Monday, July 2, 2012


Maria and Mario have asked me to teach their daughter, Helena, to read. I have minimal experience with teaching emergent readers to read. My area of expertise is teaching struggling readers who are in the secondary grades that are not performing on grade level. I was a little intimidated by the challenge, even though Helena is an extremely eager learner. Yesterday, we took her to a learning store so that I could evaluate exactly what level she was at in her reading. We purchased one book and I told Maria it would make more economical sense to go to the library and find books for her level. It's actually pretty cool because most libraries have a "learning to read" section (see, I don't know this stuff since I've never taught early childhood or elementary education) and the publishers put the reading levels of the book on the binding (super user-friendly). This morning was our first reading lesson. Helena and I have spent two days solid learning together. Yesterday was the learning how to make a zine and this morning was learning to read. I definitely had a moment after her lesson was over for the day. I realized that I miss teaching. It made me really sad for a fleeting second. Then, my mind completely switched gears from dreary nostalgia to an invigorated hopefulness. Portland has a strong sense of community, and as I have begun to dip my toes in that community, I have learned that not only do I want to be a part of it, I can also contribute a lot to it. I have been entertaining a fantasy of creating a community center (out of my home or rotating between many people's homes at first), where the focus is strictly on learning. However, I'm not talking about strictly academic learning here. I want adults to be able to come to classes where they can learn how to do bike maintenance or grow their own food in the winter time affordably (by scavenging supplies for greenhouses and engaging in seed swaps to get free goods). One of the free zines I got from the Reading Frenzy event was published by an organization that started in Portland called Urban Edibles. They have used google maps to plot the locations of food that can be foraged either on public land or on private land where there is an overabundance of a certain type of food. Say you have a plum tree in your front yard and that sucker produces way too many plums for you and your roommates/family/whoever you co-habitate with to consume. You can go onto google maps and post your place as a place where others can collect your plums for their own consumption. I am completely obsessed with this, but I don't even know where to begin. In my head I'm thinking, "I could ask one of the organizers of Urban Edibles to come to this community center and we could do a foraging fieldtrip!" Ta-da! An idea is born! Then, I began to think about obesity, particularly with minorities and how so much of that is linked to affordability of certain kinds of food and access to safe places for kids, in particular, to exercise. I thought "Well, I'm a Zumba instructor. We could start there and I could offer Zumba classes for kids and adults for free." (The area where I intend to live in Portland is where the majority of the minorities live-- hence, the cheaper rent. Sad but still true. But this gives me easy access to that demographic.) Making the zine with Helena made me think that I could partner my community center with the Independent Publisher's Resource Center to offer cheap and/or free zine-making workshops. I also thought I could use zines as a way of helping students learn to read and write (that's where my expertise could merge with the IPRC's expertise). We could offer tutoring and workshops and get-togethers to build something in our community that would improve it and seminars to educate adults and children about politics, religion, and human relationships. All of this excites me and I have to confess that I have never dreamed this big before. I think it's big because it is something wholly outside of myself. My dreams have historically been pretty ego-centric. Now, all of the sudden, I see happiness and meaning coming from what I can contribute to a community. I am not saying that this community center will happen any time soon. A year? Maybe more? But the idea that I will teach in some capacity and on my own terms in a way that will strengthen my community is absolutely intoxicating.

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