Friday, July 20, 2007

Catching up - I'm going on vacation next week!!!

This past weekend the Fresno PAL Triathlon team traveled to Rancho
Seco Park to participate in the Tri for Fun and Tri for Real
Triathlons sponsored by TBF Racing. The Tri for Fun was a sprint
distance tri (.5 mile swim, 16 mile bike, 3 mile run), and the Tri for
Real was an Olympic distance event (.9 mile swim, 24 mile bike, 6.2
mile run). 7 students participated in both events combined, with only
Albert, Carlos and myself completing the Olympic Distance event.
First the results! Edna (triathlon convert from water polo!) and
Elizabeth (founding member) placed FIRST in their division in the Tri
for Fun event! Edna did the swimming and running and Elizabeth did
the running. Angel and Gabriel successfully completed their first
full triathlon in great time. Victor hadn't been practicing with us
for a while, but completed the duathlon race that day in fine shape.
Albert, Carlos and I handed out water to people and had fun doing
Sunday, on the Olympic Distance Event, Albert finished first in our
group (yes, before me...) with a time of 2 hours and 55 minutes! I
finished with a time of about 3 hours 2 minutes. Carlos finished
under three hours but had a spectacular sprint finish.
TBF was amazing – giving us free leftover pasta after Saturday's
event (which we combined with chicken and rolls for dinner that
night!) and being extremely accommodating of our group as always! All
of our donated racing bikes worked flawlessly (no flats!) and the kids
ran in their donated shoes and Fresno PAL shirts. Well, except me who
ran shirtless (See the photo gallery for explanation.)
Finally, the best part of the trip was Saturday night. While I
always try to find ways to positively affirm my student/athletes, I
have usually found that such comments hit home better when given in
private for the population I serve. However, over the campfire, I
went around to each student and spent about a minute praising them in
every way I could think of – glossing over the, "problems," and
frustrations I sometimes feel with them. In turn, I invited the rest
of the students to find something positive to say. I was amazed at
the honesty around that campfire. They all either took it seriously
or kept quiet if they couldn't say something worthwhile. Even some of
the guys got kind of emotional. The end was particularly touching.
As I dismissed them to leave, Gabriel piped up that what they'd been
talking about was to say something nice about me. So all seven kids
said something nice about me. I've realized the impact the Triathlon
was having on them in terms of grade increases, ditching decreases,
and events competed in. Yet perhaps I failed to really think about
how when it comes down to it, any kind of coaching situation is
ultimately between the athlete and the race, and the coach and the
athlete - imparting knowledge and care in a uniquely human endeavor.
Note that this was just after they'd lovingly cut my hair...
Thank you, individual donors and partners. Thank you, friends and
supporters. And of course, thank you Sargent Doyle and Fresno PAL,
whose leadership has made this program more effective and made the
past six months happen. We're taking a two week break (because I'm
going on vacation!), then will start training again in mid/late August
for the Shaver Lake and Merced Triathlons in September and October.
Last week we also received word that we were selected for a sizable
donation by a private party, securing our finances and allowing us to
buy better equipment for the students, transportation costs etc. and
in short further validate the Triathlon Experience these students are
I have never more proud my students (from McLane High School!) this
weekend as they competed (and won!), volunteered, and conducted
themselves. You may view some pictures from the weekend at:
and the official TBF Results/pictures will be up soon at

* These past two weeks I was at a math conference on teaching ELL Students better and it was amazing! I learned all about foldables for vocabulary, better notetaking, projects, and just hanging out with other math teachers! 3 days of it were at the beach too!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

when worlds collide

Things have been really busy lately!

June 22nd: Millerton Trip! We swam, we ran, we ate Wendy's, we had fun! Combination water polo/triathlon practice.
June 23rd - the Valley Teen Ranch/PAL Fun Run!: Talk about my worlds colliding! I worked for Valley Teen Ranch (a group home for teenage felony offenders) from '05-'06, after college and while student teaching. I've stayed involved every so often being able to substitute, and tried to get them involved in the Triathlon Team, but it was too much work logistically. Anyway, so they were running there with a team of 7 kids that I brought too, and it was pretty cool to hear them all call me, "Mr. D______," and my students calling me a mix of Mr. and Coach. And the VTR staff that I knew calling me Brandon. It was really cool, I was happy with my 4 mile time of 29 minutes. (so a bit over a 7 minute mile). Afterward we all also got free wienerschnitzel meal vouchers so pigged out on chili dogs and drank mountain dew.

June 25th: Had a meeting with a local development group that might want to give us $! We'll get word in 2 weeks.

The teaching and coaching part! : Several students in summer school are also now on my triathlon or water polo teams. One, we'll call him "Jose", really turned himself around since joining the triathlon team in February. I have worked on this kid for probably hundreds of hours - either praying for him, doing stuff behind the scenes for him/talking to teachers, and the actual helping him with his sports and schoolwork. I was so proud of him just last wekeend, when he realized he was failing hte summer school class, he called me to check his answers. normally i'd think that was odd, but I thought it was great that he would do that and he even was getting most of the answers correct!

But his behavior in class was not good. Last Tuesday he and a friend were messing around, and Jose's cell phone rang. I took it away. It rang again and I answered it, as I threaten to do andn oftne will answer student cell phones in class. A deep voice said, "this is Angel's mom," and a group of guys not more than six feet away from me started laughing. It was, "Allen," another new triathlon recruit of the past month (I had his brother in class last year though.) Well of course I couldn't stand for that, so sent them both to the summer school principal's office. The idea in SS is that you get one office visit, then gone. Jose was upset when he came back, but stayed after school with some other students just to do their homework in the classroom. I was impressed.

But two days later, he was making inappropriate comments about sexual functions (not the math kind of functions... wow so sad that i even notice that!), so I sent him outside and told him to watch it, that I really would kick him out at this point for inappropriate behavior. Well, about 2 hours later (summer school is a LONG 5 hours) he said something racist in front of the class. So I quietly called the office and informed him he was dropped. The other athlete kids in the class were shocked and told me things like, "oh, he's never gonna talk to you again!" and even though I knew I was being fair, kinda got to worrying too! After all, I really do care about this kid! This was the kid that I'd even grounded(took away cell phone, didn't let him compete in a race) before, after about a half hour consultation with his mom and stuff in April. He gave a speech in his english class about how the triathlon was the best thing he'd ever done. He has told me the triathlon has changed his life perspective much for the better, and has remarked when we see gang bangers/members on the streets, "that would be me without triathlon," - and I got him enrolled in the Mayors Gang Prevention Initiative, which provides family counseling and extra services when he needs them next year. I didn't want to lose that either.

But, sure enough after school he came back and asked if he could still be on the triathlon and water polo teams. I said yes, and started to say something like(note: I did not say or mean 'sorry'), "kicking you out wasn't personal, I did what I had to do," and he responded that I didn't have to explain, that he knew why he got kicked out. That definitely shoes maturity I honestly don't think he had six months ago. Part of it is he's turning 15 in a few months (2 days before my birthday, he is fond of pointing out.) and I noticed when looking at pictures recently has really matured physically recently. He's bigger and getting bulkier (working out will do that to you too!). So this truly was a success story so far still... although I feel more than ever the weight of responsibility and the opportunity for his school life. He recently told me after I mentioned how cool graduation was that he wanted me to hand him the diploma at graduation (some of the other triathlete/water polo kids I've got strong bonds with agreed). I told him that if he keeps working and maturing like he has the past few months, I'll find a way to make it work.

Another needy kid in my summer school class started practicing with us in the past week or two. His "mom" (we'll leave it at that) is very protective and he struggles with anger (gets picked on), immaturity (talks a lot about nothing sometimes... just happy to have people to listen to him I think!) and is smart but doesn't always do homework. I called him every day for 3 days in a row to make sure he does it and now hasn't missed an assignment in two weeks. I give at least 30 minutes to an hour of homework every day, including weekend. So it's starting to work... his mom called me this morning to let me know he's run away for a bit - got mad at her and left. Came back about an hour ago, but now he can't go on the camping trip we've been planning for weeks this coming weekend and he was really looking forward to. Bummer. But I'll do my best to keep him involved in stuff with the appropriate consequences.

Wow, how's that for a post about teaching and coaching?
- we'll be competing in the TBF Racing Tri for Fun and Tri for Real Triathlons next weekend. Should have about 6 kids and two adult leaders going up. Good stuff. our first triathlon since April 31st.