2013: A Year in Review

It is hard to believe that it has been a full year since I wrote last year’s ‘year in review.’ 2013 has gone by so incredibly fast, and since there have been so many great moments along the way, I sure hope I did not forget any here!
With the ESHS Student Council at the 2013 Inauguration

In January, I started off the year by attending the 2013 Presidential Inauguration with the East Side High School student council. It was so surreal to be standing on the national mall, listening to our president get sworn in and give his inaugural address. It was also great having higher level political conversations with some of our all-stars from East Side. Obama gave such a great speech, and I will never forgot when our students cheered like crazy when Obama mentioned immigration reform. Besides Obama, Kelly Clarkson perhaps unintentionally stole the show with her fantastic rendition of “My Country, Tis of Thee.” Attending the Inauguration was an experience I will undoubtedly never forget.  

In February, I officially started my masters program at Seton Hall University, which I was extremely excited about. The masters will be a M.A. in Educational Leadership, Management and Policy, with a concentration in educational administration. I also had the privilege of meeting Bobby Marks, a Marist alum who is currently the assistant GM for the Brooklyn Nets, before watching a game at the brand-new Barclays Center with Meaghan and Brian. 
In March, I had many TFA-related activities, and was able to visit Marist one weekend as well. After Easter, I geared up for April, which was one of the busiest and most fun months of the year. In April, it felt like just about every weekend I was in a different city. Between Boston, Denver, Newark and Poughkeepsie, I sure had a fantastic journey going across the country for everything from NCTM conferences to high school college visits. I would strongly recommend reading my full post on my adventures in April here.

Playing some kickball to end the year
May was a graduate-filled month, as my first set of graduate classes were coming to a close and my next semester was already beginning. June went really fast as well, especially since we spent so many of the last days of school playing kickball with students and attending our high school’s graduation. I also experienced my first Portuguese Festival which was, well, one of the most interesting nights of the year. During the second weekend in June, my cousin Danny and his beautiful wife Elisabetta got married on Long Island! The wedding was so much fun, and one of the best I have ever been to. 
The Wedding Party!!!
A week after school was over, I went on a family vacation to St. Maarten. It was, quite frankly, one of the nicest islands I have ever been on. Between amazing food, breathtaking views and an unbelievably relaxing atmosphere, it was the best way to wind down after a busy year. Perhaps most notably, I decided to get my open water scuba diver certification, and I went diving four times, including two deep dives to a coral and an old wreck. It was one of the coolest activities I have ever done.
With my family in St. Maarten

When I got home from the Caribbean, I worked summer school for a few weeks. In between teaching summer school, I had the opportunity to visit many places, including Princeton (as one of my good friends Kassie was staying there for the summer) and the floor of the New York State Exchange. I also squeezed in a boat tour of NYC sponsored by the Marist Alumni Association and a quick trip to Philadelphia and Boston before the summer was over. (I finally was able to get to the Sam Adam’s brewery, as well, which was something I really wanted to do for a while.)

With Kassie at Princeton University

And just like that, August was winding down, which meant school was just around the corner. After a few weeks of cleaning up my room and setting up my class, I went up and visited my beloved alma mater for one last time during Labor Day weekend. The end of the summer means the annual Brazilian festival comes to Newark, which of course means lots of great food, drinks and music to be had by all!

At the annual Brazilian Day Festival in Newark

September and October flew by, as we had so many different things going on. Between so much controversy in the Newark Public Schools and new laws being passed seemingly daily, it was hard to not get overwhelmed in all of the commotion brought upon by education. There was even more controversy in November, when the district and the union fought over teachers going to the annual NJEA conference held in Atlantic City. Unfortunately, no matter whose side you were on, the only people that lost at the end of the day were our students. We need to stop putting adults in front of education in our schools, and continue to work hard to a day when all of our students have the opportunity to attain an excellent education.

Also in November, the East Side Student Council visited two colleges in Pennsylvania, including the University of Scranton (where my sister currently attends) and Penn State. As you most likely have come to expect by now, it was another great trip that always helps to reset my perspective on life. I wrote a longer debrief of the trip on a previous post, which can be found here.
With Danny watching the Packers/Giants at Metlife Stadium
To end the year, I celebrated with some of my teachers friends (Nick and Karina) on board the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II. It was my first live-aboard, and I would definitely recommend it to anyone that is interested in Scuba Diving; It was honestly one of the best weeks of my life. And hey, what better way to start the New Year than be scuba diving fifty feet underwater?
Hanging out with the Delgado’s during Christmas Time
Well folks, that just about does it for 2013. Who knows what 2014 will have in store for us, but if the past is any indication for the future, I think I’m in for a really great year.

Here’s to 2014!

Touring Pennsylvania Colleges with ESHS

As I alluded to in my last post, I once again had the opportunity to chaperone the annual student council trip to visit different colleges in the northeast. This year, the students wanted to visit Penn State University and the University of Scranton (where my sister is currently a junior), so that is exactly the two colleges we went to go see. 

In front of the Old Main building at PSU
After leaving before the crack of dawn on Thursday, we arrived at Penn State at around 10:00am, giving us plenty of time to visit the bookstore and eat lunch before our campus tour at noon. Having spent a few days at Florida State University, I was expecting Penn State to feel more like a city than a college, but I was (admit-tingly) very surprised at how Penn State managed to have a small-school vibe. 
The East Side High School Student Council
at Penn State University 
Thursday night was one of my favorite moments of the trip. After teaching students how to play some card games, I explained to them the math behind blackjack (as portrayed in the movie 21). Later, we played Taboo in the hotel lobby until 1 o’clock in the morning. I would be lying if I said it didn’t bring me right back to my college days, running programs as an RA. Once the clock hit 1am, it was officially lights out, as we had another long day ahead of us on Friday. 
With Kim overlooking the University of Scranton
After eating breakfast and departing from State College, we headed for the University of Scranton. Once at Scranton, we met up with my sister, who gave us our meal vouchers. We then had an information session, and I was able to see my sister give an outstanding tour of her school. (Note: My sister and I often have a rivalry over which school is better – Marist or Scranton. The U.S. News & World Report often ranks the schools pretty evenly, but they are both tremendous academic universities that are slowly growing onto the national stage). I have been to Scranton many times (mostly to help my sister move-in and move-out), but I was still impressed by how nice the University was.
The East Side High School Student Council
at the University of Scranton
And then we left to go back to Newark. It was such a great trip, and I once again learned so much in every way possible. When I got back on Monday, I found out that my fourth block, which is typically a great class, wasn’t well behaved for the substitute teacher during the trip on Friday. I was very disappointed in them, and explained this to the class the following Monday when I got back. After talking with them in a very quiet voice for a few minutes, I had every student sit in silence and write a letter of apology to the substitute and my vice principal (who had to come to my class to calm everyone down). I have never had to do that as a teacher, but you could most definitely tell how bad the entire class felt. After they started writing, not one student said one word for close to forty minutes. That period, there was such a profound feeling of respect, and I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t one of the most surreal experiences of my teaching career to date. 
My board when I walked in on Monday. 

Last side note – my birthday was last week, and the amazing students of East Side High School once again outdid themselves and couldn’t have made my birthday any nicer. Between signing my board, decorating my door, and singing “Sapo Verde” to me countless times (including five times in my last class alone), they honestly made my day. Below is a photo of some of the remnants of my birthday, and I honestly cannot thank them enough!

¡Muchas gracias por un cumpleaños fantástico!
Muito obrigado do por um aniversário grande! 

A New Room, A New Program, & A New Opportunity

These last few months have been busy, very fast, and quite exciting. Between subbing summer classes, working on random projects, and tutoring SAT prep sessions, I honestly feel that I started school a month early this year! In August, I found out that I would officially be changing rooms, and was going to be teaching in room 301. I was really excited to get a new classroom. Just like my experience last year, it took a lot of cleaning to get my room in order. After spending about two full weeks cleaning up the room and making everything look nice for the first day of school, I was ready to start year two at East Side. 
Panorama of Room 301 before the first day of school
On my first day of school, I tried out an activity my Vice Principal told me he used about working hard and achieving goals. In essence, I had a student jump as high as they could, and mark their jump with a marker. After leading a conversation with the class, I got a chair, and taped a $5 bill an inch above the mark on the wall. Each student then had a chance to jump up and get the bill. After all of the students were successful, we talked about how this related to life. Intrigued? I guess you’re just going to have to sit in on my class next year to find out…
East Side vs. Central football game at School Stadium in Newark
This year, I was appointed the school’s head academic coach, allowing me to run team eligibility reports, identify at-risk athletes, tutor them, and help council them on a wide variety of issues. I consider this a tremendous opportunity not only for myself and my personal ambitions, but for student athletes that often use sports as a coping mechanism for a wide array of issues they may be going through. Although this is my first year in this position, I see the potential this role has to really improve the school, and it should be interesting to see how this plays out.  
Working Breakfast Duty in the morning
In addition to being the head academic coach, I also started an official SAT preparation program this Fall. After privately tutoring a student this summer, I realized how much SAT prep classes were needed at East Side. After pitching my idea of starting this program, the administration loved it, and gave me the green light. Originally, we had over 65 students sign up for free SAT prep classes (that met on Saturday mornings)! To me, this is yet another indication of how hard our students want to work to attain success, loosely defined. This also reinforced my personal idea that many students want to do well, but are unsure of exactly how to get there and what to do to get them to their next steps in life. 
 
Early in October, I found out that I won a contest to take four students on a shopping spree at American Eagle. After randomly picking four students (and some hectic organization along the way), we all met up at the American Eagle in Jersey City; it was quite an exhilarating experience. I think it is safe to say that all of the involved parties were extremely grateful for this opportunity, and I personally cannot thank Teach For America and American Eagle enough for providing it to them.
In front of America Eagle after the shopping spree
My classes are going very well, also. Often times, my classes keep me laughing, especially when we are talking about sports teams, “growing corn,” yelling “Let’s Get Ready to Rumble,” or even using an exuberant amount of Lysol during class. Whether it is a student going back and forth in my first block about how funny I am (or not) or blasting songs to end the week in my fourth block, I recognize how fortunate and blessed I am to teach such a talented, amazing and fun group of students that truly make my day every day.
Halloween in the Math Office at ESHS
Between going to Marist, grad school at Seton Hall, running SAT Prep sessions on Saturdays, countless football and soccer games, and even going to my first Bar Mitzvah, I cannot believe how fast the first two months of school went this year. This upcoming week, I am once again privileged to join the Student Council on their annual college visit trip, which I expect to be just as powerfully moving as the previous trips I went on. There have been plenty of “new” things to start this year, but it seems as least one thing is the same: We barely have any school in November. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em I suppose, so: Here’s to No School November!

Ideologies to Live By

During my senior year at Marist, I was very fortunate to receive great advice about life and leadership from many brilliant people. Taken with this, I developed a short list of important ideas and ideologies that I wrote down and kept in my desk as a sort of reminder. I read this list daily, and I strive to achieve all ten every single day. In addition to my Three Laws of Success, I feel that this list will do just about anyone in just about any position vey well. I hope you enjoy.

1. Calm down and slow down! Rome wasn’t built in a day.


2. Be a leader… today!


3. Keep a Positive Mental Attitude.


4. Doing what is popular is not always right; doing what is right is not always popular.


5. Do not take anything personal.


6. Do not ever let someone tell you that you cannot do something. Prove them wrong!


7. Play on your strengths; work on your weaknesses. 


8. Embrace change.


9. Be Transformational: Worry about tomorrow more than today, today more than yesterday.


10. Define the “new thing.” Leaders get things done and work through other people.



The Three Laws of Success

     No matter who you are or what type of company you work for, I believe that there are three general rules that you can apply (rather liberally) to get ahead in any organization. These are three laws that I have learned over the years, and have followed habitually with moderate success. 

I also want to be clear that the following advice is neither original nor complex; contrarily, it is extremely simple, but inordinately powerful.
     Rule #1: Show up. Life is about showing up. Take full advantage of every opportunity you are given, no matter how big or how small the chance seems to be. I promise that you would not believe how far “showing up” will get you. For me personally, no matter which organization I was with, it was always rather disconcerting to see the majority of people doing the bare minimum to get by. Seldom do these types of people see opportunities as pathways to their future. I can tell you countless stories about how I got ahead simply by “showing up.” Is there an upcoming professional development class that your boss told you about? Take it. Are there any leadership opportunities that may involve a substantial amount of work and seemingly no immediate reward? Do it. Is there a guest lecture that is coming to your area? Show up.
     Rule #2: Show up, on time. If you have ever worked in any organization I have ever led, you have undoubtedly heard me say that “being early is being on time, being on time is being late, and being late is unacceptable.” Whether you are going to a high-end political fundraiser, a special event, or even something as simple as a college class, get there early. Get there early every single time. One would not believe how many people I have met and relationships I have fostered just by getting somewhere early and taking advantage of the fact that I was one of the first people there. By doing so, you get to know the speaker/professor/leader on a semi-personal level, leading to potential networking opportunities that will drastically increase your contact portfolio.
     Rule #3: Show up, on time, and dressed to play. I don’t care what field you work in or what “clients” you serve; be the best dressed every single day. People notice when a person dresses professionally. I personally subscribe to the belief that how serious one dresses is how serious one is about their professional responsibilities. Also, when you are one of the younger members of an organization, dressing up adds to both your perceived level of experience and your level of respect from other co-workers. 
     So there you have it. I promise you that if you show up, on time, and dressed to play,  every single chance you get, you will have so many advantages and opportunities that no one else will have. Your pathway to success starts today, will you take it?

Introduction


     I want to thank you all for stopping by and reading my blog. I am not entirely sure where exactly this project is going to go, but I do have some ideas for starters: I hope to share some of the great stories and lessons I have learned over the years with the world wide web. I have always found the concept of a blog interesting, and I love reading the blogs of others, as well. But why did I choose to start a blog now?

     During my last Board of Trustees meeting at Marist College, I was sitting with my normal “pre-meeting” crew, which included Justin Butwell (Director of Physical Plant), Sean Kaylor (Vice President of Enrollment) and Connie McCaffrey (Director of Housekeeping). We were talking for over an hour and laughing hysterically as usual. We started to talk and reminisce about the past year, and how crazy the last two semesters of my college career have been. Connie, who has been a dedicated employee of Marist College for the past 32 years, said that I should really start writing everything down so I would never forgot some of the stories I have heard and lessons I have learned over the course of the last year. She was kind enough to get me a journal for my graduation so I could remember everything years from now. I started writing some things in it, and I said to myself, “geez, I wish I could share some of these awesome stories with other people.” Then it hit me: start a blog, and here I am today!

     For a quick disclaimer, I do not know how often I am going to update this blog. I am hoping to post bi-weekly, although we all know how life sometime gets in the way of planning.  (More on that topic in a future blog post.)

     One last thing- you might be wondering why I chose to name this blog Don’t Pump the Brakes. Now, some people out there probably already know exactly what this title refers to, but I really want everyone else to figure it out. I think it is pretty straightforward, but there is a great story behind the title that I will share at some point down the line.

     I have a lot more to share with you all, but I did not want my first blog post to be too long. As my friend Tim Massie would say, you should always leave your audience wanting more…