Loving Tributes – My 2nd Grade Students

My second grade students thank the women in their lives with love, honesty, humor and heart…Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Me with some of my students, purest of hearts and their beautiful smiles...Go Angels!

Me with some of my students, purest of hearts and their beautiful smiles…Go Angels! May 20, 2014

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To My 2nd Grade Students: ‘I Believe In You and I Love You’

To my 2nd grade students,

When I first started teaching I did so because it was exciting and each day was always  different. I enjoyed the challenge of planning new lessons each week. I loved setting up my room at the beginning of each new year. I enjoyed the opportunity to find and read new books. I loved the anticipation of new faces, new names, and new families. I enjoyed the many stories you all would share with me. Little did I know that almost 14 yrs later my mission, my goal, my objective, my deepest desire would be for you all to know that you are loved. You make each hour I share with you the most trying, most unpredictable, most cherished, most comfortable, most honest, and most genuine six hours of my day.

Each day you show up full of energy, full of stories and each day I reflect on how best to show you, tell you that I love you. You need to know that each lesson, teaching math, language arts, science or social studies is really a lesson about life. Honestly, each lesson can help us understand how we are all connected. How we live. How we survive.

I have challenged and pushed you in so many ways and with each challenge you have inspired me with your tenaciousness and goodness. I realize there is so much more to your lives than the time we share at school. I know about your parents not having enough money to buy you shoes. I know about how cold you are at night because the blankets are not enough to keep the cold at bay. I know you are afraid to go to the park near your houses because of the shootings, drugs and harassment that happens there.  Please know your heartaches break my heart. Your worries, your fears, your tears rip me to shreds, leaving me wounded with scars that can tell each of your stories.

There are years, days even when I question myself and feel as though I am not doing you any good. I feel completely responsible for supplying you the necessary to tools to navigate life. The question ‘Am I making a positive, healthy difference?’ is a constant one.

But I know I am making a difference. I know this because I see your everyday random acts of kindness. I hear the kind, loving words that you use to lift up a friend or classmate. I see how you self-correct or give a heart-felt apology when you’ve hurt someone’s feelings. I see how you work so hard at making others feel a part of the classroom family. I see you sharing. I see you helping each other. I see empathize with others. I see your smile. I hear your laugh.  I see the light of genuine excitement and understanding in your eyes. I see the light of knowledge on your face. I see you giving and I see your love.

If the only thing you were to learn and know is that you are loved, then that is worth every ounce of effort in my body. You need to know you are all WORTH it!

I’ve asked you what love is. You each shared your thoughts with me in such beautiful ways. Know that I believe love is learning about yourself through others. Know that it’s because of your love I know who I am and I continue to learn and grow and experience more love because of you all.

I believe in you and I love you.

Your Teacher,

-J

Smiles and love to you. 12-20-2013

Smiles and love to you. 12-20-2013

My students and I put together theses videos as gifts to their families. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do. Wishing you all endless love, peace and joy.

I don’t want my students to always rely on being fed someone else’s stories. I want them to know they have the power and ability to tell their own stories. So as an extension activity to lessons we had done on land, water, pollution, contamination, kindness, giving, wants and needs  I asked them to dream BIG. To allow their imaginations to soar and show me what they could possibly dream up for the world they live in. We put this video together to share what they came up with and gifted it to their families.

This video features the songs: Imagine by John Lennon, Man in the Mirror by Michael Jackson, and Calling All Angels by Train

Our days have been jam packed with discussion after discussion and lessons on wants, needs, responsibility (the ability to respond), gratitude, giving, kindness, land, water, the earth, environment, pollution and contamination. The objective was: for my students to develop an understanding of the world around them. Define “gratitude & love” and practice experiencing and expressing gratitude. Define, model, and practice appreciation for another person and the natural environment. As an extension activity my students answered the following – When I think about ___________ I am happy. What does love look like? What is love? They drew out their responses and we put this video together as a gift to share with family and friends.

This video features the songs: Think Good Thoughts by Colbie Calliet, Where Is the Love? by the Black Eyed Peas

Writing without fear. Writing with love…

My 2nd Grade Students 2013-2014

My 2nd Grade Students 2013-2014

“Everyday Acts of Kindness” has been a constant topic of discussion in my second grade classroom since the start of the year. My class cubs are an extraordinarily amazing group of human beings. I’m in awe of the amount of cultural capital/forms of knowledge they bring to each discussion at such young ages. I could listen to them all day. Building on  “Everyday Acts of Kindness” we began a discussion about – Needs and Wants.

To introduce the concept we read the book, A Chair for My Mother. This is a heartwarming story about a family & the values of saving and working together towards a common goal after all their belongings are burned in a fire. To build on the theme of community & giving the author illustrates how friends and neighbors bring furniture to the new apartment. However, noticeably missing is a television, x-box, etc. As a class we discuss how the girl, who along with her waitress mother, save coins in a big jar in hopes that they can someday buy a big, new, comfortable chair for their new apartment — the kind of chair her mother deserves after being on her feet all day in the Blue Tile Diner. Into the jar also goes the money Grandma saves when she gets a bargain at the market.

It’s a good story that builds on our discussions of “Everyday Acts of Kindness” and “Giving”. After our discussion, I drew two large circle maps (Thinking Maps – used to brainstorm all of our thoughts about the concept of “Needs” and “Wants”). In the center of the circle map we wrote the topic we wanted to brainstorm. Some questions we wanted to answer were – What can we not live without? What are things we need to live? What does your heart need? What does your body need? If you can have anything in the world what would you want? We are still building on our thoughts and will add to the circle maps tomorrow. Tonight as part of their homework they need to ask their family – What are the families needs? They also have to come up with some ideas about what their community may need and what our earth needs? The families needs, communities needs, earth’s needs will be written into the circle map using a different white board marker color in order to aid in our ability to classify the needs. Throughout the week we will add more to our maps as we prepare to organize our thoughts and write a paper on “Needs” and “Wants” and what we each have the power to do in making our world a kinder place.

My 2nd graders spent some time brainstorming a few of their "Needs" & "Wants"

My 2nd graders spent some time brainstorming a few of their “Needs” & “Wants”

Adding to the Circle Map (brainstorming) 12-3-2013

Adding to the Circle Map (brainstorming) 12-3-2013

Recording what he believes he & others may need.

Recording what he believes he & others may need.

There have been moments in my life that have been extremely challenging and I have struggled. I’m not perfect, however with each challenge (I now view these challenges as pathways) I have discovered the power gratitude can have in my life – it all began with realizing I can not control circumstances, events or anyone BUT myself. With each pathway I’ve clung to cultivating an attitude of gratitude and have expected myself to extend that further into my everyday actions and thoughts. So now that my student’s actions are springing from a desire to be kind and show kindness to themselves and others I want them to realize that they are not too young and no act of kindness is too small to help their families, communities, and planet. As we discussed other ways we can/could show kindness one of my students had a wonderful idea to share their stories with others “so it can help them if they are having a sad day.” Another said “maybe I can write a funny story to cheer them up,” another said “I can write a letter and tell them why they are important.” I said, “YES, YES, YES!!!”  They made me cry. I was deeply moved to witness their hearts in action.  So we decided as a class to write letters to whomever needs cheering up, to whomever just needs to hear a funny story, or to whomever needs someone to tell them they are important.

This is where we need your HELP. My students need people to write letters to. They are ready to write letters to anyone who request one. I hope, no, I pray that I can get responses to this blog requesting a letter from one of my second grade students. So I need at least 21 request (I have 21 – 2nd graders). They are excited and looking forward to putting their hearts into each letter and are hopeful it will make someone smile. My class cubs mean the world to me. I want them to always be filled with questions. I want them to always question. I want them to be able to put things into perspective. I want them to be able think critically and not settle for the status quo. So, pplleeaassee…help me be of service to them.

If you would like to request a letter from one of my students please tell us a little about yourself and share with us your story and need. We would like to mail you a response. If you are not comfortable with sharing you address I understand, I can share my email address if you prefer.

Help my second grade students realize that their HEARTS, their WORDS, their TIME and ACTS OF KINDNESS can bring peace and love to their life and to the receiver’s life as well.

With love and deep respect,

-Joyce Ann

Joyce 12/2013

Joyce 12/2013

don’t give up…

Things I know to be true:

It is natural to feel hurt or anger for a short time – it’s normal – there is nothing wrong with you.

You can love.

You can trust.

You can allow yourself to be vulnerable in love.

You can bond.

You can invest yourself in someone or something.

Pain is real. It is okay to allow yourself the gift of feeling it, completely. You don’t have to mask it or rush through it.

Acknowledge all of your feelings – hurt, grief, pain, anger, mistrust, doubts, GUILT, betrayal, insecurity, RELIEF – allowing all these emotions some space and time will help you.

You can endure the pain. You HAVE to endure the pain. It hurts like heck. It is raw. Nothing, I mean nothing or no one will make it hurt any less. Endure it. With time it begins to hurt less. And yes, there will be days when the sting roars back and is almost unbearable. Acknowledge it, again, recognize the antecedent and tread carefully next time, you will be stronger next time (and yes, there will be a next time).

You will heal.

You have friends who love you.

You have family who love you.

You can talk to someone.

You can talk about the pain, the hurt.

Someone will want to listen to you.

Someone will care about you.

Someone will love you more than anything.

Someone will want a lifetime with you.

You are not alone.

ALL that you feel is real.

You have to live. Do something. Get out. Be with friends. Be with family.

Give yourself the gift of time. Time to heal. Time to be good for yourself.

Your challenges do not define you.

Your pain does NOT define you.

Write. Write. Write. – See the truth in your words. See the tears that stain your journal. Get the words out of your head, somehow, get them out.

You can take responsibility for your actions.

You can forgive yourself.

You can learn from your pain.

You can be thankful.

You will grow stronger.

You will be kinder.

You will be more mindful.

You will learn.

You will hope.

You will dream.

You may ask how do you know this to be true? I know this to be true because this is my journey. I am real. I am genuine. I am being honest with myself. I write what I feel. I write what I live. Living with struggles or challenges is different for different people. There is no right way to get through pain (physical or emotional). Each of us will have different reactions. What is important is that you know; YOU ARE NOT ALONE, YOU ARE LOVED, YOU ARE GOODNESS and this world NEEDS YOU.

Wishing you endless peace, joy & love with all that I am.

-J

Writing and healing…

Love…hope…love….hope

Peace…joy…peace…joy…

Grief…pain…grief…pain

Dark…light…dark…light

Life…Death…Life…Death

New Beginnings…

Shiawéé in Seattle a few days before she was shot & killed.

Shiawéé (my baby) in Seattle a few days before she was shot & killed. -RIP- Nicole Westbrook

Forever shiawéé

Forever shiawéé -RIP- Nicole Westbrook

Have you ever watched someone you love slowly slip away from your life?

I walked into your room, walked right next to your side, grabbed your hand, leaned over and whispered “Aunty is here, Baby Girl. Aunty is here,” and I gently kissed your forehead. Your hands were so soft and so warm. My lips lingered on your forehead because in that moment you gave me peace and hope. Yes, you…you gave me peace and hope. Seeing you, seeing you fighting for your life gave me hope that you were going to recover and be okay. All I wanted, all we wanted was for you to be okay. I kissed you and I looked at you and your eyes were open fluttering as if trying to tell me something. There was so much rapid eye movement and then there were tears. The nurse told me all the eye movement was due to your brain injury but to this day I know you knew I was there. Shiawéé you knew I was there and you knew mom was coming. I called your mom as I stood next to you. I put the phone to your ear and your heart rate shot up. Your eyes moved even faster as if you were searching, fighting your way back and then the tears streamed out.

Witnessing life slowly slip away from this world is really hard to explain to someone who has not lived it. The phone call at 4am on April 22, 2012 plays over and over in my head as loud and ever present as the life support machine in the hospital room. One is a sound of despair and crying in bitter grief. The other is a meditative pulse, slow and predictable, a humming of breath that resonates in the body through a comforting yet disquieting sound scape.

When someone slips away from your life, slips away with death you are jolted onto a road that will take so many twist and turns, ups and downs, that you feel like your are on the worst roller coaster of your life and the ride never ends. There is nothing you can do to make sense of the moment someone you love slips farther and farther into a world not meant for you at that time.

Wednesday morning when I arrived at the hospital I immediately went to your room and when I walked into your room and saw the doctor, mom and everybody there was no question that your time with us was coming to an end. There was no struggle. Your eyes no longer flickered. They kept you completely covered to keep you warm. The machines did all the breathing. The doctor checked your eyes one last time and made the call. We were all there and we sat with you until the end. None of us had ever witnessed death firsthand (except Aunty Charlene). We all tried to will you back to life, but it was over. Once the struggle ended, you looked so peaceful. Being there when you died was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. It was also one of the most profound experiences of my life. No matter how sad, I wouldn’t have missed the opportunity to be with you, shiawéé and loving you as you left this world.  You died in peace to meet dy’ in’…the creator. The Diné way is not to hang on after you are gone. They say if we hang on your spirit may attach to a place, something or someone so we are not to bind you to this earth with our grief.  We must wash up, take táádidíín (corn pollen) and go on with life.  I love you so much, Baby Girl.

Writing and healing with the knowledge that new stories are waiting to be written. Recovering, rebuilding, loving and living with peace and a grateful heart.

Náá’ahideeltsééh, – Aunty

Thoughts About Changes and New Beginnings

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My sister on October 12, 2005

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Alan (Marshal) Westbrook from Shiprock, New Mexico KIA 10-01-2005

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In memory of my niece, Nicole Westbrook

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Me and the little man of my life, Chad Westbrook (my nephew)

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My little man, C. Westbrook

Marshall Westbrook, a 43-year-old sergeant in the New Mexico National Guard, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded under his Humvee in Iraq on October 1, 2005.

His 41-year-old brother, Kenneth, died in 2009 of injuries he suffered in a firefight in Afghanistan.

On April 22, 2012 a bullet had struck Nicole’s left cheek and shattered her spine. Her heart stopped, depriving her brain of oxygen. Nicole Westbrook’s heartbeat was restored, but she never regained consciousness. On Wednesday morning  April 25, 2012, we watched her die.

My sister Joleen Westbrook has lost her husband Alan, attended his brother Kenneth’s funeral, and braided her daughter Nicole’s hair for the last time as  she lay on her hospital bed declared brain dead.

My sister has been through all this and today I received an amazingly heartfelt message from her titled: I know you’re wondering what will happen in…The next chapter of your life.

She told me to just do my best and to stay strong enough to move ahead, because there are some wonderful rewards waiting for me. She said it won’t make sense right away, but over the course of time answers will come and decisions will be proved to have been the right ones. She said don’t give up on hope. Don’t give up on love.   She said “continue to put things in perspective like you always do.” “You are strong, sister” she said *crying*.

Hands down, watching my sister scream with grief and lose herself has been the most difficult thing that has come with the loss of Alan and Nicole. Alan and Nicole’s death continues to be one of the first things she reminds herself of when she wakes up, and it continues to be one of the last things she thinks about before she falls asleep; it  continues to consume her. But somehow she is able to reach out to me in a way only a sister can and offer me what is left of her heart and love me, dearly.

My sister is one of the strongest people I know and she gives me the strength to keep moving forward, to not settle and accept that I deserve goodness, honesty and true love. She is not perfect and is struggling yet she opens her eyes to each new day and today she touched me.

Thank you sister for loving me…

– J.

Running…yielding to life. Running…having focus, pose, patience & peace during the tough moments.

I was in the 4th grade when I ran my first timed mile. I loved it!

I was in Mrs. Poorthunder’s class that year. Mrs. Poorthunder also happened to be the teacher who taught me how to fancy dance for pow wows.

Even in the 4th grade when I ran my first mile I got something from it. I got a little taste of peace.

I have so many close family members who turn to alcohol & drugs to deal with stress, setbacks, and heartache. I just run. There is something about lacing up my running shoes and pounding the pavement day in and day out. It is reliable. Running clears my mind of all the things I cannot control. Lately running has been the perfect outlet for the hurt I’ve felt. I’ve pounded the pavement in tears, pushing myself to take that hill, allowing the anger to build up from inside and then releasing the rage & pain with each forefoot strike. Running has done so much for me. For two hours out of each day running affords me the clarity, stillness, quiet and focus that I first tasted in the 4th grade.

I know I’m getting into the best shape of my life right now. I feel stronger physically, mentally and emotionally after every run. I can’t wait to get home and lace up my runners. The more running I do, the more marathons, half-marathons, and shorter distances I do the more I realize that I am not just running for myself. I’m running for the members of my family, loved ones and friends who cannot. I run because I am fortunate to have found a way to deal with life’s hardships. I have found a way to allow anger, sorrow, and hate to be balanced with peace, joy and  love. On the days I am feeling alone and sorry for myself and want to do nothing but sleep, I think about my family, friends and loved ones. I think about where they would be if they could understand and know they have a choice. I know they would tell me to keep moving. That it will all turn out okay. So I get out of the funk, lace up my runners and get my butt out the door.

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Before the start of the 2013 Long Beach Half Marathon 10-13-2013

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The sun coming up as we wait for the 7:30am start time of the 2013 Long Beach Half Marathon 10-13-2013

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Seeing the full marathoners off at 6am

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The 2013 Long Beach Half Marathon Medal

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My 2013 Long Beach Half Marathon Bib and medal. The real prize is the peace and clarity I had while running alone.