Category Archives: Education

Six Months in Sacramento

I have now been living in Sacramento for just over six months.  At first I wasn’t sure if this was a good move for me.  But the longer I am here, the more I am loving this place.  I do not think I have ever lived in a place where people are so nice, so happy, so open and genuinely love where they are.  The happiness quotient is contagious.

On January 21st, I walked with fellow teachers and friends in the Women’s March.  Amazing.  Such good, positive vibes.  Inclusion and support was the energy of the day.  I loved being a part of such a great crowd of people wanting the best for everyone.   img_6627

img_6632I am still in love with my school as well.  I just returned from a week at the Marin Headlands with my 5th grade class.  We hiked and bonded and laughed and learned.  It was good to get to know the kids in a different atmosphere and to be out along the beautiful California coast.  We had amazing weather and were happily exhausted each night.img_6782 img_6968

My after-school writing class is going well too.  The kids are so creative.  They are now developing a variety of stories and getting them ready to submit for possible publication. This summer I am going to be teaching two creative writing classes at Sacramento State University.  I love teaching and supporting creative thinkers.

My 5th graders just finished a unit on the American Revolution – our culminating project was a musical.  It was really fun – all done acapella.  Now we are working on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights – which brings up so many issues right now.  We are also gearing up for a Human Rights assembly.  My kids will be doing a rap/song/chant to a song by Colby and Awu (from Cameroon) called “Change the World.”  They’ll be singing acapella again, using their cubist paintings from art class as props and – via their t-shirt color – ending in a colorful rainbow.  Should be fun.

The official last day of winter is March 20th – just over 3 weeks away!

Happy end of February.

Gretchen

 

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Filed under Education, Fifth Grade, Humanities

Adventures in Writing

Hi!  Lots has changed over the last month.  I’ve moved states, bought a house, started a new job, started coaching 3 volleyball teams, started teaching a youth creative writing class and…found a little sister – 2 months old/2 lbs – for my Oscar (cat) who lost his brother one month ago. PHEW!

I am loving Sacramento.  It is not how I remembered it.  It has such diversity here.  From ethnicity to neighborhood vibes, a wonderful mixture – I just love it.

Yesterday I finally ventured out to explore the Artists Open Studios.  Very creative people here.  Driving through the neighborhoods – full of big trees and quaint houses – made me smile and think about how lucky I am.

I ended my wanderings along the American River.  There are paths for miles along the two rivers here.  So fun to think of great hikes after school once my schedule calms down a bit.

My school, Sacramento Country Day, is great.  The 5th graders I am teaching are so excited to learn and embrace new ideas.  My 5th/6th grade volleyball teams are doing really well.  Last Friday, one team had a game and they really played well together – and won!

img_5642My ‘Adventures in Writing’ after-school class is full of kids that love to write.  I am having fun challenging their minds to explore broader possible paths for their characters and settings, and to create tension and drama – it is all great practice for me as well.

Home life:  I bought a bit of a fixer-upper – and it will be a fun work-in-progress.  Sophie – the newest addition to my little family is so tiny and adds lots of springy, impetuous energy to our house.

So all is good in my world.  I hope it is in yours as well.

Have a great end to your September!

Gretchen

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Filed under Adventure, Animals, Education, Introspection

Oregon Gardens

A deep breath infuses my body with the rich perfumes of pine, fir, lush soil, cut grass, and blossoming plants.  Every time, it nearly knocks me over with its power.  The abundance of nature in all its glory is here in Oregon.  I love being here with my mom at her beautiful house just off the hustle and bustle of the University of Oregon campus.

Over the last few months we have been chatting over the phone (me – from the desert terrain of Gallup, NM) about re-creating her small patch of garden on the south side of her house that gets full sun, and therefore has the great potential to be a vegetable garden.  When I arrived a couple of weeks ago we started plotting in earnest.  After a rather painless trip to Jerry’s (a local version of a Home Depot) we returned home with a plan and lots of supplies.

First, we weeded the over-grown area and laid out what I like to call “weed destroyer” – black landscape material that blocks light.  Then we mulched and started hauling in the concrete blocks.  A few six foot, 12″x 2″ cedar boards, soil and voila; raised beds and a tidy little garden. Super fun and quite easy.  Here are the before and after shots:

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The next day I took a trip up to Portland to visit some friends and one was my dear friend Patty Cassidy.  She is an amazing gardener and such an inspiration.  She is a grand master gardener and has turned her expertise to helping seniors continue to garden and explore the wonders of plants in all shapes, colors, smells and forms.  She has written a wonderful gardening book, aptly titled “Gardening for Seniors” that I was happy to learn has been translated into four different languages.  She is also the president of the Portland Memory Garden which has been “especially designed for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other memory problems: the site is relatively flat and is away from other park activity and significant traffic noise. The garden was dedicated in May 2002 and is one of eight memory gardens in the U.S., and one of only two built on public land. The garden is a national demonstration garden project, created as part of the 100 Parks, 100 Years centennial celebration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).”   If you are looking for wonderful advice about your garden – Patty should be your go-to gal.

It was a gorgeous Oregon afternoon of filtered sun.  I had such fun chatting in Patty’s beautiful back yard with her husband Gary, who, like me, is diving into the world of children’s literature.  No worries – I’ll be shamelessly promoting his book when it comes out too.

In three short weeks I’ll be moving to Sacramento, California.  I am really looking forward to a little space of my own to dig into some earth and help cultivate a bit of life.  Moving to Sacramento not only means I can garden again, but as the winter season is so mild – I’ll get to garden all year round!  I can’t wait.  And I have so many wonderful gardening experts in my life to help me.  Such fun.

I’ll write again from California.  Have a great end of your June!

~ Gretchen

 

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Filed under DIY, Education, Gardening / Outdoors, Writing

Epic Zombie Killers!

My wonderful, sweet, and creative 6th graders just presented their Post Zombie Apocalypse Geography Plays (yes, I know that is a mouthful!).  But they were hysterical.

They had to present all the concepts we learned about in our geography unit, in the format of a five minute play – theme: resettling after a zombie outbreak.

Two groups chose to have Trump in their plays.  The first one had him turn into a zombie right away.  The other group (in another class), they made him President and they begrudgingly started building a big wall.  At one point, one of the actors yells out, while carrying a paper gun, “come on, let’s round up all the Mexicans!”

I couldn’t believe it.  I have not spoken about Trump to them.  But wow, their parents must be.  They are NOT for him, these kids are definitely anti-Trump.

Later in the skit, they created bombs (wadded up paper) and blew up the wall.  Trump, unfortunately was never turned into a zombie, but at least we know we have a bunch of 6th graders that will fight to overturn him if…

Anyway, a fun way to end a Friday.

Have a happy, and zombie free weekend!

~ Gretchen

 

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Filed under DIY, Education, Geography, Humanities, Middle School, Super Creative

Refresh

I have decided to give myself short writing assignments that are not about the book I am currently writing.  The goal is to keep my mind working on prose, but from different perspectives.

I have found quite a few blogs that offer prompts that will take my mind in a variety of directions.  Here is the first one:

Refresh – the topic from Daily Prompt:

I am a humanities teacher for 6th – 8th graders.  At my current school, I have the great luxury of designing and implementing my own curriculum.  For the final nine weeks of school this year, I have created a unit on Global Music as Transformer for my 7th and 8th graders.  Today, we were looking at how songs/styles/lyrics from other countries influence the US.  I showed them a variety of videos and one was from Korea: Gangnam Style and one was from India (Flash mob dance) of Jai Ho.  My first class of 7th graders simply could not see anything of redeeming value.  The only words that came out of their mouth were negative: “He can’t dance.” “That is so obnoxious.” “Why would anyone want to do a flash mob?”  ETC.

Frustrated with their lack of open-mindedness or for finding anything that was positive, I suggested that the first thoughts that came to mind, the negative ones that were coming out of their mouths, should be kept to themselves.  That looking for the positive to comment on would make for a more accepting (empathetic?) conversation.

Don’t get me wrong, I think discussing the good, the bad and the ugly creates good conversation.  But this was just young teenagers spouting anything that didn’t sit well with them.  They weren’t being constructive in the least.

We went on to discuss styles and what is considered acceptable and “hot” in other societies.  But they continued to be above it all, the artists or videos were simply silly and not worthy of them.

What was supposed to be a fun day of discussing different culture’s music and styles, turned out to be so frustrating for me as the teacher.

My second class, this time with 8th graders, were only slightly better.

Determined to change the gloomy feeling coming over me, and to shine a light on the positive, it finally dawned on me – I needed to help guide these 13-14 year olds on what I was interested in having them look for.

Duh, you may be saying.  But I just had not anticipated the negativity, and it took me some time to get out of my own frustration and figure out how to help my students view the material, from a more accepting and analytical perspective, rather than simply dismissal.

So – I took a deep breath.  Hit the “refresh” button in my mind, opened the door to the next class and re-phrased all my questions to elicit responses that encouraged viewing the music and videos with a more analytical eye about the culture itself.

Success.  The conversations were much more enlightening – to all of us.

Now to remember how I made the shift, much sooner in the day! 🙂

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Filed under Education, Humanities, Middle School

Zombies and Trump

I just had to post a quick update…

My two 6th grade classes have just finished a unit on geography using zombies as the lens to explore the concepts.  Now, for their final, they are creating plays about a post zombie apocalypse resettlement.  The characters have to use geography tools and concepts to find and set up their new community.

Two of the groups are using Trump in their plays (they thought this up all on their own!).  Don’t worry – he turns into a zombie pretty quickly – but then again, maybe he already is one and that is why his brain doesn’t seem to be functioning on a rational or even slightly intelligent level.

Anyway – I can’t wait to see the full plays on Friday!

~ Gretchen

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2016 Has Ushered in… Fun and Creativity

Such fun I have been having!  And thus, I have not been good at staying in touch, sorry.

The weeks have simply zoomed by since a lovely Christmas seeing and holding my adorable great (grand?) nephew in sunny California.  Sweet, adorable, with tiny little hands and feet…Koen.

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And I was so excited to give the adventure book I had written for Koen to his parents, my nephew Calvin and his great wife, Abbey.

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Then a huge surprise, I was whisked away to NYC for a fabulous weekend with my sisters and mom – girls camp, as mom called it.  So much fun.

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It was seriously freezing and then the wind!  But we had a ball.  We checked out the Highline (converted, old, elevated rail track into a lovely walking promenade…if it hadn’t been so windy!).  We hit the Chelsea Market, a bit of Greenwich village, uptown, midtown, soho, Ground Zero…The Whitney Museum… We survived the Blue Man Group and ended our wonderful weekend with Kinky Boots – an absolute must see if you’re in NYC – hysterically funny and so clever – Loved! It!

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No idea what we were getting into – PRE – Blue Man Group

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Post Blue Man – see, we survived!

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Chillin’ on the Highline.

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Ground Zero Memorial

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Amazing Kinky Boots!

But don’t think the fun stopped when I left NYC – oh no!  🙂

Just last weekend I headed up into Utah to Canyonlands National Park for a fun, challenging trail run and great hikes.

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IMG_4838 Corona Arch which was really fun to get to; climbing over big rocks, using ladders to get up impassable areas and then arriving and feeling really, really small.  If you look at the photo below, people are standing under the arch.  Its huge.

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IMG_4848I loved the colors – rich oranges, reds, greens and yellows.  It was really beautiful.

IMG_4864In between all this gallivanting I have been practicing my illustration skills and continuing to write the second book in the Treasure Chest Mysteries series.  Writing this second book has proved much more challenging.  I think it is due to wanting to make it better, deeper, more robust.  I am currently working my way through the book “The Plot Whisperer Workbook” by Martha Alderson.  She is helping me understand how to build a character that has more emotion, more rise and fall and more empathy.  I hope you’ll notice the difference in the next book.

I am also exited to say that my friend Ivy Newport, through her wonderful blog, has introduced me to my next exciting online adventure: A Storyteller’s Art.   This class by Robin Laws looks like so much fun.  I can’t wait to get started on March 14th.Storyteller's Art

Oh, and then of course, I have been teaching – the day-to-day job.  It has continued to be fun, super frustrating, challenging, empowering, painful and eye-opening.  My sixth graders are still my wonderful little stars, so eager to learn, curiosity abounds, full of smiles and giggles.  My seventh graders are more moody, more tired, over-the-top fidgety and dead in their seats – Ahh the wonders of puberty!  The eighth graders are a whole other ball of anger, apathy, rolling eyes, shy smiles, loud and aggressive chatter, more touchy or afraid to be even looked at.  Every day these students walk into my classroom and I do not know what I am going to get.  On a good day, it just doesn’t get better than teaching;  Spirits are high, curiosity rules, high-level discussions, students wanting more, which translates into: I am challenged and excited to explore new avenues with them.  On a bad day, its bad.  Grumpy, won’t do anything, talking back, refuse to participate, angry at being forced to sit in a seat and learn…  I rarely get a day that is strictly one or the other.  My days are full of emotion, highs and lows, smiles and angry, teenage stares.  Teaching is amazingly exhausting, but for the most part rewarding.  I only have three months left here in Gallup, NM.  I have learned a lot about what I need in life being here.  It has been very interesting learning a small bit about the Navajo Nation and the life that many lead.  But I am a tree and green person.  I need to see diversity in color, texture and foliage.  I didn’t realize how much I needed that until I came here.  It is very monotone in color.  Beautiful in its own right, but my eye needs color and diversity.

Where to next?  Not sure yet.  I have some irons in the fire that I am pursuing.  I’ll let you know where life plans on taking me next as soon as I know.  Until next time, Happy Spring!!!

Gretchen

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Filed under Adventure, Education, New Mexico, Photography, Travel, Writing

Its a New Year!

Happy New Year Everyone!

As I did not win the big Powerball, I’m still teaching in Gallup, NM. 🙂 My kids and I have finally moved into a rhythm that seems to mostly work for all of us.  My sixth graders are just about through a unit on Malala Yousafzai, the young girl in Pakistan who was shot in the head (but survived and went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize) by the Taliban for speaking out and demanding that girls be able to go to school.  We watched the documentary on her that was excellent – I highly recommend to all and you can rent it from Amazon here: He Called Me Malala.

My seventh and eighth graders have been working on the global health unit I created in grad school.  It has been an eye-opener.  Mostly due to the fact that I assumed, when writing the curriculum, that students would have some knowledge of geography tools, maps etc.  My students do not.  One of my 7th graders thought Greenland was the continent of Africa and even after pointing out the facts on a world map to her, she swore that Africa was “above” the USA.  But other than basic geographic skills the unit has been going well.  They are now researching their individual diseases and will present next week.

Then, I am excited to say that I am turning my humanities class into a geography class.  We will be exploring all aspects of the five themes through the lens of a zombie apocalypse.  This crazy and fun curriculum called Zombie Based Learning was designed by a geography teacher that wanted to make a project-based geography class that kids could relate too.  All year I have heard this and that about zombies from my students so I am hoping this will be a big hit.

As to my writing book 2 of the Treasure Chest Mysteries – well, I am working on it.  The first one came so easily and now I think the pressure (me putting on myself) to write another just as quickly has stymied my imagination.  So I have spent more time learning the basics to illustration which I am finding I really love, no matter how rudimentary my drawings/paintings are.

Drawings CollageI just started taking an online class (as there aren’t any classes in Gallup) through the site CraftsyLynne Chapman is the illustrator/instructor and she is simply amazing.  I love her style of drawing and her wonderful personality makes it so enjoyable to spend time watching her videos and trying out her suggestions.

I have also started working on getting myself back into shape.  Oh how easy it was to just hunker down when the weather dipped into the teens and yet still continue to consume the same calories.  Bad Gretchen.  So I am working on the slow return to a healthier me.  I have signed up for the Moab Spring Trail Run (8k) in early March. Last weekend I purchased a pair of rather bright running shoes (can’t fail to see them waiting for me by the door!) and I am now attempting to figure out where all the oxygen went.  I swear my extreme huffing and puffing is due to elevation!  Really! 🙂

Running ShoeThat just about wraps it all up here in Gallup.  My cats are wondering what to do with themselves with all the snow and frozen ground.  They have grown thick fur coats and are quite lazy…and cuddly.  Here is a parting shot of Albert – checking out my phone.  Have a great New Year!  GretchenAlbert

 

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Filed under Animals, Education, Global Health, Middle School

This Time…NEW Mexico

Hello from down south.  After a crazy summer of finishing my masters of science in geography I’ve moved down to Gallup, New Mexico, to teach gifted and talented middle schoolers, Humanities.

Although the summer was busy, mostly with writing, writing, and re-writing my final paper for the program, my cohort and I had a bit of fun too:

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Mark and Carlos taking water samples in Newport, Oregon

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Mark and I at Heceta Head beach on a very coldy day.

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Amanda and I at Heceta Head beach before taking our water samples for our field studies class.

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Carlos and Adalia trying to figure out why it is cold at the beach in the summer!

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Bryan our fabulous field studies instructor, always able to point the way.

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Being super silly with our polarized glasses at the fish hatchery.

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Doing stream bed grids.

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Within the cave. Cool cave, can’t remember the name, but it went into the depths for a mile!

But now I am done with my masters program and down where canyons are king.  I drove down from Oregon on August 1st and 2nd – with two unhappy cats in my car with me – and arrived in the smallest town I have lived in for a long time; Gallup only has 20,000 residents.  The first week I was mostly involved with the before school paper work, but did take time to go to the Inter-tribal Ceremony parade.  My landlord and next door neighbor is the Deputy Chief of Police so he got me a seat in the Mayor’s bleachers. Photos aren’t great as I only brought my phone – but it was really fun to see all the native attire.

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Today, I spent the morning exploring Pyramid Peak, just ten minutes from Gallup.  So gorgeous.  Took about an hour to get to the top.  It is a great workout for someone who has sat on her rear all summer at sea level and is now at 6500 feet and out of shape.  The climb took me up to 7500 feet.  But despite the lack of oxygen it was a stunning hike, of which my pictures do not do it justice.

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Just getting started.

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I’m headed to the very tip top of that peak.

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Finally at the top taking in the views.

Tonight I went for a short walk to explore my neighborhood.  As I was walking home at dusk an amazing sunset appeared.  Great end to a lovely day.

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I’ve taught one week of school so far.  The administrators are fantastic and the kids are really fun.  I think I am going to enjoy it here.  I will write more once I’ve had more time teaching and exploring.  For now, have a great week.

Gretchen

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Filed under Adventure, Education, Grad School, Humanities, Middle School, New Mexico, Photography

Salsa, Exploration and Graduation

May was fast and furious!  I can’t believe it is June already.  The year is coming to a close here at the American School Foundation of Mexico City – just 11 days left.  I have really enjoyed my time at the school.  I’ve been teaching seniors and sophomores this semester and overall the kids have been really fun to work with.

Soon I fly back to the US to the gorgeous state of Oregon for the summer to finish my masters in Geography Education at the University of Oregon.  It will be good to have an MS to join my MA behind my name.  🙂

But let me recap a few fun events that happened in May.  First salsa dancing!  So much fun.  So very hard.  And here I thought I was a pretty decent dancer.  Well, if you don’t know the steps or the correct way the hips are supposed to sway with those steps then the whole thing is a disaster. I understand all the twisting and turning as I love to Swing dance, but salsa has specific steps that you must know.  I have gone a few times now and it is an absolute fact that I need a class.  This last Saturday I went with some friends to a salsa bar I hadn’t been to yet.  It was full of people with silver hair.  Great I thought, slower music, maybe I’ll get it a bit better.  But no, they are so comfortable with years of dancing salsa that the subtleties of their touch and sway made it nearly impossible for me to connect at all.  Yet they were so kind to me and kept trying, but it was helpless.  I am a person who needs to understand the concept.  Once I have it, I’m good to go.  But I obviously am missing the vital steps.  [here is a little taste of what one can do if you are really good! AMAZING LATIN DANCE!]

I also took a weekend off from working on my graduate project to do a bit of sightseeing which I have not done much of.  I went up into the mountains (about 9,000ft / 2800m) into thick forests of evergreens, pines and oddly enough palms.  The smells, the clean air, the quiet, all were so enveloping.  I am definitely meant to live in the mountains, not the city.  I just instantly felt more alive, more me, able to think and I couldn’t help smiling.  I think the friend I went with got a bit tired of hearing how happy I was.

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IMG_3108We visited a small town that has been declared a “Puebla Magica” which basically means that the government has given the town money to invest in sprucing up the town with new roads, paint on buildings, adding handcraft markets etc.  And this little town of Mineral del Chico did a fine job.  It is just charming.  We even found a house for sale – perfect weekend getaway.

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Then we headed over to Real del Monte which is a park with a big lake.  They have a zip line from atop one of the hills down and across the lake.  I was going to do it but was chickening out when a few others decided to try it as well, which was starting to give me the courage again – at least I wouldn’t be the only one to die.  But by then the operator couldn’t be found and we were out of luck (or was it good luck?).

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See the line above my head? That was the zip line.

From there, our little group headed over to an old silver mine.  Real del Monte mines have produced over 6% of the silver mined over the last 500 years.  There was a tour, but it was in rapid-fire Spanish so my friend and I decided to wander about.  We found ourselves all alone in the tunnels of a mine.  It was cool, literally, and drippy.  We went deep inside and just as we were getting to the end of one branch all the lights went out.  Yikes.  But the little opening, way, way down there was still in sight.  And then we remembered our iPhones have a flashlight mode – phew.  If I hadn’t been with my friend, all my old scary memories of when my brother used to scare me in dark places would have reared their ugly heads.  But instead we giggled and made our way quickly back out.

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IMG_3124Just as the big thunder clouds began to roll in we headed back to Mexico City.  Quick day trip, but good to be out of the City for a day.

This last weekend was graduation for our seniors.  There are 186 in this class.  I taught 55 of them.  All upper school teachers are required to attend and march in gowns and caps.  It was actually kind of fun.  The ceremony was really beautiful and the speeches were top notch.  Although I don’t know the kids that well, it was really fun to see them graduate.  Such a big moment in life.

ASF Grad CollageThen yesterday we had a “fun day” for what is left of upper school: 9th – 11th graders.  There was food, of course, and three legged races, watermelon eating contest, ‘pie a teacher’, and sumo wrestling.  Silly and fun 2 hours.

ASF Fun Day CollageSo with my seniors gone I only have two sections of sophomores left, which means my days are quite easy now and I am more focused on getting it done and moving on.

In my short 5.5 months, I have enjoyed my time here.  Mexico City is not very daunting as it seems like it should be considering there are over 22 million people living here.  It has beautiful sections and extremely poor sections and everything in-between.   There is always something to do.

But I am ready to get out of the city and away from the pollution.

Off to beautiful Oregon in 14 days!

Have a great week!

Gretchen

 

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