2017: A Year in Review

It has been a few years since I had the opportunity to write a year in review. Between graduate school, teaching, and trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life, the last few years have been busier than I would care to admit. As usual, this year has been filled with ups and downs, and a plethora of memories that I will cherish for some time to come.

During the 2016-2017 school year, I taught two sections of Geometry and one section of Algebra II. Although I had taught Geometry dozens of times in the past, I never taught Algebra II for an entire year. Further complicating matters was the fact that there were 35 students enrolled in my Algebra II class! My students, many of whom I taught previously, worked relentlessly the entire year, and I was so proud of them when we found out that more students in that class passed the rigorous PARCC exam than the New Jersey state average!

One of the personal reflections that I made on “Wednesday Morning” after the 2016 presidential election was that I needed to make community service a larger priority in my life. As such, I resolved to start teaching at a local prison after school on Thursdays and volunteer my time as the Academic Coordinator for Hockey in New Jersey. Hockey in New Jersey is a local non-profit that inspires low-income youth to develop life skills, succeed academically, and create positive relationships through the sport of hockey. After months of planning, we launched our Brick City Scholars Academy in February at the Prudential Center. In addition to pairing students with mentors and providing college visit trips, our academic initiative focuses on college preparedness, character development, and standardized test preparation. It was definitely a lot of work, but it was time well spent.

In March, I had the pleasure of attending the Agile Mind Professional Services Advisor Academy, which was one of the best professional development experiences I have ever attended. In addition to being surrounded by some of the most innovative math educators our country has to offer, we were also presented with the latest research from the world-renown Charles A. Dana Center. After leaving the University of Texas at Austin, I flew directly to Philadelphia, where I was a chaperone at the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend. Willie O’Ree, who was the first black player in the National Paulsen Pic - 1 (4)Hockey League, holds a skills weekend for student-athletes throughout the country participating in the NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” initiative. Hosted by the Snyder Hockey Foundation, the weekend-long event helps student-athletes with tremendous potential develop critical leadership skills. As Matthew Atehortua pointed out to the NHL, “it was just a surreal experience how someone who was the first [black] hockey player is still around and can share his experience with the youths and the aspiring African-American athletes.”  It really was a special weekend for all!

After returning home from Philadelphia, I was back off to Texas (this time in San Antonio) for the 2017 NCTM Annual Conference & Exposition. I really have come to love these conferences, as attendees learn about new pedagogical approaches and have time to reflect about their teaching practice. I then flew straight from Texas to Mexico for Spring Break, where I explored several Mayan ruins (including the famed Chichén Itzá), scuba-dove in an underground cenote, and even took a Mexican cooking class. April was one of the busiest months of the school year for sure, but what really made the month so special was when I found out that I had officially been awarded a Fulbright grant to study education in Taiwan!

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Exploring the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá

Later on during the Spring, I officially graduated from Columbia, which ended up becoming one of the most memorable days of my life. I was finally able to see Hamilton, too, which somehow exceeded my crazy-high expectations and is the best Broadway play that I have ever seen. As May turned into June, I knew that the time with my beloved seniors at East Side was slowly coming to a close. I was particularly close with this group of seniors, including four specific students that I have been privileged to share so many great memories with. Graduation was a day filled with mixed emotions, as we officially bid farewell to the Class of 2016.

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At graduation with Lucas, Natalie, Diana, and Vitor

During the summer, I started consulting as an Advisor through Agile Mind. Through this opportunity, I had the responsibility of leading professional development sessions and coaching teachers at dozens of schools throughout Philadelphia and New York City. Having the opportunity to work with teachers at so many different schools further pushed my thinking in ways previously thought unimaginable, and gave me great experience for my new role as an instructional coach at East Side in the fall. I also attended two incredible weddings this summer: It was surreal watching Eric Vander Voort, one of my best friends in the world, get married, and I also had a blast hanging with my #TCSPA friends at Kristen’s wedding, too. The summer ended with traveling to D.C. for my Fulbright Orientation run by the State Department, which you can read more about here.

As the new school year started in September, I was excited to commence my new role as an instruction coach for the math department. In addition to coaching teachers, I also taught one Algebra I class, which I have grown very close with over the course of the last four months. In the fall, I chaperoned my last two college visit trips with the East Side High School Student Council, where we visited Diana, Jeury, and Wilian at TCNJ and Vitor at Swarthmore College, and visited Columbia with our Brick City Scholars. As I alluded to in a previous post, it really is special having the honor of being shown around college campuses by former students.

By the time November came around, the first marking period was already over. During the so-called “no-school November” week, a bunch of my co-workers and I had the opportunity to visit Cuba, a country that has always been high on my bucket list. Cuba was, without question, the most interesting place that I have ever visited. Contrary to popular belief, I have never felt so safe and so welcomed in a foreign country, and could not believe how many Cubans came up to us on the street and just wanted to talk with Americans. Several people offered us friendly recommendations, and the entire country could not have been more welcoming. After watching literally every documentary about Cuba on Netflix, it was also surreal being able to explore paces like the Hotel Nacional (where infamous gangsters Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky set up the famous meeting to discuss business plans and policies with crime families across the United States) and the Plaza de la Revolución (where Fidel Castro gave many of his speeches and Pope Francis held his mass in Havana last year). Perhaps most interesting was the Museo de la Revolución, the former Presidential Palace, where Castro’s cabinet worked and where the government has remnants of American planes on display like trophies. Oh, and did I mention that we got to see the granma, too? What an incredible trip!

 

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Toward the end of the month, I had the chance to attend the NCTM INNOV8 Conference in Las Vegas. In additional to an informational conference that pushed my thinking about increasing access and equity for all students, we also watched two incredible magic shows (Chris Angel and David Copperfield) and ate dinner in the dark (which one of the most unique dinners I have ever had in my life). We also paused and reflected about the terrible tragedy that happened in Vegas only a few weeks earlier.

Before I knew it, we were in December. Our Brick City Scholars were able to squeeze in one more college visit trip to Princeton, and we were able to attend the Harvard/Princeton hockey game, too, which was a lot of fun. I was able to get to my mentor Seán Sammon to come down to East Side to visit and talk to our new future medical leaders club. I also went to a bunch of hockey games before shipping off to Asia, and I was happy that I was able to watch my mentee score his first high school goal on both J.V. and Varsity after transitioning from goalie. Towards the end of the month, I started to get a little anxious about the unknowns of the next couple of months. As of this writing, my plane ticket has still not been booked, but I am looking to leave early next week and return home in early August. Whereas I know that this Fulbright experience will be a transformational opportunity for me, I will surely miss the incredible students at East Side High School that I have come to love over the course of the past six years.

 

It is hard to believe how much things have changed this year, but I can only imagine what 2018 has in store for me. I have read over and over and been told by dozens of people how transformative a Fulbright can be, but rarely is that personal growth sensed on a daily basis. Perhaps Bill Watterson said it best in the famous cartoon strip Calvin & Hobbes: “You know what’s weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon… everything’s different.” Here’s to a life-changing 2018!06817329b95e621e9b317ef261038fcb

2014: A Year in Review

2014 was the year of traveling and the year of weddings, and it was definitely a year to remember. As I mentioned in last year’s year in review, I rung in 2014 sixty-feet underwater in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean on an amazing dive trip with two of my teacher friends, Nick and Karina. It was my first live-aboard, and it was an absolutely incredible experience that I will always cherish; I already cannot wait to go diving again! Later in the month, Matt, Victoria and I flew down to Louisville for our good friend Steve Townsend’s wedding. Although we were there for only a few days, we tried to make the most out of the experience, and checked out the Louisville Slugger Factory, ate some delicious Hot Brown’s at the eminent Brown Hotel, and had an Inside-the Gates tour of Churchill Downs, too.
At Steve’s wedding in Louisville
Spring went by so fast. Our basketball team won the state tournament, Teach For America-New Jersey celebrated their 20thanniversary, and we celebrated MIPO’s 35th anniversary in the city, too. In March, I was once again privileged to chaperone another overnight college visit trip to Connecticut and Rhode Island, which was humbling and empowering as usual.
Eric showing me around Turner Sports
April was one of the best months of the spring, as I was able to get to two new cities: New Orleans and Atlanta. In short, both cities lived up to the hype. In New Orleans, we went for the annual NCTM conference, which was just as informative as the conference in Denver. I would highly recommend checking out my full write-up about New Orleans here. After landing in Newark, I had less than 12 hours before I was on another plane bound for Atlanta. It was my first time to visit “Hotlanta,” and I was excited to see my good friend Eric Vander Voort, who I hadn’t seen for a while, and is currently working at Turner Sports. In the five days that I was there, we killed the city, going to just about every famous restaurant and museum the city had to offer. Oh, and did I mention that we ran into Shaq at the Turner Sports building, too? Talk about once in a lifetime!
 
In May, some of my best friends in the world graduated from Marist, and in June, between chaperoning more trips, speaking at Honor Society Dinners and gearing up for the World Cup, I moved out of Newark to Rahway, which is about fifteen minutes south of the city. Speaking of soccer, this was the first year I actually followed the World Cup, and it really got me into soccer.
At the College Summit at Yale University
In July, I was invited to be in Dan Torres’ wedding, which was incredible! It was held in upstate New York, and it was great re-connecting with so many people I hadn’t seen in over a year. I was also fortunate to have the opportunity to chaperone a weeklong overnight College Summit visit to Yale, and met some great rising seniors that all had unique stories about their pursuit of their future. The following week, I was able to visit my longtime friend Johnny Delgado in St. Louis, and return to the baseball mecca that is Busch Stadium. In addition to visiting Johnny, it was my second time to the city, although it was my first time seeing the new stadium.
On the field at Busch Stadium
In August, I was so blessed to be able to visit Spain for a month. I went to study Spanish, live with a host family, and experience as much of the culture of España as I possibly could. In the three weeks I was there, I was able to get to four major cities, including Madrid, Toledo, Valencia and Barcelona. I had the best paella I’ve ever had in my life, experienced my first professional soccer game, y aprendí un poco más español. Quite frankly, it was one of the best trips that I have ever taken in my life. I never had the opportunity to study abroad while I was in college, so I felt that this was my chance to study abroad and take in a new culture while learning a new language along the way.
Before I knew it, the summer was over, and a new school year was around the corner. This year, I was appointed to be a lead teacher in the math department, something I was extremely excited about. My classes were awesome, and it is honestly hard to believe how fast the first four months have gone.
At Austin’s last high school soccer game
Just when the leaves were changing colors, we took a busload of students down to Rutgers for the day to check out the New Brunswick campus, and I also saw my first Red Bull soccer game, too. In October, I saw the U.S. men’s national team play Ecuador in Connecticut with Rob and Jeff, which was really cool (even if I did get to the game a little late…). One of the funniest aspects of the trip was that many of my students are Ecuadorian, so it was a lot of fun leading up to the game. At the end, the teams tied 2-2. After getting back, I was able to cheer on our boy’s soccer team and watched them win the Newark City Championship, and go to Austin’s last high school soccer game, too.
At the game that night with Jeff and Rob
During November, a bunch of friends and co-workers went down to Jamaica for my friend Nuno’s wedding. It was my first destination wedding, and it was awesome! In between the wedding festivities, I was able to squeeze in a trip to the famous Dunn River Falls and embark on a scuba diving excursion, too. The wedding itself was picturesque, as shown below. Two weeks later, I had another wedding, and Ryan and DJ got married, too!
Congrats to “Nuna”
In December, I had one of the most memorable days of my teaching career to date when I took almost 50 high schools students to visit my beloved alma mater, Marist. In between working with seniors on countless college and scholarship applications, I was able to go to a soccer scholarship dinner and finally try some authentic Norwegian food, too. For New Year’s, I went up to Connecticut, and had such an amazing time.
Another late night working on college applications
As I said, 2014 was the year of weddings and trips, and it really was quite a memorable year. It seems as though every year goes by faster, but I guess that is to be expected, especially as we get older; maybe that is why we need to make every second count!
One of the most memorable days of my teaching career
 
Here’s to a great 2015!

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!

2012: A Year in Review

     For me, 2012 was a huge transition year. I finished an amazing four years at my beloved alma mater, Marist College, and started my teaching career in Newark, New Jersey. 2012 was full of ups and downs, and had many adventures along the way. So here is my personal review of 2012:
Marist Graduation
     2012 started out for me in Boston, hanging out with Dylan, Josh and Garrin. It was the first time that I was in a city to celebrate the New Year, and I think we did it right: After walking around Boston and watching a Chinese parade, we ate at the Salty Pig (which I highly recommend) and counted down the end of 2011 in Copley Square with a few thousand other people. It was a great way to start such a great year.
With my fabulous SGA team at President Murray’s annual SGA  dinner. 
     In January, Marist mourned the loss of three members of the Marist community in a terrible off-campus fire. It was a sad week and a tough time for everyone in such a tight-knit community. We held a memorial service for Kerry Fitzsimmons, Eva Block and Kevin Johnson, and I will never forget the lines of Professor Sand uttering the words, “Kevin, Kevin, Kevin; skateboard into heaven.” Chills fire down my back just thinking about it.

     At the end of January, in stark contrast to the first two weeks of the semester, I received some great news: I was accepted into Teach For America. From their website, Teach For America (TFA) “is a national teacher corps of recent college graduates who commit two years to teach and to effect change in under-resourced urban and rural public schools.” I was one of the lucky 17% of the over 34,000 people that applied to Teach For America in 2012. I was placed in Newark, NJ, and although I was a little disappointed at the time, I couldn’t be happier to be teaching in Newark right now. I accepted the offer within three days, and I had a full-time job lined up four months before graduation.
In NYC for a taping of an upcoming Demetri Martin special
     In February, I was student teaching at Marlboro High Schoolin Marlboro, New York with Mr. Koonz. I taught 9th grade algebra and college algebra (mostly juniors and seniors). After working for seven weeks in a high school, I student taught at Wappinger’s Junior High School under Mrs. Knight (a Marist alumna), teaching 7th grade math. One of my favorite classes was the last period of the day, which made me laugh many times about “bomb shelter drills” and other middle school jokes. At first I thought I was going to hate teaching middle school, but I loved it so much.
With one of my 7th Grade classes at Wappingers JHS
     In March, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to fly down with the Women’s Basketball team to Florida for the NCAA tournament during Spring Break. Since we needed to get there a few days early, I took advantage of the time and explored Tallahassee and Florida State University. To say that we had a blast would be an understatement. I will never forget all of the fun adventures we had walking around the FSU campus, meeting up with their SGA leaders, and going to our favorite spot in town, Tomahawks. We won the first game, upsetting 4th-seeded Georgia, in one of the best basketball games I have ever seen. 
Cheering on our Red Foxes in Tallahassee 
     April capped off a great run I had as Student Body President, which concluded with a beautiful transition dinner in the Cabaret of Marist College. I gave what I thought was a fitting outgoing address that discussed the notion of making a difference, something I am very passionate about.  And what felt like just a short few weeks later, I graduated from Marist. Looking back on my college career, I feel as though I took advantage of every opportunity I had at Marist, and I loved almost every single second of college.
Before the Transition Dinner with Josh, Dylan, Ferg, Rob, Jeff and Nick
     Then, the summer came, which came and went so fast. After a few weeks off, I headed off to TFA training, called “Institute” (or “Boot Camp,” as we liked to call it) first at Rutgers-Newark for a week, then at St. John’s University in Queens, NY. It is during this summer that I first worked in an inner city, teaching summer school to 9th graders at St. Hope Leadership Academy in Harlem, New York. During all of this learning and teaching, I somehow found time to visit a lot of my friends (Josh, Rob, Kassie, Nick, Ferg and Emily), who were all leaving to study abroad for the semester. I truly had a great experience in Harlem, and was surrounded by a great group of teachers that helped make the summer so memorable.
The famous “bus crew,” Eli, Ryan, myself and Honore
     After six weeks of getting up at 5:00am every single day, I literally had no time off: The day after Institute was over, I moved into my first apartment in Newark, New Jersey. Located in the Ironbound section (East Ward) of Newark, I really enjoy the area, having a lot of Portuguese, Brazilian and Central American influence. The people are so friendly, there are always families walking around the neighborhood, and soccer is followed like a cult here. Oh, and did I mention that there are so many amazing restaurants around that are out of this world? Oh well for losing some weight…
Volunteering at a Foster Home in Newark
     In September, I was excited to start teaching at my placement school, East Side High School, which is only a short walk from my apartment. After cleaning my classroom like crazy, it was great to meet my students and co-workers for the first time. My first semester definitely had its ups and downs, but I love working at East Side so much. (For a full overview of my first semester, read my post on it here)
Visiting Columbia University with Brian and Meaghan 
     October 2012 will always be remembered as the month Hurricane Sandy hit landfall, causing billions of dollars worth of damage. While Newark lost power for about a week, we were very fortunate compared to some of the other harder-hit areas that suffered much more damage. I will never forget walking around the streets and seeing so many people having impromptu street fairs, cooking all of their frozen meat before it went bad. It was great seeing so many people make the best out of a bad situation-something that I think more people need to do. Also in October, I had the absolute privilege of going to Washington, D.C. with the East Side High School Student Council. It was such a powerful weekend seeing so many kids from Newark interested in college. 

     November was one of my favorite months, as it was the first time I went to Europe. Going to Italy was, hands-down, one of the best experiences I have ever had in my entire life. I would definitely check out my full post I put up about Italy, which can be found here.

     And then December came and went, and it was gone before I knew it. My half brother Steve and his family moved to New York from Arizona in October, and it was great having my four-year-old niece Bella and her seven-month-old brother Vinny around for the holidays. After seeing the Christmas Spectacularin New York City, I spent a few days up in Boston and Albany before ringing in the New Year.

      And so that was my 2012. Looking back, it was such a great year, and it is kind of hard to believe that it is 2013 already. As John Lennon would say, “Another year over, a new one just begun.” Here’s to 2013!