"[My manager] gave me my first token of knowledge by stating, "the first draft of anything is always going to be crap." This helped me take feedback and run to make sure that I am continuing to improve my projects."

June 30, 2020

Since my last post, life has changed quite a bit!

The key difference has been starting my internship with The Academy Group Chicago. As of now, I am on my fourth week working with them. I have finished my class I started in May, and started another class on June 15, focusing on Gender Portrayal in media. It has only been a week, but I already have some wild readings, and I am loving it so far.

My internship has definitely changed to move forward virtually. While I am not loving virtual meetings and my apparent spotty internet connection, I have been able to continue to grow my professional skills -- particularly in presenting information publicly.

My first project was to create a business deck and present it to the Chicago team. This project pushed me into making appointments with staff members, reaching out first, constructing some data, and finally giving my presentation virtually. To help calm my nerves, I would definitely say I practiced my presentation at least twice a day while working on my PowerPoint. My manager has been accommodating the entire way, and really reaffirmed my work. The first draft I created was terrible, but my manager offered great advice to make my presentation better. He also gave me my first token of knowledge by stating, "the first draft of anything is always going to be crap." This helped me take feedback and run to make sure that I am continuing to improve my projects.

One of the hardest aspects of having an internship and taking summer classes has been finding time to relax. I have realized being virtual means that work is always in your home. This means I have to stop answering emails at night and step away from my computer. Having this balance ensures that I continue to give my fullest efforts to my internship and class.

I am grateful to have these opportunities come my way, especially during a time when economic and racial inequalities have been heightened due to COVID-19 and the killings of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Oluwatoyin Salau, and Vicki Sims. I am also very honest with myself when I say that I have a privilege to be placed in these situations. I've been born into a level of privilege. I do not have to fear for my life, as Black folks in America have to every day. While fear has kept me from attending protests, I have been donating to grassroots organizations with any extra money I have in my wallet and continuing to educate myself to combat racism in myself and hopefully others.

"I believe that attending UIC will prepare my development into a well-qualified teacher capable of becoming an ally and advocate for my students."

May 29, 2020

I officially started summer school last week. I am taking a four-week and eight-week course at UIC to help complete a few of my class requirements for my major in Urban Education and my minor in Gender and Women's Studies. Currently, the course I am taking for the four-week session is Education 205: Race, Ethnicity, and Education. It has been a whirlwind of new information and long video lectures. But, I am loving every moment of it! Last week I analyzed and provided reasoning of why I want to be an educator. One of my answers was because I believe in quality education for all to have the opportunity to pursue their dreams. This week I'd like to analyze why I believe UIC is the perfect place for me to learn how to be a quality teacher for my future students.

UIC College of Education's Make Good Promise is to prepare quality and qualified teachers to enter urban schools with historically disadvantaged students of color. Our requirements have focus on the foundation of the education system and the lives of students of color. Specifically, we get into the bedrock of racism, ableism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination that have contributed to the development of the school system we see operating today. Many of my education classes ask for students to analyze education with several different lenses and ask how to make good on the promise of public education.

This form of education for teachers is essential to understanding how to better support students of color within our society. I can best put this into words by using my math professor, Danny Martin's words: "What does it mean to be a learner and doer of math in the context of being black?"

What does it mean to be an educator operating within a system that has been continuously placing students of color into disadvantaged positions? The critical aspect of creating quality teachers for historically disadvantaged students is by asking future educators to create a pedagogy that will empower students by becoming advocates for their education. My current professor, Dr. Torica Webb, continues this notion while setting the class's premise by us to understand the importance of learning about history in all its merits and engage in a discussion of its negatives. In this, she stated that we will understand the ideal that "different groups are all living different American lives." So discussing this, we can understand the underlying concept that our current education system wasn't created for all students. Which pretty hefty statement to make and dissect; however, it is a true statement. When Dr. Webb asked my fellow classmates and me to understand the importance of history, she was asking us to understand the foundation of the system that we will soon be joining. Continually, we are also learning about how to advocate for students for the betterment of public education.

I wholeheartedly enjoy and love UIC College of Education's mission. Many of my professors are immensely knowledgeable about the current education field and actively work towards the preparation of future educators. They also challenge and introduce wild concepts and ideologies within our classes to continue to push our own thought-processes and ideologies. I believe that attending UIC will prepare my development into a well-qualified teacher capable of becoming an ally and advocate for my students.  

"It's my inherent belief that everyone deserves a quality education and a chance to pursue their dreams despite their background or environment. Continually, I believe all in individuals seek situations and experiences that will aid in their development of knowledge aimed towards their dreams."

May 21, 2020

Many of my teachers were the ones who taught me this compassionate and holistic pedagogy through witnessing and experiencing their interactions with their students. I have the immense privilege to be able to attend college, and this probably wouldn't have been a possibility if I didn't have a group of educators consistently helping navigate secondary schooling. As a result, I hope to become a middle school teacher to aid in the exploration and attainment of my future students' dreams.

While on the path towards becoming an educator, I am often reminded of the long list of educators who have invested in my future, dating back to my first day at school. In particular, I think of my middle school and high school teachers and the number of conversations I've had concerning my future. During middle school, my language arts teacher, Ms. Loza, was one of the most impactful teachers. Her genuine attitude and praise were always something that stuck to my development of worthiness. Continually, the teachers at my high school always ensured that I was well-equipped to succeed in the future by making time for conversations about my future and my current passions. Many of them still keep in contact with me and are always cheering me on from the sidelines. My teachers have impacted my sense of self and worthiness in a way that makes a difference every day. It was the collective community of educators that made college a real possibility; however, it was an internship working with freshman high school students that made me realize my passion for education.

During my internship with The Academy Group Chicago, I had the chance to work with high school students to aid in the summer programming by becoming another support system for our students. It was such an amazing experience! The students were very ambitious and brought their authenticity to the table. It made the entire group energy feel amazing and encouraging. It was incredible to be able to witness their journey of growth within that summer, including having the courage to talk in public, creating an amazing community with each other, and learning and asking questions about social justice. I have the privilege to continue to be able to see them from time-to-time throughout the school year. I continue to be amazed by their accomplishments and growth. Continually, my work as a student-teacher within an elementary school has allowed me to have a small look into my future profession through my one-on-one time with my students. My time with these students has shown me how much I love interacting and aiding in the development of young minds. I have the opportunity to be apart of the rough times of the learning process with my students, and I cannot describe the feelings I get when my students walk out with a new tool or outlook on a lesson. While COVID-19 has taken my time away from them currently, I am excited for the next school year to get the chance to work with students again.

I am very conscious while discussing my future career plans within the education field to expand my working ideal of what it means to be an educator. I maintain close contact with those working in the education sector to obtain mentorship and guidance during the rough parts of becoming an educator. Continually, I understand the importance of teachers coming from similar backgrounds and cultures as the students within the districts I hope to work with in the future. Many of the educators I currently keep in contact with are not afraid to shed light on the tough parts of what it means to be an educator with the greater Chicago schooling system. As a result, I try my hardest to understand and become an ally to many of the young scholars within my professional pursuits. I am genuinely passionate about education because I believe that all young people deserve the right to have a fighting chance to obtain their dreams.

"Reflection allows us to create new meaning from previous events." 

May 14, 2020

Self-reflection has been one of my go-to tools for understanding my life in different ways since I was a high schooler. I've been able to analyze and create a new way of seeing and understanding several of my life's big moments by simply sitting down and reflecting. This could include sitting down and doodling or painting, having a coffee with a close friend, having a mental conversation with myself, or simply writing down my thoughts. Self-reflection is an immensely valuable tool for individuals to develop because it allows us to grow and create new meaning from past events.

Amidst the pandemic, I've realized the key role of continuous self-reflection to ensure I am doing my best at staying happy during these uncertain times. I hope to use this blog post as a means to encourage others to self-reflection during the quarantine.

First, I ask myself what I am working towards and whether or not I am working towards that goal. I often work towards the preservation of happiness and comfort in myself and those around me. I often encourage individuals to envision what their goal is and free-write this answer.

Next, I ask myself what the main topics coming from this free write are. I consider these topics to be sub-goals. For example, my goal of the preservation of happiness and comfort means I want to make a difference in others' lives. I want to live in authenticity. I work towards forgiveness from myself and others. And, I always try to create space for others to be comfortable with being themselves. The creation of a larger goal and several sub-goals will give your self-reflection a direction and help create a new meaning that fits into your world. It's important to understand that sometimes reflection is a long and difficult process because the essential aspect of reflection is being vulnerable and honest.

Becoming vulnerable and honest is hard. I often encourage those around me to forgive themselves during this process because reflection tends to bring out old emotions that were stored away. It's crucial to embrace vulnerability because emotions are signs that we are human. I'd like to point out that sometimes it takes forever to be comfortable with being vulnerable, and that's perfectly okay. Vulnerability is scary, but working towards it consciously and slowly is always better than never trying.

It is also important to find others that you trust to talk about your reflections and gain more perspective. It's helpful to remember that you don't always have to take someone's advice. Acknowledging and respecting others' time and knowledge is important, but that does not mean it always fits into your world.

Reflection allows us to create new meaning from previous events. Ask yourself: what does this mean moving forward?

Along with reflection comes action. When we ask ourselves what this means moving forward, we are asking how to implement our new meaning into our lives. Actions give your new meaning power. It's vital after deciding how to incorporate steps into your life to set accountability. I've found success in asking loved ones to check in with me every so often. Practicing forgiveness with yourself. Not sticking with an action plan is not terrible, but maybe you want to find a better way to incorporate your new meaning into your world. That's perfectly okay.

Self-reflection has been one of the most useful tools I've developed to help navigate tough situations in my life. During the creation of the new normal, I suggest trying to incorporate self-reflection into your daily life to ensure you are doing your best to support and uplift you during these uncertain times.  

"Aiding in the success of others is the norm of our campus. Whether it's looking over essays, giving each other notes, or figuring how to work the janky computers at the library, we support each other."

May 8, 2020

Since my last On the Line post, I can officially announce that I am done with classes! It feels really great and odd to say because of how fast the semester went after the switch to online instruction. As a result of finishing the semester, I've decided to reflect upon my college journey so far. 

My college journey started off with me dropping out of college after three weeks at a separate institution. I remember feeling scared, disappointed, and a little bit of relief. My fantastic Bottom Line Advisor, Marisa, was cheering me on from the sidelines. It gave me some confidence that everything would work out. After I made the tough decision to drop out of college, Marisa was quick to find resources and help me navigate life after leaving the institution. I am so thankful that I was able to be able to smoothly transfer into the University of Illinois at Chicago for the 2019 spring semester.     

After having a second start at UIC, I began to realize that I was at the very place I was supposed to be. My classes were terrific, and I felt connected to my instructors, who had so much passion for their students. I enrolled in UIC the same semester as the Graduate Employee Organization (GEO) strike that was demanding livable wages, waivers towards the tuition fees, and many other important requests from the institution. Thankfully, they reached an agreement with the administration, including a higher salary. I bring this up because I was introduced first-hand to the community within UIC that thrives from solidarity among its members through the 2019 GEO strike. This energy has proven to me that the community of students, teaching assistants, and instructors are consistently working together to ensure the needs of those most vulnerable are met. 

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, my instructors and teaching assistants have shown so much compassion and empathy to their students. Additionally, students advocated the administration to push towards a Credit/Non-Credit grading system that won't harm students' GPA and transcripts due to the lack of resources available. My student organization, Student Education Association, was asked to endorse the list of demands. Our organization looked at them with a critical eye to ensure that everyone's concerns would be addressed. 

The level of support our community gives to each other is one of the greatest aspects of our institution. While I am only highlighting the larger policy change our community has advocated for in the past, I am unable to put into words the ways we support each other individually. For example, the other day, I helped my peer who confided in me how COVID-19 has profoundly impacted her. She was unable to attend our online lectures and make time for her homework because of her family's health and additional hours at her job. My first reaction was to give her my notes, provide her with tips for homework, offer to make space on to answer any questions about the class, and lastly, acknowledge her struggles during this time. I know that had my peer gone to any other person in our class, they would've reacted the same. Aiding in the success of others is the norm of our campus. Whether it's looking over essays, giving each other notes, or figuring how to work the janky computers at the library, we support each other. 

I could probably rave on and on about UIC and it's incredible culture. But UIC is not perfect. We still need improvements (i.e., gender-neutral bathrooms, increase in access towards vital resources, and better WiFi connection). Our community is always working hard to support each other by advocating for these improvements. 

The start of my college journey was difficult and hard to navigate, but now I've realized that I am exactly where I want to be. COVID-19 has shown me the beauty in our communities. But, it has also taught me how we need to create better systems. We need to ensure the success of the students, including those who come from unstable homes and deal with consistent food insecurity. 

Lastly, I'd like to challenge the readers of this post. Reflect and ask yourself whether you are supporting those most vulnerable amid the current COVID-19 pandemic. 

"While I wish there was some definitive answer for how long quarantine will last, taking everything day-by-day and continuous self-reflection is the best advice I could give to my fellow students."

April 30, 2020

My name is Elizanena Ibarra. I am born and raised in Chicago. Currently, I attend the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in Urban Education with high hopes of graduation in December of 2022. I’ve been part of Bottom Line since I was a high school student, and I am now participating in the Bottom Line’s Success Program.

On March 18, my institution announced that all classes would become online classes. The institution gave students an extra week of Spring break to give instructors time to plan out their lessons remotely. It was an uncertain time because this would be my first experience with online instruction. Many of my assignments were pushed forward, making many of my assignments due on the same date. However, I took the additional time off to apply to scholarships, get back in touch with some of my classmates, and plan for my new school schedule. Since classes have restarted, I’ve found many of my instructors to be compassionate, with many providing additional office hours and material of instruction. Additionally, I’ve maintained a schedule that has helped make sure I am on top of all of my assignments. While the change of instruction was somewhat sudden, I’ve been able to adapt to online instruction by readjusting when necessary. 

While I’ve been able to find some balance during this time of uncertainty, finding that balance was challenging. 

The first week back was tough. I had trouble learning how to forgive myself when something was not done on time. This included not being able to complete an assignment on time or forgetting to start cooking at dinner time. I realized that sometimes I had to forgive myself and continue forward. So, if I’m eating dinner at 10 p.m. or turning in an assignment right at 11:59, then I’ve done well. This new mindset has allowed me to relax, and now I’m starting on tasks earlier because I’m not anxious about timing. Forgiving and processing emotions go hand-in-hand, so practicing these with my classwork has spilled into other sectors of my life, including my professional development.

The global pandemic has made several of my professional pursuits disappear, including a job at a summer camp working with students and a week externship opportunity with Bottom Line. It was tough to process the abrupt cancellation of these opportunities, but I continued to self-reflect and process my emotions. 

Painting has become a way to calm down and think through my next steps. So far, I’ve painted about six canvas and a new tray for my candles. As a result of my painting zen, I reached out to several members of my network and pursued a Bottom Line opportunity. 

While I wish there was some definitive answer for how long quarantine will last, taking everything day-by-day and continuous self-reflection is the best advice I could give to my fellow students.