22 June 2010

road trip!

I left the Rio Grande Valley this morning, heading north on my way back to New York to leave my car with my parents.

Although I'm sad to be leaving the Valley,

I'm looking forward to going tubing with friends along the Guadalupe River near San Antonio,

stopping in Austin to take care of some work Visa paperwork,

checking out Palo Duro Canyon State Park in the Texas panhandle,

stopping in Houston to take care of some more work Visa paperwork,

relaxing in the Hot Springs National Park in Arkansas,

checking out the caves at Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky,

admiring the view at Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee,

creeping through the swamp at Congaree National Park in South Carolina,

spending time with family in North Carolina,

climbing mountains at Shenandoah National Park in Virginia,

and finally, visiting my parents in Ithaca, New York, before I take off for Costa Rica!
It's not exactly the most direct route, I know, but I have the time now to visit these places, and I think it'll be a great way to see some of the country before I leave. I have some posts scheduled for while I'm gone, so be sure to check in!

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21 June 2010

background check

Some of you have requested that I keep you updated on my move to Costa Rica, so this post is in response to those requests. I'll have more student cuteness/amazingness stories later this week. Since the school year ended, I've been getting ready to move to Costa Rica. Of course, I've been doing a lot of packing, putting things in storage, canceling my utilities, and saying goodbye to my friends and favorite places around the Rio Grande Valley. Probably the craziest part of this process, however, has been getting all of my Visa paperwork processed. Really all I need is to get my birth certificate and background check clearance letter authenticated by a Costa Rican consulate or embassy. I will then take these papers with me to Costa Rica, where my employer will use them to procure a work Visa for me. Sounds pretty simple, right?

In reality, it has been totally nuts (and pretty hilarious)! After three visits to two local police departments, a broken-down car, a trip to the county Department of Public Safety (DPS), and a night-time fingerprinting session at a local jail, I think I'm finally on my way to getting all of this paperwork taken care of. Allow me to explain...

The birth certificate wasn't really a problem; I just had my sister mail it from New York to a friend I'm staying with on my way to the consulate. The background check has been another matter. Word on the street was, to get my background check, I just needed to go to my local police department to have them print a "clearance letter" certifying that my record is clean, then get that notarized. When I went to the Palmview precinct on Friday, however, I learned that the woman in charge of printing these letters is on vacation...perhaps permanently. Her co-workers are not sure when (or if) she will return. Apparently, no one else can print out the necessary paperwork. What the what?!?! No worries, I thought; I'll just go to the precinct in the next town, Mission. En route to the Mission precinct, my [very old] car stopped working properly and its dashboard lights started flashing. Luckily, I ran into a good friend and former co-worker, E, on my way to the repair shop, and she offered to follow me to the repair shop and then drive me on my errands. What a pal!

When I arrived at the Mission police department, I learned that because I do not live in the City of Mission, that precinct can't print my clearance letter. Well, darn. I was directed to the DPS in McAllen, the next town over, to get my background check completed. After waiting in two lines at the McAllen DPS, I received the form to put my official fingerprints on, rather than my actual background check. I would have to go back to the police department to get my fingerprints taken, and then send off the form to the state background check people in Austin.

Whew! Finally I was getting somewhere. Only problem is, that process takes about two weeks, and my appointment with the Costa Rican consulate in Houston is a mere four days away. Oh, and, I don't currently have a mailing address, as I'm in the process of moving and will not be in the same place for more than two days any time over the next three weeks. And after that, I'll be leaving the country. I decided that I will send off the fingerprints and have the background check mailed directly to the consulate, who will authenticate it and mail it back to my parents' house. It makes me a little nervous that some of these documents could get lost in the mail, but I guess it's my only option at this point. As a backup, I'm planning to go back to the Palmview precinct later today and beg them to print my local clearance letter so I can take that to the consulate myself on Friday.

Anyway, to get the state background check ball rolling, I called the Mission police department to find out their fingerprinting hours. Our conversation went as follows:
Me: I'm calling to find out the hours that I can get my fingerprints taken for an overseas work Visa.
Man: You can't come in right now, because we're really busy.
Me: Oh, that's fine. When could I come in?
Man: You can just call right before you want to come in, and if we aren't busy, we'll squeeze you in. 9:00 p.m. will probably work.

Ok, good enough. In the meantime, my friend E dropped me off to pick up my newly-repaired car, I went out to eat with some friends, and otherwise killed time. Things were looking up. Shortly before 9:00, I called the Mission police department again to find out if I could, in fact, go in then to get my fingerprints taken. The man I spoke with responded, "Yes, Miss, you can come in at 9:00, but we might be kind of busy, because we might be releasing all the prisoners then." Hmm. Not sure how to respond to that.

I drove over to the police department and entered the main lobby. All the lights were turned off, but the room was partially illuminated by the cop show playing on the ceiling-mounted TV. Clearly, I was not in the right place. I re-speed-dialed my new BFF at the Mission PD to find out where exactly I needed to go for the fingerprinting, and he directed me to the jail, where the jailer would take my prints.

In light of our earlier convo, I was a little nervous about the timing of this trip, but I decided to press on. I rounded the corner and tried to look tough as I strode up to the jailer to ask him to take my prints. I'm pretty sure I succeeded at looking thug life. We passed the newly-vacant cells on our way to the fingerprint room, where he took my prints and signed off on the card. Victory! And, bonus, he didn't even charge me!

After cleaning the ink off my hands with some gritty, orange-scented slime, I booked it out of there and headed home. Now, I'm off to the Palmview PD again to beg for my local clearance letter, just in case my state background check doesn't come in time. Do you think if I squeeze out a few tears, I can get someone other than the mysteriously absent woman to print it for me?

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14 June 2010

food revolution

Have you seen the show Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution? It wrapped up a while ago, but I really enjoyed watching it, as I witnessed something of a food revolution myself this year at my school. Towards the end of the school year, my school celebrated "Wellness Week." My school district's Child Nutrition Team organized this event, running healthy choice raffles at lunchtime, bringing our district's Wellness Coordinator into our classrooms to guest teach about the dangers of skipping meals and how to make healthy food choices, and hosting special after-school aerobics classes and other fun, healthy activities for the students.

Wellness Week was a great reminder of how hard the Child Nutrition Team works to keep our kids healthy, and what a great job they are doing of reaching that goal. The members of the Team have challenged themselves to meet very stringent dietary regulations for all the meals they serve, including avoiding serving chocolate and strawberry milks, which contain as much sugar as soda, serving juices that are free from artificial colorings and added sweeteners, and making sure all of the food groups are represented in every meal offered.

I've seen what a huge difference healthy eating habits can make in students' behavior and academic progress. At my last school, I would frequently see my students come into homeroom with neon red powder on their fingertips, a sure sign that they had eaten Flamin' Hot Cheetos for breakfast. (Are you familiar with the Flamin' Hot Cheeto sensation that's sweepin' the nation? If not, I assure you, it's only a matter of time before you, too, will start noticing the telltale dust coating the fingertips of the precious children around you.) Anyway, after refusing to eat the school lunch, my 5th graders would fill up on candy and more Flamin' Hots, would be completely wired for about the first 15 minutes after recess, and then would crash out for much of the afternoon. In contrast, at the school where I worked this past year, my students would finish most of their food (and IMO, it's no small accomplishment to get middle schoolers to finish a well-balanced meal), and their attention span would remain much more steady throughout the day, allowing us to get through class material much more productively. So, Kudos to the awesome people who make up the Child Nutrition Team, who have taken on, and defeated, the neon red-clawed beast that is the Flamin' Hot Cheeto!

I realize these stories are purely anecdotal, so if you would like more evidence regarding the relationship between healthy eating and academic success, check out this article about the link between diet and academic performance and this article about how some food additives raise hyperactivity. If that isn't enough, check out this transcript of an interview with children and school officials in Burbank, CA about the Flamin' Hot Cheetos craze, and some of its less-than-pleasant side effects. Bon appetit!

P.S.: If you haven't seen Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, the episodes are still available here. Shout-out to my college friend T, who goes to medical school at Marshall University in Huntington, WV (where the show takes place), and has a cameo appearance in one of the episodes!

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08 June 2010

all good things must come to an end

My school year ended on Friday. So did my time teaching in the Rio Grande Valley. On June 21st, I'll be leaving the Valley to move to San Jose, Costa Rica, to teach 4th grade. It's hard to know what to say about this change. Teaching in Costa Rica is something I've thought about doing for several years. It took a very rocky start to this school year to push me to go through with this plan and find a teaching job in Costa Rica. I love the natural beauty and culture of Costa Rica and am thrilled to have this chance to experience what it's like to live there. At the same time, although the RGV is not where I grew up, it is the first place I lived on my own and the place where I learned how to be an adult. For five years I have worked harder than I thought possible to teach my kiddos, and they have worked even harder than that to learn. The Valley is my home now, and leaving home is always hard. Right now, my time is filled with making last visits, saying goodbyes, and packing up my things to ship overseas, to put in storage, or to give to others. But I imagine that the reality of this move will set in soon. I'm glad that I have a lot to keep me busy for now.

In the coming months, I will definitely be writing about my life and work in Costa Rica. I'll also continue to write about my students and experiences in the Valley over the past five years. There are still many stories to be told.

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