Swim Time

Swim Time
Scattergories anyone?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Just give 'em the pool!

I think it is fitting that now the Olympics have begun, it is time to discuss the phenomenon that is: the Bronx boys' Friday trip to Fordham University's indoor pool.

Although you may not think it, the Bronx boys love to go to the pool. Whereas demerit points typically add up to canceling sports for any given afternoon, when it comes to Friday... carrot-over-head technique incorporates PPT (Pool Penalty Time).

“I don’t care.” Is an oft-repeated response to discipline in the Bronx. This can be surprisingly effective when executed with careless precision from a consistently stubborn boy. The funniest thing is, when it gets down to it… the boys actually really do care about pool penalty time.

No matter what they say, when they are out of the pool for even five minutes with all of their cronies in said pool, that is about as bad as it gets. Although it is probably in the thug handbook not to get “super-excited” about anything – splashing around in the pool is probably mentioned in the footnotes as one of the most heinous aberrations to the rule. On this one account however, these boys throw caution to the wind.

They love races. Period. You have never seen a 12 year old this tough, slap the water with blind fury, in hopes to reach the finish line (that is the group leader) first.

Initially…they wanted to race me and you better believe, I gave them what they wanted. The first boy I took seriously and the other boys were astonished that in Michael Phelps fashion, he couldn’t even keep up with me for half the race. For this feat, they paid me what might have been the highest compliment of the entire program – something from each of them along the lines of “ YOooo!!! Joel – you MAD fast!”

This was a pretty good day for me, all in all, after one of my younger guys told me I looked like his favorite professional wrestler – Chris Benoit- which was flattering. Only later did I come to realize that this was the guy who in June 2007 killed his wife, then hung himself. The young boys imparting this knowledge on me concluding quite morbidly – “yeah, homicide AND suicide, that’s double bad.”

On a lighter note… it was nice to discover that my curiosity about these boys from a demographic standpoint is not a one-way street. As I was kneeling down at one point helping a boy with something, discussing professional wrestling, another boy, Keyarr moved in for closer investigation of me. In a kind of endearing and innocent way this pretty rough and tumble inner-city kid gently pat my hair, seemingly very inquisitive to the feel. Noticing that I didn’t have too much of a problem with that, as I was in mid-conversation, he thought the next most interesting idea would be to scratch my beard. The serious look of bewilderment on his face at the time was simply comical.

This same little guy was also the most interested in a swim lesson. He had a lot of work to do on his stroke technique but the best part was by far his kick. I only hope I can one day do the impression for you live, because I think asking him if I can shoot a video of him swimming might be just down right patronizing… not to mention weird. For now I hope simply explaining it in word can do it justice. After describing the difference between a scissor kick and a frog/breast stroke type kick, I went on to ask him to do the scissor kick. Slowly sliding his legs back and forth, he had the rough idea, but I could see it would get him nowhere – so I encouraged him: “okay good, now faster – Faster!” What happened next can only be described as pure magic – I could not have scripted a funnier interpretation. His very serious attempt to increase speed can best be expressed as a “seizure-like vibration of the legs.” Later I noted that this is quite normal as a freestyle kick for these guys.

Look out summer of 2012.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

All it takes is one high-stick in floor hockey

William is from the Dominican Republic.  And boy does he hate floor hockey. One foul move or bad call in the hockey cafeteria and you can expect a prompt downward spiral into oblivion.

Elijah on the other hand didn’t care very much about softball last week (baseball being William’s favorite sport) and brought our journey toward a fun-filled game on the softball diamond to an abrupt halt when he wandered into Kennedy Fried Chicken –  a neighborhood KFC whose red and white stripes you may recognize, but whose seafood and gyros you may not.

Now, the boys needed some sort of physical activity and while I was in no mood to finish our hike all the way up to the glass littered softball blacktop, I did think that a little circuit training in the aforementioned multipurpose cafeteria was in order.  So I used this valuable time to explain the inherent goodness in our demerit point system that we use with the boys.  While they may claim to hate these demerit points more than any other concept in the world, it is the primary tool of the teachers/group leaders in the classroom and they do serve their purpose as a moral currency – teaching the boys the moral gravity of their actions and how those actions affect the others (in the way of canceling sports).  Even though they claim to detest the DP system – you would never guess that by awarding negative demerit points that you might be able to make a thugged out Bronx boy squeal in delight at getting a math problem right.

This also served as a prime opportunity to explain how demerit points allow us (the teachers) to respect the boys’ free will and give them the opportunity to exercise their freedom by not forcing them to do anything.  We simply show them that there are moral consequences to their actions (that affect the whole group).  We will never (rarely) strong-arm them into doing anything, for example leaving Kennedy Fried Chicken.

To this I add that awarding demerit points in a calm voice, hopefully with a smile, is better than just raising my voice and yelling constantly.  So I ask them “Is there anyone who does just yell at you all the time, to the point that you just tune them out?”

To this William replies almost in private (and quite sincerely) in his thick DR accent – “yeah, at home all my parents do is yell at me… sometimes it makes me want to cry.”  The candor of which almost got the water works going on my end.

So yesterday, while playing William’s self-proclaimed least favorite sport on earth, he scored what could have been the game winning goal (on me) to go on top 7-6 in OT.  The goal was called back because he continued to play after a high-sticking call from the ref (which is any stick above the ankle, 30 second penalty, of course [ I know this may sound strict, but come talk to me after you take a slap-shot to the shin on the opening face off {of the first day} ] )

So cut to today, when William storms in after the floor hockey game while I am doing a little one-on-one times table work with a rising 7th grader that would rather be chewing on aluminum foil.

William is furious because yet again, he was ousted late in the game by a simple high-sticking call, when ultimately he was just upset because he is an unstoppable goal scoring force that has been relegated to playing defense for the team who needs him.  This scene comes to is climactic conclusion when Andrew is explaining to him how he is a valuable part of the team and that they can’t afford to have him going Mt. Visuvius over a high sticking call in the closing minutes.

Finally, William retorts this with why he thinks Andrew ultimately can’t understand his frustration over the high-sticking call – which in William’s words is “because you’re white.”

Now, while it gets better than this, Andrew begins his approach to this laughable conclusion by explaining that had he been born 19 years ago to parents of the African American or South American persuasion, this would still be an incontestable high-sticking call.  At this point, I am trying to hold back my laughter (as well as two boys, Cheddy and Luis, who are about to go at it after exchanging with the other his least favorite name, cheddar fries and jimmy jones [respectively] ) – Luis (also of Dominican Republic/Puerto Rican heritage - just finished 6th grade) decides that this conversation is way too much fun to miss out on, so he jumps in head first.  After William finally explains to Andrew that he probably would understand his situation if he were African American, Luis puts a nice cap on the conversation with:

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause you worship black people.”

... And that, my friends, is what floor hockey is all about.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Free Write!

In "Writing through Current Events" I typically go over a news article with the boys and have them answer Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How - and then try to get them to do a little creative writing pertaining to the subject.
Today I prepared an article from the economist that I thought the boys would eat up. Question my motives, that's fine - but I thought it was pure genius and the boys would be all over this like ugly on a bear.
Article - Record Business - Where it is easiest to get a platinum record?
[Economist article]
(describes what it takes to go platinum in the United States... just ask Disney's High School Musical - [was a big hit with my younger kids] )

Writing Challenge:
if your first album went platinum – what would the message be on your second album? No foul language, can include, lyrics, album name, and song titles.

writing exhibition from aforementioned Takim:

My Second Album

I am realy proud of myself on how I sold a billion copies on my first Album (The prophecy).
I would like to thank Jay-z for colloborating with me on Hard Hustlers.
My second album is basicly gonna be about my life and the things I went through growing up but my major goal is to sale 2x as much as I sold on my first Album im trying to make history.

My first reaction when I read this?       A+           Gold. Pure gold.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Day One

6:00 PM - Joel returns home

6:30 PM - Joel falls asleep

5:30 AM - (tuesday) Joel wakes up.

Highlights -- Boys have to write their first piece.

Writing Evaluation – what accomplishment in the last year are you most proud of? (1 page)

Elijah (14 years old)- "Getting an x-box! x-box live is the best thing that ever happened to me."

later supported by Gabriel in another group, when I questioned the group... "how in the world could getting an x-box (aside from perhaps saving up the money for an extended period) possibly be considered an accomplishment?"

– “ but... what if you’ve wanted it for a really long time?!”

Takim (6ft, 185 lb, 13 year old, entering 7th grade) – "My greatest accomplishment was when a bunch of people came out to crotona park to see me fight an 8th grader– I beat him up real bad and put him in his place”

Friday, July 11, 2008


Three words: In-tents-city. Virtues. Learn them, love them.

One of my kids came up with:

Useful to

(that's a lie... I made it up... and thought it was really clever)

Prudence: the power to make right judgments. perfects the intelligence

Temperance: disposes us to control our desires and especially to use rightly the things which appeal to our senses

Fortitude: disposes us to do what is good in spite of every difficulty

Justice: perfects our will and safeguards the rights of our fellow man

This is what we teach... this is how we live in the Bronx.

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Upon crossing the mighty George Washington bridge, bumper to bumper, I exit onto the Cross Bronx Expressway and then onto Crotona Parkway. Sitting on the exit ramp, catching my earliest glimpse of the South Bronx, my first thought was: "are my doors locked?"

Pulling up to Crotona Achievement Center, I realized that I wasn't going to be getting any warm reception for any of philanthropic notions I had of my next seven weeks.


slapshot... Bronx style