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Original Writing sample

College Essay

The landscape of America in 1875 bears little resemblance to the America we know today. As the Civil War drew to a close, our young nation was left prone on her knees, broken and bleeding and torn asunder, from a tempest the likes of which my modern compatriots and I will never know. We ourselves were left as huddled masses, writhing in the ash of our greatest war, straining and yearning to breathe free. 


The Statue of Liberty was a congratulatory gift to our nation, intended to commend our entry onto the world stage as a viable young nation. Our native shores no-longer teeming, our land vacant and untended, we needed and welcomed new blood into our veins. And so it was onto this backdrop that Ms. Lazarus’ poem was affixed. Like the hungry man, who need not be picky, we indeed welcomed anyone who would feed us.


Much as history is written by the victor, so is poetry interpreted by the reader. American youth from the 19th and 20th centuries were raised reciting this famed poem. The heart of the American student swelled with pride as he read this poem, perched squarely in the seat of the benefactor. Perhaps his grand-father was a pursuer of the American dream, or his mother a daughter of one who gave all. 


However, if one pauses the patriotic parlance and takes a moment to inspect this poem more carefully, we swiftly notice that the positive imagery is staggeringly one-sided. America gives light and shelter to those less fortunate than she. Those lucky souls are likened to storm-churned trash and America a golden haven of godly proportions. This elevated self-image and ego aggrandizement has rapidly grown to define our national identity. Drinking up the mythical idealism, young Americans grew and reproduced, instilling propagandic sentiments in their offspring. 


As time passed and this “noble” notion has left our shores teeming with our own wretched refuse, we find our modern policies and perspectives grossly out of sync with the bronze-etched words once so hallowed and revered. Gone are the days when our pulse was slow and our collective belly was empty. The America of today is bloated and stretched, her veins struggling against hyper-tension; an infrastructure in crisis, two steps behind in a spiraling and unwinnable race.


So it is that Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers, whose patriotic pulse once proudly percolated the golden ichor of Lady Liberty, have come to realize that America’s aging body can no longer bounce back like it once did after a weekend of gluttony. And so they have attempted to refine her taste and elevate her palate toward a more caviar cuisine. 


Therefore, I propose that it is time we revise the message on the once hallowed placard at the base of our oxidizing ambassador, lest we find ourselves juggling international lawsuits claiming “False Advertising”, “Malpractice” or even “Slander”. Let her read:


“Give me your vibrant, your tall,

Your brightest young stars yearning to be seen,

The cream of the crop of your finest hall.

Send these, your most brilliant of minds to me,

I unlock the door of our cement wall.”

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Original Writing sample

Poetry

Palm trees sway

to a rhythm that the sea designs,


Breezes slip through fronds

like musical strands though a comb's tines,


Colors slide down

the horizon; oil on subliminal water,


Our lady gives birth,

to a stellar daughter


Who sails alone on the wine dark sea.


     -A Hymn to a Summer's Eve

      by Vanessa Schmidt

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Original Writing sample

College Paper

Equity Dilemma:

Who is Teaching My Poor Child?

Vanessa Schmidt

University of Maryland

Equity Dilemma:

Who is Teaching My Poor Child?


Double doses of small group instruction in math and reading conducted by classroom teachers, intervention blocks carved out of the instructional day and taught by interventionists and classroom teachers alike, heavy paraeducator support and countless hours spent on brain wracking data analysis. These are the varied attempts by Watkins Mill Elementary School to support its most struggling students. As a result, 90% of small group instructional time is allocated to 15% of the class; those most struggling students whose poor test scores are a red blotch on the data graphs of the school. (MCPS, 2017) Yet, while these students are being given academic CPR, what is happening to those students who are above grade level? How are they being educated within their zone of proximal development? (Vygotsky, 1978) 


Initially, one might argue that the needs of above grade level students are being met via whole group instruction. However, the focus of whole group instruction at WMES is exposure. Lessons are tailored to expose all students to the grade-level standard, not to delve deep into the academic concepts and generate deep comprehension. That kind of thing is left for the small group. Therefore, those children who are above grade level are left unchallenged and under-stimulated by the whole group lesson, and when small group rotation time comes along, they are often not met with at all, and left instead to complete their on grade level work independently. This occurs because the demands of instructing the below grade level students are simply so high and the gaps in their learning are so wide, that there just isn’t any time left over for the other students. 


The notoriously antiquated cycle of “covering” material is ironically still at play, even in this school where so much effort is poured into helping students achieve the grade level standard. If some happen to exceed that standard by their own tenacity then they might be one of the lucky ones, plucked from mediocrity, to be shunted into a Center for Enriched Studies. However, space in these sites is limited, and not all of the above grade level students qualify for entry. (MCPS, 2017) How then will the majority of the students at WMES, who are performing at a high level, ever receive an education that meets their needs? They will go on to attend Montgomery Village Middle School where many of the same issues remain, and finally onto Watkins Mill High School. By the time they arrive there and the opportunity for differentiated instruction finally arrives, will the joy of learning and the desire for achievement be completely squelched due to so many years of understimulation? The purpose of this essay is to discuss these and other negative effects of our current educational model on students who are above grade level at low-income schools and endeavor to generate a viable alternative to this bleak and all to common scenario.


Analysis

Consider Fatima, a young girl in my class, who is gifted according to current MCPS standards. She began the school year as a bright and shining girl, performing above grade level in all academic subject areas and was truly eager to learn and share her learning with others. As the year progressed however, she found herself earning the exact same score on her computerized assessments time and time again. Her stagnated scores caused her to cry inconsolably on more than one occasion. Furthermore, during the first and second quarter, she routinely earned As on all her formal written assessments. But the further into the school year we got, the more often a B came her way; one time she even got a D! By the middle of the school year the situation had become unbearable for her and she began speaking negatively about school, copping an occasional attitude and obsessing about her grades. By this time she had also developed an intense dread of assessment.


Another similar example is my own son, Aeson, who attended WMES from Pre-K through 2nd grade. He ranks in the 99th percentile in math among his same age peers according to his Map (NWEA, 2017) scores, yet he hates school. After every school day I would ask him how his day went and every day his response would be the same, “Boooooooring!”. This was one of the main reasons I moved him to Lois P. Rockwell Elementary School in Damascus, MD for his 3rd grade year, along with the logistics of it based on my living situation. Though Aeson currently attends a school with dramatically different demographics than WMES, his complaints remain the same. I know there are roughly 7 other students in his reading group, which makes sense given that they have a higher percentage of above grade level students at his new school. (MCPS, 2017) He tells me that they are met with nearly every day and that they are reading interesting non-fiction books, yet he still finds school in general to be painfully boring. 

Is my son still bored in this more stimulating and supposedly equitable environment because he is highly gifted and even this higher level of academics isn’t enough to capture his mind? How do the other students, who are possibly less gifted than my son but still performing above grade level, feel? Are they as bored as Aeson? He did say that his guided reading books are interesting. He also tells me that he enjoys discussing them in his reading group, therefore we can assume that the other children do as well. Yet he still holds a negative perspective of school. As does another gifted student in my class; a boy named Alex. He complains loudly and often of school being boring, much in the same manner as my own son. This child skipped 2nd grade, yet 3rd grade still bores him terribly.


How can we be allowing students, who show the most aptitude for tackling the curriculum our institution has designed, to hover at a level of adequate when they are the ones who have the potential to be outstanding? These children are our future leaders, scientists and inventors. Let’s cultivate them and nourish their intellect! Particularly, those students who have such strong academic potential and hail from a diverse and poverty stricken background like the majority of the students at WMES. The only way my son found his way into a more affluent school, was due to my moving in with my boyfriend and combining incomes so that we could afford to live in a nicer neighborhood. Had that not happened he would have remained at WMES with the rest of his poor peers.


Is it really surprising though that minority communities, like the ones residing in the Watkins Mill Cluster, are still having such a hard time pulling themselves out of the cycle of poverty, when our brightest minority students are left to rust and tarnish in under-stimulating classrooms? Our current policies claim to be humanitarian policies and equitable to all children, but are they really? How can they be, while the majority of the resources go to a minority of the students? It’s ironically an inverse of the current state of wealth distribution in the world. The minority of the population controls the majority of the wealth. It would appear that the pendulum for ‘equal rights’ has over-swung in the opposite direction, but was this a natural occurrence, or was the pendulum strategically pushed? 


When analyzed in this light, the current situation begins to take on the sinister tone of some evil hidden agenda to keep the “poor man down”. By raising all minority students, whose families may have previously been an economic drain on the welfare system, to the level of the hard-working proletariat, you ensure that they have enough education and social responsibility to fill the bottom rungs of the labor force, while carefully ensuring that they never reach a higher level of economic independence, which might afford them the leisure time to ponder social issues and heaven forbid, do something about them! This system has effectively ensured that any potential charismatic leader from these groups be stunted in his or her development and never allowed to reach his or her full potential. With the current educational system in place, the top 1% can feel secure that there will never be a dynamic minority leader, supported by a politically and socially literate constituency, who together will usher in an era of change, where the current social order will be completely disrupted and the fabric of society be re-sewn in a new and more equitable pattern.


One such equitable pattern, which is laying dormant waiting for a champion, involves redefining how intelligence is viewed in our society. Currently schools teach and test with a slant toward cultivating critical thinking skills. (MCPS, 2017) However, (Sternberg, 2007) suggests that these skills are often times not the most important skills for students to spend time developing. Other types of intelligences may have much more practical value for many students across the country and if value were placed on them, would facilitate the self actualization of many more people across the board. Why does a future ballet dancer need to understand mitosis? Why should a future race car driver be made to write poetry? Sure, public schools in America were begun with the idea of creating a united American culture and a common political identity, but is this purpose not painfully obsolete? The concept of the liberal education may have long since had its day.


Now we find ourselves spending millions of dollars beating the same brand of learning into the heads of every child in America in oh so democratic a fashion. Square pegs in round, rhomboid, trapezoidal, hexagonal, and elliptical holes. Long live The United States of Equity! What we fail to see is that equity is not making sure every child learns the same exact thing, it means meeting each child where they are and teaching to their strengths. Equity is setting the curriculum free to embrace the unique abilities of each child, allowing the learner to design his or her learning; setting the stage for each student to be met with success, each according to his or her own passion. Sadly, a change of this magnitude can never come to be if the majority of our population continues to be educated just enough to reach that proletariat status, but never enough to understand the forces that hold us down. Ironically, our superintendent, Dr. Jack Smith continues to ask, “Are our children learning enough?” A better question would be, “Are they learning the right stuff?” And so, the cycle of poverty and stagnancy continues.


Next Steps

The educational buzzword of the day is culturally responsive teaching, (Kozleski, 2011) but what about academically responsive teaching? Is school not primarily an academic organization? I’m not saying we should no longer aim to be culturally responsive, but let’s not assume that there’s a manual for what’s academically appropriate for each child in America. I am all for John Dewey’s social and emotional focus for schooling (Dewey, 2007) and realize that the idea of age-based grade level instruction has its grounding a desire to group students by emotional maturity levels, but until we as a nation experience some great social and educational upheaval where utopian principals reign supreme, and curriculum is not a commodity to be bought and sold, but an organic entity to be created by the learner, we need to consider alternate methods of structuring our students’ learning time within the confines of our present reality, to bring about a more equitable academic outcome for all students, while still striving to be culturally responsive and fostering the social and emotional growth of all our students.


Here’s this for an idea. What would happen if Elementary Administrators opened the doors to more inter-grade level cooperation? What if guided reading groups were generated across the school instead of merely across a grade level? What if the math block was restructured so that time was not wasted on a useless and ineffective whole group lesson and instead a theme-based approach was taken where groups of teachers worked together to instruct students of all ability levels in the small group setting? Teachers swapping kids laterally among the same grade level is not uncommon today, but it’s much more challenging to swap kids vertically. What if this however became the norm? Would this enable the needs of the above grade-level students to be met consistently? Would this also encourage inter-age social responsibility and mutual respect? Could a sense of community be the amazing bi-product of inter-age student collaboration? 


Age segregation in America is real and for many countries across the globe a completely foreign concept. Just take a spin down a sandy lane in a Costa Rican beach town, and you’ll see grandmas salsaing in the streets with 20 year olds at 10pm while toddlers imitate their rhythmic movements with their tweenaged cousins. Drop by a fashionable bar in Greece or Germany and you’ll see folks of all ages enjoying the evening together. Americans are isolated from one another and forced to conform to a one-size fits all norm defined by our current educational and societal institutions. We the people must either fit into a predetermined societal box or become social outcasts. This deep-seated isolation is an ever worsening social ill, which is reaching epidemic status in America. Could inter-age education be part of the solution? 


Critics may complain that my ideas smack of tracking at the Elementary level, but (Hallinan, 1994) makes a valid point when she concludes that tracking can be an effective approach when care is taken to ensure that appropriate tracks are chosen for students and that tracks are easily changeable when the original track is no longer appropriate for the student. At the Elementary level we are not speaking of tracking but rather ability grouping, a practice which is commonly accepted and widely used in Elementary schools today. 


However, despite the commonplace acceptance of the need for ability based groupings, the overriding research based trend in education today tilts in favor of heterogeneous grouping. However, is it always appropriate to group students heterogeneously according to academic ability? Can we not find a middle ground where students have opportunities to work in academically heterogeneous as well as homogeneous groups? And who said that academics is the only variable for defining groupings? What of the heterogeneousness of age? Are we possibly over focused on the heterogeneousness of academics that we are ignoring other ways in which students can be grouped heterogeneously? In addition to the societal benefits of inter-age grouping, is not intergenerational collaboration also a necessary skill for success in today’s workforce. I know that I work directly with 4 different generations of individuals just in the course of one work day at WMES.


If all students are truly being educated within their actual zone of proximal development, then every child will be prepared to enter the secondary education track, which is most appropriate for them. As it stands, our system effectively blocks students who attend primarily low-income schools from ever being able to access their highest possible track. I fear that Fatima and Alex, if they continue to be educated at WMES, will not be invited to take AP classes at Watkins Mill High School, or if they do take them, it will be because the school’s standards for entry will likely be lowered to allow for enough students to participate in the course (Hallinan, 1994). In that event the whole class will probably be ill prepared to digest the content they will encounter, which will lead them to score lower on the criteria based assessments than their peers from the W-schools. But I got Aeson out, and though he comes from a poor background, I’ve likely helped to set off a chain reaction in his life that will be felt for years to come. Maybe he will someday be instrumental in disrupting the norms of society in favor of a truly more equitable practice in education and throughout society at large.


References

Dewey, J. (2007). Experience and education. Simon and Schuster.

Hallinan, M. (1994). Tracking: From theory to practice. Sociology of Education, 67(2), 79-84.

Kozleski, E. B. (2011). Culturally responsive teaching matters! Tempe, AZ: Equity Alliance at 

            ASU.

Montgomery County Public Schools, (2017). Montgomery County Public Schools School 

            Progress Report 2016. [Data file.]. Retrieved from http://montgomeryschoolsmd.org

Montgomery County Public Schools, (2017). Watkins Mill Elementary School - #561 [Data file.]. 

             Retrieved from http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/schools/watkinsmilles/

Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), (2017). Retrieved from http://www.nwea.org

Sternberg, R. (2007). Who are the bright children? The cultural context of being an acting 

             intelligent. Educational Researcher, 36(3), 148-155.

Vygotsky, L. S., & Rieber, R. W. (Ed.). (1998). Cognition and language: Series in     

             psycholinguistics. 

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Original Writing sample

Translation of Website Content: Greek to English

Lent-Friendly Orange Cake You Won’t Want to Share


Chances are you’ve never tried a cake quite like this one! Besides the fact that it is simply delectable, it’s also made without any eggs, butter or milk, so you can enjoy it while you are fasting this Lent! Check out the latest sales at Metro and make this amazing dessert cheaper than ever!


Ingredients:

2 large Merlin oranges

2 ½ cups sugar

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup raki, cognac or the liquor of your choice  

1 tsp baking soda

3 tsp baking powder

1 ½ cup flour

1 ½ cup coarse semolina

100g baking chocolate (optional)


Directions:

Peel the oranges and remove the seeds. Boil them for 5 minutes and then change the water. Repeat this process three times. Strain them and let them cool.


Remove as many of the white strands as possible and place one orange into a food processor or blender and puree, adding more water if necessary until there is 1 ½ cups of orange puree. In a large mixing bowl mix the olive oil and 1 cup of the sugar until they are homogenized. Add the baking soda to the orange puree and mix briefly. Then pour the orange puree into the large mixing bowl and mix. Next add the liquor and mix. In another smaller bowl add the baking powder to the flour and mix, then slowly dump into the wet mixture and blend. Lastly add the semolina mixing for one last time.


Let the batter sit for 20 minutes to allow the semolina to absorb the liquid. Pour the batter into an oiled number 30 pan and bake at 180 degrees for 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean from the center of the cake.


Let the cake cool while preparing the syrup.

Pour the remaining sugar into a pot with 1 cup of water and the other orange thinly sliced. Boil for 10 minutes from the time the actual boil sets in. Remove from flame and pour the hot syrup over the cool cake, not allowing the orange slices to fall onto the cake. Cut the slices in half and use as a garnish.

If desired, garnish further with melted baking chocolate.


Tip:

For a less syrupy cake use 1 ½ cup of sugar in the cake batter, and only 1 cup sugar with ¾ cup water for the syrup. The syrup can also be flavored with a cinnamon stick during the boiling process.

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As a linguistic artist, I pride myself in crafting writing that's truly unforgettable. I am a certified English as a Second Language Teacher, specializing in grammar and etymology. I've been a fluent Greek speaker for over 15 years and am currently nearing fluency in Spanish. My linguistic felicity partnered with a broad knowledge base, gleaned from years in academia as well as the professional world, have set me up as a top notch choice for almost any project.

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