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TeacherAde, Long Live A Disciplined Life

By Daniel Tortelli, Interventionist at Perspectives Middle Academy and Amate House Volunteer

As my time at Perspectives Middle Academy (PMA) and Perspectives has drawn to a close, I’d like to reflect on a few moments that have stuck out since my last post. Each could certainly deserve an entire post of their own, however, time is against us. Even if briefly, I hope I can open a few more doors one last time to show you the awesomeness of the kids we teach and those that promote their growth.

I’m not sure if each story directly correlates with one of the 26 principles or a handful of them but, either way, I hope you enjoy this glimpse into some truly beautiful lasting moments...

Quadratics through the years...
About a month ago, the afterschool programs were winding down with only a few weeks left. On one afternoon, I found myself in Homework Club (HC) packing up all the computers in their cart while the kids were talking. Normally I would be grumpy the scholars hadn’t packed them up themselves, but on this particular evening, I was a happy observer.

I had two 6th graders, one 7th grader, two 8th graders and two freshmen from the High School of Technology (Tech). The latter two had come in to visit me and pick up younger siblings. Such is the usual crowd on a day specifically advertised “7th grade only HC”, but they were all well behaved so it was hard to turn them away.

At one point, someone began the discussion of “whose grade” and “whose work-load” was harder. It was humorous at first, hearing the 6th graders compare their no-homework to that of the freshmen complaining about all their papers and readings to have completed. Finally, one of the 8th graders had brought up how they thought their math couldn’t get any worse.

At this point it was almost 5:30 p.m. and HC, along with the rest of the after school programs, was wrapping up for the day. In that moment when I was putting those computers away, I noticed a silence filled the room where laughable chatter had been moments before. I turned around to see the two sixth graders sitting on desks staring at the board, where the others of my group went back and forth to the whiteboard doing quadratic equations.

“Are you really doing that right now?” I asked laughing.

“Yes!” said one of the freshmen.

“I’m showing her I can do her problems and I’m in a grade lower!” shouted an 8th grader. And he wasn’t far off.

At that point, I realized two things. The first: I’m probably not getting out of here on time. The second: They’re pushing themselves and each other. They’re learning. I nor anybody else are urging them to do so. Across three different grades they challenged themselves, and pushed each other until they all understood (or at least came close to) the problem, leaving their HC advisor standing aside speechless.

I didn’t leave the building until 6 that day, and had never been happier to do so.



A teaching from teens...
About 2 months ago, I had a Community Night for my young adult volunteer program, Amate House. We have these once a week to hear from different speakers presenting on various topics from faith to social issues and everything inbetween. On this particular night our speakers weren’t professors of education, members of legal clinics, Father Pfleger, or even the Archbishop of Chicago. No, instead we had two 8th graders from Perspectives Middle Academy. We’ll call them Kim and Britt.

The topic: stand up for peace.

For almost an hour, Kim and Britt showed Amate everything there was behind Perspective’s peace movement and the “I Am For Peace” documentary. They took turns speaking, posed questions to us, and even waited like a patient teacher until someone offered up a possible solution to the violence in our streets. It was really inspiring, and I loved seeing how blown away my fellow volunteers were from their presentation skills and charisma:

“Oh my gosh, they are so mature! I wish I was that well composed at that age!”

“Now I want to go to the Peace March!”

I’ve worked with these girls nearly every week for two years and I knew they were great, but it still caught me off guard seeing how they could capture and hold an audience and inspire others, no matter the age. Even after, they took questions and met one-on-one with other volunteers. They were celebrities!

Oh yeah, staff and volunteers from Amate absolutely loved marching…



Blast from the past…
With only three or four weeks left of school, I found myself revisited by a scholar of mine from last year, whom we’ll call Kenny. Now upstairs in Tech, Kenny was one of my usual scholars for most of last school year, and his capacity to show gratitude is one of the biggest reasons I ever started blogging. He is genuinely one of the sweetest kids you’ll meet, but his goofy antics have often distracted him. Because of this, his grades, particularly in pre-algebra, were always on the fence. Although he often drove me up the wall, I really felt a connection to Kenny.

On this particular day, Kenny seemed a bit distant. He’d told me a few days earlier that his grades had been iffy, so when I asked him again how the end of his freshman year at Tech was going, he looked away saying, “not too good.” He then told me that, once again, math was giving him a hard time: he was failing. “Kenny, I have Homework Club (HC) after school for the next few weeks. Lately my crowds have been small, so come after school and maybe we can wrap this year’s grades on a positive note.”

I would see him intermittently outside of school on the way to my car, and would make a point to remind him I was there if he needed it. “Ahh, I forgot” he’d say shyly.

With two days left in HC, and really only a week left of classes, I see Kenny coming to me in the middle school’s hallways. “Can you help me with my practice test?” Way to wait til the last minute, I thought.

“Alright,” I said. “When’s the real test?”

“Tomorrow.”

I could have killed him. “Kenny! I told you 3 weeks ago to start coming to me for help! You’re coming to me NOW?!” No sooner had the words left my mouth than I had one of those “a-ha” moments I think most first time teachers, parents, or really any adults dealing with kids go through: that was 100% me when I was younger.

We worked for a good hour or so. Having struggled with that same math when I was in highschool, I left feeling a bit nervous about how much I was able to help.

Again, I didn’t see him for almost a week after that.

On the last day for students, in between homeroom parties and award ceremonies, I was sad to think I’d be saying bye to so many kids I’d worked with and gotten to know the past few years. It so happens that one of those kids I’d be most saddened to leave was standing at the exit as I left that day.

“Hey, Mr. Tortelli!” Kenny’s face did one of those immediate happy-to-sad transitions. “This is it, huh?”
“Yeah, bud. Here, walk with me to my car.” I had a handful of my desk belongings and a bag full of snacks from a classroom party. “Carry this for me, would ya?”

As we walked, I asked him how his test went. “I don’t know what I got on it, but my final overall grade was passing.”

“Way to go, man. I’m proud of you!”

We reached my car shortly after. “Thank you, Mr. Tortelli” and he shook my hand.

“Anytime, Kenny.” He helped me pack my car.

I remembered I had that bag of snacks from the party. Kenny loves this junk, I thought. I reached in to grab Cheetos for him, and before I even turned around, Kenny had me in a bear hug. “Thanks for everything!”

Finally, I’d like to thank the staff. Although I can only speak of both the teachers I grew up with and those I’ve worked with in my short professional career, it's unlikely that there's a harder working, tough loving and more together-orientated group of educators than there is at Perspectives Middle Academy. And it’s not just them: from the paraprofessionals, assistants, counselors to the discipline team, the staff at PMA has inspired me over the past two years. I can’t tell you how much time and effort I see go into every aspect of these kids lives: giving second, third or more chances to troubled kids, coming in early or leaving late to give extra help, pushing scholars in class to think deeper, and just never giving up on them when others may look away. Although I certainly have a ways to go with my own work ethic, it’s been so influential being a part of the passion, care and dedication that this staff has presented. These kids will always remember the love you’ve poured into their success, as will this volunteer.

Thank you for everything, Perspectives. Long live A Disciplined Life!

-Danny Tortelli

This is the final installment of the TeacherAde blog. TeacherAde was a blog written by and about the day-to-day life of an interventionist and Amate House volunteer living the 26 principles of A Disciplined Life at Perspectives Middle Academy.