as a newcomer student, my mother was there. When I put myself through college, my mother was also there. She witnessed my struggles, my failures, and hardships. So every time we talk about my accomplishments, she asks: "But how did you do it?" "Where did you get the strength from to finish your goal?" My answer was always: "I don't know, I just felt like I had to keep going." Today I know that it was because of grit!
Character Lab has a great post on grit that states that "Grit is a critical strength of most people who are successful."
It also gives some examples of what grit looks like:
In Boosting Achievement we learn that SIFE and refugee students, "embody grit and perseverance." We know this to be true because their experiences and hardships required them to be strong and committed to surviving in their environment.
"Many SIFE come to America with enough pain to fill a lifetime of sadness and despair." ~ Tan Huynh
Our responsibility as their educator is to guide them in using that strength found within them and apply it toward school and life goals.
Dr. Duckworth reminds us that grit "requires deep interest" - This means that our students need to be engaged in what they are interested in even if they fail. We have to provide opportunities for them to take risk and try.
Carol provides us with a great lesson she learned with her student, Hamsa. Watch this video where he shows perseverance in doing what he knows he can do and is interested about.
Ideas for Encouraging Curiosity, Creativity, and Global Thinking
Boosting Achievement provides a great list of ideas and opportunities to encourage our SIFE students to engage in topics of interest:
For more ideas and for details about given ideas on page #43 and #44, please visit bit.ly/SalvaBLog
Great video about meeting the needs of refugee students:
Older SIFE students may appear to have a wider educational gap, but FEAR NOT. According to Boosting Achievement, SIFE students come with a sense of urgency, and often have a deeper appreciation for educational OPPORTUNITIES!!
They already have the most important predictor for success: PASSION. PERSISTENCE. MOTIVATION. Just provide the opportunities and watch them soar!!
Thank you for reading!
I am a big fan of podcasts...especially since I got an iPhone! I have the Podcast app and I am constantly getting notifications when there's a new Episode added to the podcast I've subscribed to. I have subscriptions to TeachingPartners, Kids Deserve It!, The TeachThought, and Beyond the Staffroom Podcasts. I know there are other great podcasts but for now, these are the only ones I follow. The reason I enjoy podcasts is that I get to hear other educators' perspective for a variety of topics I am interested about. I've learned strategies I can apply in my classroom; I've gained tips to grow personally and professionally. So if you have a few minutes, listen to an episode of your choice and if you don't like it just switch it and listen to a different episode.
So on July 4th, 2017 I received a group private message from my good friend Carol Salva (@MsSalvaC), and the message was also sent to Derek Rhodenizer (@DerekRhodenizer). I knew Derek because he hosts interviews for Beyond the Classroom (podcast mentioned above). I have heard several of his episodes. One of the episodes I heard, in particular, was Carol's interview about her new book Boosting Achievement. You would want to hear her interview...so here is the link!
In her message, Carol introduced me to Derek and said that I should interview for his podcast. She had already shared with Derek part of my story and how our classrooms had connected. So right there Derek gave me a date and time for an interview to his show.
I couldn't believe it! I was given the opportunity of a lifetime!! I was very nervous but I was invited to share my story and that gave me the strength to go through it. Besides, Derek made me feel super comfortable!
In this podcast, I had the opportunity to share my story as an undocumented and unaccompanied minor traveling from my country of birth, Guatemala, to the United States. I share my struggles as a newcomer student. I also had the opportunity to share some tips for family engagement and the importance of building relationships with our students.
So here's my interview with Derek in Beyond the Classroom Podcast.
Thank you for reading and listening to my interview!
Part One: Working with Students Who are SIFE
I don't know about you, but I want my students to remember me as their teacher for a life time. However, in order for this to happen, I need to make sure I strengthen my relationship with each and every one of my students. And relationship building starts by learning students background.
Let me start by emphasizing how important it is to know our students' background because each category of language learners is different and each requires a unique level of support. Here is an article I found very relevant to this topic: Good Teachers Embrace Their Students' Cultural Background. Here I learned that as teachers, we tend to use our own experiences when planning the lessons we teach, but then students cannot create connections because is not relevant for them. However, when we know students' background, their story, their struggles, their past, we would lean toward activities and materials that will support students in making connections.
Boosting Achievement does a fantastic job highlighting and providing awareness of the many different categories our language learners' background. Just take a close look at the chart below.
The point I want to bring up with this chart is that not all language learners in your class fall under one category. Our students come to us with a story, with a personal and unique background, and in order for them to be successful, they must receive the appropriate support.
Take my experience as a language learner high school student for example. When I first came to the United States my teacher needed to know that I was a 'Newcomer/Recent Immigrant' and a 'SIFE' student. Not only was I learning the language but I had also missed a lot of school years in my country which put me far behind classmates my age. When interested in supporting L1 (native language) it is imperative for teachers to know the student's educational background. And to find this information could be as simple as asking the parent. Build a relationship with parents and students to provide what is best for the student to be successful in school and in life.
I believe that ALL students need our support. However, I want you to think about English language learners who are struggling academically. Why? The answer is simple: Achievement Gap! I strongly believe that the achievement gap exists among our ELs because we are not targeting and/or providing the appropriate support.
Tips to support newcomers/SIFE students:
Boosting achievement does the following recommendations for SIFEs' needs:
I also have a few recommendations for newcomer students: here.
Watch the video below by Teaching Channel to see how newcomers and SIFE students interact through the use centers to accelerate reading development. This video clearly shows that our newcomers/SIFEs have the ability and "know how to" when the opportunities as presented.
Part I has a heavy focus on Cultural Responsive Teaching. This is super important and a very hot topic in education right now. I believe is due to the growing diversity found among students in our classrooms. Part of being culturally responsive is building a relationship with our students, so last week, our focus was on getting to know our students and building strong relationships by valuing our students' stories. However, I see it as taking a step further...When we know our students' background and care about who they are, it'll reflect in what our classrooms look like. What I mean is that knowing your students will make you want to provide a place where they feel safe, comfortable, and familiar to them. Making sure our classroom decor mirrors our students' culture and background.
Boosting achievement provides great tips such as desk arrangements, and labeling school items in multiple languages. Here is another article I found helpful on providing classroom setup strategies. It's imperative to consider these tips that facilitate learning ultimately optimizing language learning and academic achievement.
Carol shares a fascinating story of a SIFE student who had to advocate for himself when he noticed he was not getting what he needed. I believe it is necessary for our students, Kindergarten - 12th grade, be able to advocate for themselves. Students will at one point in their education encounter educators or school personnel who will instead of supporting students are obstacles for students' success. That is the point when students need to stand for what they believe it is best for themselves. I found this link very helpful on tips and steps to follow on teaching students to self- advocate.
Osama is now my hero! He taught me that as an educator, there should be a level of 'shame' when I don't take the time to listen to students' needs and advocate on their behalf.
You see, as an educator, you can't be both; You either are supportive or an obstacle. Which are you? If you are reading this, is because you care about your students and want to support them. Thank you, #eduHero!
Accessing SIFEs' English Proficiency and Background Knowledge
This section really made think about ways I can gather my newcomers' background information to better serve them. In Cabarrus County, we are very fortunate to have the ELLevation platform that houses our ELs' demographic information as well as their language proficiency levels. This is a system with easily accessible data as well as targeted instructional language and content strategies.
However, I noticed that there is no place for us to flag if our student is a refugee student. While discussing his topic with our county's ESL counselor, I realized that the only way for teachers to know if a student is SIFE is to share it with the teacher. But what if the student moves to another school? Shouldn't this information be available as part of their demographic information for new teachers' easy access?
This thought is just one of the thoughts Boosting Achievement is making me realize as a read through.
Another idea I have after reading the "Refugee-Focused Intake Process" is to create a spreadsheet with some of the components Texas uses for their "Intake/Pre - Assessment Form".
I am fascinated with the three focused components: Affective, Linguistic, and Cognitive.
As an ESL teacher, my focused needs to go beyond whether students speak English or not. But also know their cognitive skills levels in math and reading, and/or issues that could affect them psychologically, mentally or emotionally.
I can't wait to see what else I learn in the coming chapters. I am definitely betting my teaching pedagogy with Boosting Achievement!!
If you are interested in reading my previous blogs on Boosting Achievement book club notes, just follow this link!
Don't forget to check you Carol's blog. Here is her blog for Boosting Achievement Week 2
Thank you for reading!