Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Sheaux Fresh, the view from an 11-year old

Today group C (Heather, Aubrey, Amy, Steve, Matt Mc) and I (Kyle, Dr. Palmer's son who got to tag along on this trip) went into the Algiers section to visit and do a service-learning project with an urban farm run by Thaddeus Prosper. When we showed up things were not as I suspected, first I thought we would be weeding and working with plants but instead we were helping Thaddeus to make a sort of crib (to create a sort of raised area) for the plants out of old pallets.

We all had a job to do, some of us were shoveling dirt and mulch into the created cribs so they were ready for planting, the rest of us were making the cribs themselves. I enjoyed our time there being able to help out Thaddeus to finish the things he needed to grow the new plants. It was a lot of fun with a great dinner afterwards. Then after avoiding traffic we headed back to the gym for some well deserved rest.

I believe that Thadeus's idea for starting his urban farms was noble and helping. He told us that he started his two farms/gardens to help provide fresh food easily for the people in the area around him that do not have any other way to get at these healthy foods. I enjoy Thaddeus as a person because he is very passionate and determined to help everyone around him.

Andreas Hoffman, Green Light New Orleans

Youth Rebuilding New Orleans

Today a group of us were given the chance to work with the Youth Rebuilding New Orleans group and help with some finishing touches on a house for a local teacher and her family.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Traveling to New Orleans

Van Group "C" subsequently named "FIPs" stopped enroute in Cairo, Illinois. Cairo (pronounced CAY-roh) is located at the confluence of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. We left in blowing snow and by Cairo it was still in the mid-40s. Traveled as far as Grenada, Mississippi on the first day.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Back to New Orleans!

Fourteen of us start the 17-hour drive to New Orleans this morning. Winds are howling in Kalamazoo and tornadoes have ravaged large swaths of the south so we'll keep our fingers crossed that conditions are better today.

I posted to Facebook yesterday that class is excited about the trip and a number of MGMT 4000 alum from last year wished us well but also said they were jealous. For good reason! We've got nine interviews set up and, in addition, we'll be working on two different service events Tuesday afternoon. We'll also be going back to visit Turner at "Our School at Blair Grocery" in the Lower 9th.

In the meantime, it's time to double check the packing list and hope that everyone shows up at 7:45 for the 8:00 departure!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

KIPP New Orleans Leadership Academy

Thanks again to Sarah Usdin for getting us in touch with Delano Ford, Chief Operating Officer of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) New Orleans Schools. And thanks to Delano as well for his time in giving four of us a informative tour through a KIPP charter school.
While Dr. Palmer stayed in the minivan to grade papers, those of us that are working on a project to benefit the Kalamazoo Promise alongside with Associate Director of the Promise, went inside to explore each of the three levels of schools, ranging from elementary on the 1st floor to high school and the 3rd. Not only did we witness the school's condition considering the hurricane disaster, but we studied this school's environment, unfortunately after class had been let out for the day, and interviewed Delano with aspirations to bring back some of the spirit that school had, and some of their techniques; like the three prong commitment in which the teachers, parents, and students commit to do their best to get to and through college and use them for recommendations in the Kalamazoo Promise community awareness project. Parts of the community feel it really may be too good to be true. This reoccurring issue with the presentation of Kalamazoo Promise information and material may be a big part of the problem, and changing it is the solution. The way the Promise is sold to its customers, which include the parents, the students, and the teachers has to change is such a fashion that it appeals to them. Why is it that we want the KPS children to be awarded this college scholarship. What is it we believe; is it the children we believe in that will one day graduate from Universities in Michigan and make discoveries, advances, and changes in our community or to build a business. Many of the techniques used to prepare students in KIPP schools for college are applicable to our Kalamazoo Promise project in a way that if the New Orleans schools had the Promise for free of charge college tuition and/or increasingly more paid for the longer you have been part of their public education system, they would be growing exponentially faster compared to the leaps and bounds pace they are growing at now. I hope with that speculation, you may be saying to yourself, wow, Kalamazoo is privileged to have this opportunity, for its next generation to go on to University...and become part of the new Michigan academia.
In reference to how in which a student is readied for college and beyond, a constant element from the student's viewpoint is the teacher who is there everyday with them in the classroom. KIPP acknowledges that their teachers "feel it" more than anything, and that there is no identifier for a teacher's ability to get a student to and through college. It is also much about belief, in that if a teacher believes a student can learn at high levels despite where they come from, then as a teacher, you are going to put in your all because you believe in that student. Secondly, because as a teacher you are responsible for making sure the student is getting everything he/she needs, subsequently the ability to create a relationship with parents is very important, especially in explaining things that affect their child's college outcome, for example, how the student's ACT score needs to be at a certain level to earn a full ride to University, which means as a parent you don't pay, so making sure that their child attends an ACT prep class on a Saturday is crucial for both you and for the student. This parent-teacher relationship isn't just for telling parents when their child has cut class or gotten into trouble, but letting them what is going on with their child in the classroom, and how they are coming along. Bringing together all three of parties responsible for getting a student to and through college is a very smart thing to do because of the increased communication happening between all parties, and as a result of this increased communication is coming forth a more cohesive effort in attaining the desired outcome.
KIPP schools share a core set of operating principles known as the five pillars: high expectations, choice and commitment, more time, power to lead, and focus on results. From the very first year in school, kindergarten students know they will be part of a collegiate graduating class in 2*** (whatever year they are expected). From middle school on, rigorous education in preparation for college starts and in this schools case, classrooms named after colleges in which the teacher had attended. Testing and more generally measuring is both crucial and routine within KIPP schools. The readiness of a student for college is measured on their ability to 1: Succeed (GPA), 2: Pay (ACT), and 3: Persist (less measurable like extra curricular activities). They also strive to make standardized tests more fun for the students. KIPP feels that the earlier the students are exposed to the measuring that takes place from middle school on up, the better 'feeder' students they have coming into their middle and high schools. They reason that someone would care about this is because it has been measured that when students who aren't as rigorously trained enter a KIPP school, there is a gap in readiness and a period that follows in which teachers must catch up children who are not as adequately prepared as they would have been within an elementary using the same techniques pursued at higher levels.
One of the teachers' rooms in this particular high school we visited had something I found interesting; it was a more interactive working environment, more so than a normal teacher conference or lounge room might be. And this one had on the wall an entire records system where students are measured in various categories based on a scale developed themselves to which they could compare progress of each others' students. This idea was most fascinating to me because it allowed teachers to openly brainstorm solutions for their students with each other based on measurable figures and past experiences not necessarily measurable.
There is something about being a charter school that allows for natural selection to take place, and people find out which schools are the highest quality, and thus those schools have waiting lists and others lose enrollment.
I truly feel privileged to work both on the Kalamazoo Promise project and had been connected with the resources the team has been engaged with thus far in this semester. I think that the Kalamazoo Promise needs to discover a new way to motivate the community, especially the teachers, parents, and students in which people spread the word about why because kids graduating from Kalamazoo Public School (KPS) Systems will have potentially 100% of their in-state Michigan college tuition paid for. Furthermore, instead of essentially yelling at people the rules and benefits, the haves and have-nots associated with the Promise, in addition to explaining why the program is great, also explain how the program will administer scholarships. Lastly, and least important, let them know more broadly how much for each additional year in attendance at KPS tuition is covered in the scholarship. This idea of marketing to people in such a fashion as explaining why and how someone does what they do is a concept adopted by this man on the following video link (long video, but worth it).

Dinner with Sarah Usdin

Tuesday evening, we were hosted for dinner by Sarah Usdin. Sarah spoke with our class during the orientation meeting Monday morning. Her passion for ensuring all children are given the opportunity for a quality education made a strong impression on the class. Sarah is founder and CEO of New Schools for New Orleans and was in the second graduating class of Teach for America.

For dinner, Sarah ensured we were exposed to the best of Louisiana. We had fish stew over rice, Barq's root beer, strawberries from Ponchatoula (LA), Zapp's potato chips, pralines, King Cake, and Abita beer. As well, Sarah rounded up several Michiganders currently living in New Orleans to provide a midwesterner's view of living in the Big Easy. After dinner, the group gathered around her dining room table to have our daily debriefing. Thank you Sarah!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cafe du Monde, Compliments of the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation

Dr. K.C. O'Shaughnessy, director of Haworth's Center for Entrepreneurship, felt a day in the Vieux Carre (French Quarter) wouldn't be complete without a stop at Cafe Du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait (coffee with half and half and hot milk). The place was hopping because of Mardi Gras and the steady downpour of rain. Between the coffee and pounds of powdered sugar coating the beignets, the group was primed to spend their last day in New Orleans shopping, eating local food (po-boys, gumbo, muffaletta sandwiches, red beans and rice) and listening to music. Thank you Dr. O'Shaughnessy!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Images of New Olreans

Students: post here your favorite pictures that capture the spirit of New Orleans through your eyes.

A Word from Our Drivers

Our wheels for the New Orleans trip have been three Chrysler product minivans. Rather than rely on boring names such as "Van 1", each has acquired a unique name that fits the personalities of its occupants. The first, driven by Tim, is the "FunVee". I think everyone agreed it was the most entertaining of the vans. The second driven by Louann is the "Relaxi-Taxi". Mostly, it's occupants slept. The third, driven mostly by Taylor and Sean, was clearly the "cool van" and was called the Black Widow. Kyle, our ten year old mostly preferred to ride with the cool guys who treated him like a little brother.

We split the drive down to New Orleans into two segments. Day 1 was a 10-hour drive from WMU to Memphis. The route took us down the backbone of Illinois (one very long state), across the Mississippi into Missouri, south to Ar-Kansas, then briefly into Tennessee before arriving at the Comfort Inn in Southaven, MS. Day 2 was a relatively short six hour drive into New Orleans.

While in New Orleans, Tim and Louann primarily acted as cab drivers dropping one fare off at their interview then shuttling a second team to their site, then returning to the first for a pick-up, etc. You get the point. We circled the Louisiana Superdome more times than we can count but also hit iconic New Orleans streets such as St. Charles, Poydras, Magazine, and Elysian Fields.

Thank you to all the drivers and those riding shotgun navigating with the GPS. Coleen will be happy to know our Enterprise vans are scratch free. Posted by Tim

(From left to right: The Fun-Vee, Tim, Chad, The Black Widow, Taylor, The Relaxi-Taxi, Louann & Marcus)

Friday, March 4, 2011


Tippy Tippens of Matter has launched the BirdProject to combat the environmental effects of the BP Gulf oil spill last year. The BirdProject is an idea where Tippy has developed soap in shape of bird and half the profits go to environmental foundations and non-profits in the area. Matter's mission which was founded by Tippens in November is to design products to further social causes and make enough money along the way to buy materials and pay rent.

The goal behind this ambitious product is too not only create a more sustainable environment, but to also make room for more product ideas in the future. Tippy Tippens came here in early September from Brooklyn, New York after seeing what harm the oil spill has done to the environment and wildlife in the area. The bird soaps which come in black right now are designed to signify the oil which covered the animals and after you have used the soap enough inside you will find a white ceramic bird to signify the cleanup efforts. Posted by Danny

Swim for Success

It is not surprising that children are afraid of water in New Orleans. The mission of Swim for Success, therefore, is to provide lessons to children of families who are otherwise unable to afford lessons, although Swim for Success is as much about children's mental health as their physical health.

Tanvi Shah of Tulane University explained to our team that 45 students currently donate an hour of their time, eight times a semester to build up kids' essential life skills like perseverance and trust. Currently the group uses a 1:1 ratio with the kids, aged four to 18. To be sustainable, however, the fully-operated student organization at Tulane will transition to a 2:1 student-teacher ratio. This has actually been proven to stimulate competition in the kids learning to swim.

Reflecting on this interview, I think it's great that the Tulane students care so much about the future of underprivileged youth in New Orleans. I hope Swim for Success will become more well known so that they can expand their work to make more use of local pools, as they only have access to one of the five pools in the area. Posted by David

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Crew of Muses Parade

Looking for parking in the crowded downtown, one would think the Hornets or the Saints won the championship game. To think the crowds came for their famous sports teams, you would be wrong. This event is bigger then both and only in its 11th year gaining a large response the citizens and tourist of New Orleans. People from far away places to come to see this magical experience if the Krewe of Muses Parade.

Beginning in 2000 with its all female Krewe members, it continues to bring award winning parades to brighten up the city at night. Each year the Muses honor a woman who has made a contribution to the New Orleans community. This year Mary Matalin received the special honor by the Muses who quickly got involved within the city after moving to New Orleans in 2008.

Being college kids from the north we had no idea what to expect about the Muses Parade. We thought of basic floats with Mardi Gras beads and a crowded downtown street. Within minutes of being at this amazing extravaganza we all knew this was what the Mardi Gras parades were about, with gorgeous floats that gained standing ovations. Even the beads that the Muse's float had were extra ordinary, from shoe bracelets to actual adult shoes that sparked the crowd's attention. Unlike when fans leave before the event has ended to avoid traffic, towards the end more fans joined to watch the finish of the parade.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Composting and Worm Eating

Today everybody went to Our School at Blair Grocery. Unfortunately, Nat Turner was out of town, but his students and interns showed us around. We also helped compost in the garden as our physical service event in New Orleans! Even though it got a littly chilly, we still had fun.

Here's a video of us eating worms!!

Today my group met with Ed Buckner who is one of the co-founders of The Porch Cultural Organization located in the 7th Ward . This organization works with elementary and middle school kids to develop projects that will get them to learn more about New Orleans and specifically their neighborhood. Ed had an amazing story about how he got involved with the kids to help keep them off the street and get into things such as digital media, art, and Mardi Gras parades. The kids also write and perform plays in which they perform in different areas around the city.

Our School at Blair Grocery

On Monday, we visited Our School at Blair Grocery in the Lower 9th Ward. Our School at Blair Grocery is an independent alternative school and sustainability education center. The school educates local teenagers and provides after-school programs. The goal is to combine sustainability thinking with GED-prep education to work towards ending hunger, and building a profitable grocery/food enterprise in the area to drive sustainable community development in the Lower 9th Ward.

The organization is run by Nat Turner and consists of 7-10 volunteers/interns. Turner has watched this develop over the last two years. The GED-prep is taught in a classroom in their building. The sustainability education is developed through the small farm surrounding the property. The kids and volunteers spend everyday composting, planting, building, and harvesting all the different types of vegetables being grown. They have five sectors that drive their farming success. Each person involved rotates through different responsibilities to learn every aspect of growing. When the food is ready to be distributed, they sell it at farmer's markets, to local restaurants, to national and international food distributors, and the local community.

This is an incredible organization that is making a huge impact on the lives of children and teenagers in the Lower 9th Ward. They are quickly becoming the backbone to the recovery and future development of the Lower 9th Ward. We had an incredible time meeting with Turner and are planning on taking the entire group down there later this week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Body Evolution

We met with Tom Fischmann of Body Evolution yesterday at the Launchpad, a work community (a.k.a. a start-up accelerator) in downtown New Orleans in which entrepreneurs, freelancers, and people working for out-of-town companies can work and together support and learn from each other in this very inviting workspace. Spaces are rented by communal desks, private desks, and private offices. The mission is to create a community that supports entrepreneurship, innovation, career growth, and most importantly making New Orleans a better place.

Body Image Project
The mission of Body Evolution is simple, but the problem is complex. The idea is to change the way people perceive their bodies, and subsequently, how they care for themselves. The constant pressure from not only media, but peers as well to have a certain body type make it a struggle to feel confident in being happy and productive in their individual pursuits of good health. The more I learned about this project, the more my expectations were shattered. I am amazed at the potential this organization has. They are currently awaiting results from beta testing with 100K college students and hope to eventually penetrate the consumer market with the introduction of programs and applications aimed to use popular media channels to grab the attention of their target market and provide them with the service of changing their perception of their bodies. The information is absolutely critical to help prevent health-related disease and illness and thwart the high costs of reactive health care. Posted by David

Leading Educators

Leading Educators is a training curriculum that combines exposure, training, and support to build the skillfulness of mid-level teacher-leaders.The program is primarily designed to create not only teachers but leaders in education, helping develop a stronger scholastic system in New Orleans. Leading Educators is led by nationally recognized innovators in urban education and local practitioners. They provide formal training as well as intensive support for their members. Also, school trip visits are available adding experience for new teachers-leaders.

Grow Dat!

Grow Dat! is an organization that is geared towards developing leaders by having youth and adults grow food. They help and transform their communities as well as their environment by leading healthier lives. Founded by Johanna Gilligan, Grow Dat! is a fairly new organization on a small area of land located in the Hollygrove Market. They hope to someday expand their land so that they can grow more crops as well as house farm animals.

Backstreet Cultural Museum

The Museum's mission is to present and preserve the unique cultural traditions of New Orleans African American society, including Mardi Gras Indians, Jazz funerals, and Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs.

Sylvester Francis the founder tells the group about his life long experiences with the New Orleans culture with a physical piece of history for each memory. In a creole' cottage in the heart of the city he and the community share their culture to future generations and to visiting tourist. The Backstreet Museum is wealthy with artifacts from Mardi Gras costumes to footage of past parades. Being the only museum of its kind it brings a continuous growth to the city.


Baobob is a tremendous social venture. The program is to get 6-8th graders in New Orleans to venture out of their comfort zone. What happens is they raise money to take trips outside of New Orleans and even the U.S. to broaden their horizons and overcome fears, experience living in a different culture, and dealing with language barriers to make them better educated people. Lisa Giarratano was the interviewee for Baobob. She told us many amazing things about Baobob, but two stories really stuck out at me.

First is the first trip they took with 8 students. They went to the Dominican Republic and were housed with families there. The adults were in one house and the kids were in another, so the kids had to work together and even work individually to overcome barriers like the Dominican food style, their language, how they live within their households. It was a terrifying, but extremely beneficial experience for these kids. Lisa said they started in the city to get them comfortable and then moved into the mountains. This absolutely scared the kids, especially when they went to a cave to climb down and explore. After the initial shock the students took advantage of their opportunity and had a blast! The last thing about this story Lisa said was that the students changed from day one leaving the trip to when they came home in how they acted. (In a positive way!)

The second story is where the name Baobob came from. Baobob is an African tree that the roots grow as long as its branches do. Which represents that there is an equality in what you give to yourself and what you give to the world. This program does just that to the fullest capacity. Making the name Baobob a perfect fit!

This program is something they want to keep locally in New Orleans as of right now. Baobob is getting kids to other countries, but also to help out in their own community. This is the part that really will help these students in the long run. Baobob is taking kids that if not lead in a positive direction could end up dealing drugs, being alcoholics, becoming a member of a gang. Baobob is changing childrens lives and it can only go up from here! Posted by Chad

Drop The Chalk

Drop The Chalk was founded by Jen Schnidman. Being a former teacher, her main goal for Drop The Chalk is to get teachers away from spending tedious amounts of time recording data that could otherwise be spent on tutoring kids, making lesson plans, etc. She has an ambitious goal to change the teaching methodology, which has already been proven successful because her system has been implenmented into 15 charter schools in the New Orleans area. Her favorite part about Drop The Chalk is the limitless ability to make an impact in the teaching industry, motivate her teams members, and to make her vision a reality.

Monday: Liberty's Kitchen

On Monday, a group went to visit with Janet Davas, owner of Liberty's Kitchen. Basically it is a small local restaurant in the downtown area. There are a few neat things about this particular business. Everyday, Liberty's Kitchen feeds over 600 elementary students breakfast, lunch and a snack. They have a full coffee bar and dining area, but the employees make Liberty's Kitchen really unique.

Janet runs a program where employees, primarily high school drop-outs, must be enrolled to obtain their diploma or GED. The business will subsidize some needs these participants may have such as child care. Not only will her employees have an education when they are done with the program, they will also have skills that apply to culinary jobs as well as leadership skills. Since she founded the program, more than 160 youth have participated. This showed us that many our society assumes desire to go nowhere in life share the same desire for education the rest of us do.

Janet has made changes in the community but she told us she will feel accomplished when there is no longer a need for her program because youth are being served by New Orleans' public schools. Her saying is, "There is no excuse for not having an education."

Monday, February 28, 2011

Wifi Enabled: We are ready to blog!

We were able to get the Wi-Fi up and running tonight so we will all be contributing to the blog consistently now throughout the week!

After leaving Memphis Sunday morning, Van 3 aka The Black Widow as named by the van's occupants, ventured to Graceland to take pictures of the birthplace of Elvis before making the drive south to New Orleans.

Part of the tradition of Graceland is to write on the wall at the front gate to prove you were there. Van 3 did just that.

Here are a few others from Graceland...

SENO and New Orleans overview with Andrea Chen, Leslie Jacobs, and Sarah Usdin

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Crewe of Thor Parade

Our first Mardi Gras parade was an experience. In Kalamazoo, parades aren't nearly as interactive as what we saw here. We arrived when the parade was nearly done so we rushed to the curb and elbowed our way in. The atmosphere encouraged you to shout and scream and within 30 minutes we were loaded with beads, moon pies, whistles, bags, and cups. The longer we were there, the bolder we became. Jena begged for a set of beads with dollar signs. Mercedes scored a black and gold parade umbrella, and Tim nearly knocked out a grade schooler for an awesome set of beads adorned with a large flur de lis. More to parades to come on Wednesday.

Before then, however, we start our real work. We begin at 8:00 with an overview from SENO's director, Andrea Chen. After two solid days of travel, it's going to be an early morning.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hello Memphis!

We have made it to Memphis!

All 19 of us piled into 3 vans and took off around 8:30 am EST from the Rec Center at WMU. We headed south through Indiana and Illinois in the morning. After stopping just north of Champagne, Illinois for lunch, we continued our travels through Arkansas and then into Tennessee where we arrived at our hotel in Memphis around 7:15 pm local time.

After checking into our hotel, we found an awesome local BBQ establishment, Central BBQ. It felt great to hang out with everyone and enjoy some great food!

We will be up bright and early in the morning to finish our trip down to New Orleans. More pictures to follow once we reach New Orleans.