The type of students I despise

Right now I am enrolled in an Elementary French course at Fairfield University. My summer trip to France in 2012 spurred my desire to learn more about the language and culture. French is such a beautiful language, and I hope to use it one day when I return to the country.

Naturally, as with all courses, I am eager to learn. Being in this type of class means that I would surround myself with freshmen, so going in, I expected everyone to be clueless, but open to learn. I’ve noticed that such students exist, but I am appalled to find others who act entitled and are ignorant of common manners. On the first day of class, one student had the audacity to say that she was taking the class for an easy grade, stating that she had more than ten years of experience with the language. I remember our professor, a French woman, being rendered speechless. I couldn’t believe someone would say that. No wonder some foreigners tend to hate Americans!

However, I mostly hate those who feel they are more knowledgeable than others. One student is lagging behind. That person freezes up whenever asked a question. A few students in the class get impatient and point out the answer condescendingly.

C’mon, —-.” And they laugh.

The fact that some students act this way infuriates me, and yet, occasionally, these same people get answers wrong, too. Don’t you ever remember being that kid who didn’t get something the first time?

I clearly recall the third grade when I participated in a class spelling bee.  At that time, I still struggled with spelling and I had let myself think that I could never learn. It was my turn in the spelling bee, and the teacher requested that I spell “beyond.” But I spelled “beyond” as “beyonded.” Everyone starting laughing at me. The room seemed to shrink. I felt my self-esteem crumbling right there. My crush even laughed at me (at this age, such occurrence seemed to damage your entire being). Tears came, and then I ran out of the classroom and into the bathroom. I stayed there, on the toilet, surrounded by random graffiti that kids left behind on the walls, wishing there was toilet paper to actually use.

I could have been emotionally weak back then, but I’m sure other people have felt the same sting, but can hide their reactions better. I returned later and the teacher made everyone apologize, and all was forgotten then. But I still remember this incident – even when I can’t remember much else of my past – because it injured me in such a way that it took up to middle school for me to see that I can learn, as long as I ignore people who put me down for their own pleasure.

To the student who is struggling: Don’t believe you are incapable of learning. Reach out for help from people who don’t judge you. Talk to the professor. Don’t give up.

To the bullies in the classroom: Criticism is good when it is done to help an individual. When criticism is done merely because you feel superior, it is bad. Have patience. Remember that you can be on the other side. Remember how you feel then and promise not to treat another person the same way again.

We are all learning. Sure, you can say that humiliation motivates people to learn faster. But humiliating another person just because you are impatient makes you look like an asshole.

Poetry for Peace: Young poets take the stage

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

Cartoon by Lisa Tkach/The Mirror

The winners of the Poetry for Peace contest waited in line for their solos on the Regina A. Quick Center stage. Some took hesitant steps to the microphone stand when their names were called, dragging their gleaming red Mary Janes and black dress shoes across the wooden stage. Others approached the spotlight with some pep in their step, smiling and making faces to their family members out in the audience.

Though different in their heights and confidence, these children gathered in the Quick Center on Friday, Jan. 25, for one purpose: to share through poetry their ideas of peace.

Started in 2008, the Poetry for Peace contest allows students in grades kindergarten through eight from the Bridgeport and Fairfield Public Schools the chance to define peace through creative writing. The reading event used to be held in the Kelley Center, but because of growing popularity, the event had to be relocated to the Quick Center.

According to co-director of Poetry for Peace Dr. Jerelyn M. Johnson, associate professor of modern languages and literature, the judging panel received over 1,000 entries. They then split entries by grades, organizing them into four grade flights. From there on, a panel of Fairfield faculty and undergraduate and graduate students chose the winners, honorable mentions and the judges’ favorites.

The winning poems were published in a booklet, which was also distributed to the audience consisting of the Fairfield University community, parents and children.

Applause punctuated each pause before another poet went to the stage to read. Mothers juggled their children on their laps. Kids smiled to the camera as their parents beckoned from below in their seats. Confidence seemed to grow as the height of the poets increased.

The older children naturally took in the world events which disrupt peace, while most of the younger children compared peace to their own everyday activities.

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Credit: Nick DiFazio

Certain students shared a humorous perception of peace. In his poem “What peace is to me,” Christopher Cirelli, a Fairfield Woods Middle School sixth grader, wrote: “Peace is not getting haircuts.”

There were also poems that gave surprising insight into how aware children are of the present world.

Fifth grader Alec Nardone from Burr Elementary School wrote that in a world without peace, humanity is on the brink of self-destruction: “We’re all on fire – and we don’t even know it / Soon our humanity will be gone, / Burnt.”

Grace Hilton, a third grader from Timothy Dwight Elementary School in Fairfield, brought up origami cranes, the symbol of peace sprung up after the 9/11 attacks, in her poem. She saw peace in the olive branch that Noah had spotted when he arrived on land in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Nardone and Hilton’s poems showed that, like many of the writings in the booklet, what children know should not be taken for granted.

Not only did the poems serve to entertain and to enlighten, but they also brought into perspective the contrast between the poems and reality’s fragile events that threaten current peace.

Johnson recounted the time when she and the judges met to consider the final entries. Three days later, the Sandy Hook shooting spree occurred, during which 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School were killed, most of them children.

Johnson said to the poets in the audience: “I know I speak for many of us when I say that during that seriously sad and dark moment, your words, and knowing that you and your poems existed, gave us hope. Such is the power of poetry.”

Mariam Anwar, a second grader at Osborn Hill Elementary School, wrote a poem entitled “Peace” and won an honorable mention in the grade K-2 flight.

Her opening line states that “peace sounds like the dolphins jumping in the waves.”

Encouraged by her teacher to think about things she liked when describing peace, Anwar said, “I thought about the beach and that’s how I came up with the dolphins. And I like mangoes,” she added, which referred to her line, “Peace tastes like a mango from a tree.”

She said reciting her poem to an audience was “easy” because “I wasn’t looking at the people.”

In his closing remarks, Poetry for Peace co-director and associate English professor Dr. Peter Bayers said, “We would like to thank all of you, the poets who are here, for sharing your voices with us. I think we would all agree that we have learned from your insights, your beauty and your wisdom. Your poetry attests to the power and possibilities of language.

“Your poetry has changed all of us for the better tonight. And for that: thank you.”

Brenda Perry and Wendy Accomando, teachers at Osborn Hill Elementary School, have been involved with Poetry for Peace from the start and always encourage their students to submit to the contest.

Perry, a fourth grade teacher, described this event as “wonderful,” while second grade teacher Accomando said Friday night’s poetry reading was “inspiring.”

“It’s inspiring for us,” said Accomando. “Poetry is a great medium; [the students] can use words, they don’t have to worry about grammar … they are creative and they’re open to writing things.”

Associate professor of philosophy Dr. Kris Sealey, who coordinated the judging process, would agree with Accomando, believing that poetry is sometimes overlooked in education. “…A lot of time, modes of expression are squashed and lost in formal education,” she said. “We struggle as professors to bring it back – hold on to it and make it grow!”

Sealey also sees the benefits participants would gain from the writing process. She said, “In order for these children to be productive in life, they have to develop their own voice.”

Carol Ann Davis, published poet and assistant professor of English, is working on an “expansion” of Poetry for Peace. The program, called “Poet in the classroom,” seeks to combine the poetry teaching efforts of poets and interested school teachers.

This year, the Poetry for Peace Contest was sponsored by Fairfield University’s Office of Academic Engagement, the Department of English and the Program in Peace and Justice. Poetry for Peace was also a part of the MLK Holiday Observance Week.

Reporting on this event was contributed by Crystal Rodriguez.

Short fiction piece: Freedom

I’m reading this short piece tomorrow at a gathering for creative writers. I’m so nervous. I don’t often read my fiction to people other than my close friends. Wish me luck!

Update: It wasn’t bad at all! Everyone seemed nervous but when they started reading from the podium, they sailed through. People read a variety of works. I read short fiction. My roommate, Ali, read a nonfiction piece about ‘catastrophic diarrhea,’ which sounds disgusting but was absolutely hilarious. One person from my fiction class read spoken word and I didn’t know that he was so good at it! A really nervous-looking girl read a poem in which she made a metaphor out of one person’s body part. Who thinks of that?

I left this event feeling extremely fulfilled. We all bared some bit of our souls, so in the end, it didn’t matter if one person messed up or not. What mattered was that we, as creative writers, took the step to read works that we usually keep to ourselves.

The event also made me think about the future. Representatives from Fairfield University’s MFA program discussed how life-changing the seminars and meetings were. They have a community of writers willing to critique and comment on each others’ work. I wish we had more of that at school.

I mean, sure, we have Inkwell, the student-run literary magazine, but at the meetings, we do prompts and read unfinished work. I know that a lot of students don’t feel comfortable reading something that’s unedited and based off a prompt. I think that people might prefer to have a set time and date to read finished masterpieces, and then accept constructive criticisms. I had time to talk to the people who’ve read at this event and they all seemed to agree that this event had somehow changed the writer in them. I can see the confidence in the way they talked about their experience. I sense some coffee shop readings in the future.

Overall, I am so glad that I went to this event and I hope that the creative writing department holds more of these in order to nurture the writing community that they talked about.

Freedom

by Loan Le

When Abby shot the security guard, she didn’t notice that her father, who was pinned underneath the other man’s knee, stopped struggling against his impending arrest. She didn’t know at the time that the gleaming golden bullet from her Glock 27 would make a nearly straight path toward the guard’s neck and lodge itself in his external jugular vein. Abby had only wanted it to go for his shoulder or arm, or anything that’d stop him from reaching for his handcuffs, which were intended for her father. The split second after she sees the guard’s blood spurt in different directions, she naively thinks that, somehow, he’d be alright. Somehow, the mahogany flesh encasing the guard’s massive neck would diminish the bullet’s impact.

The guard didn’t see her. The guard didn’t know that he’d die on a Tuesday in October at 8:14 in the morning. The 250-pound guard collapses on top of her father, who then grimaces at the added weight to his much smaller prone body. Abby doesn’t help him up, not immediately, that is, because she finds that she can’t move her legs. The Glock drops to her feet, only to skid across the sleek marble floor of the bank. Around her, people, who waited to cash in a check or pay their late mortgages, clamber over the black bars that kept them in line, and they run from her, the sixteen-year-old girl who just wanted to help her father pay the bills.

He can’t be dead, she thinks.

If her brother Hayden was with her, Abby knew he’d look at the guard and say, “Wow, good shot, Abs,” because that’s the type of sick guy he is—was … well, before he overdosed two months ago. Hayden would push the man’s body off their father’s. He’d even shoot the guy again for a good measure. He’d tell Abby to run. Abby needs someone to tell her what to do, because right now, she’s stuck. She feels a sudden, new ache in the part that burns whenever she cries alone in her bathroom, the part that perks up when she learns that they’d have enough money to last the month, the part that yearns for freedom. Abby knows the name of this intruder that’s gnawing at her insides, it’s called ‘remorse,’ and she doesn’t like how it feels, but she can’t stop herself from recognizing the calamity that she has caused. As she stares blindly at her trembling hands, she wonders if the man had a toddler waiting at home, excited to see her “Dada” after a long day of work. She imagines the wife who will never again run her hand through her husband’s mousy brown hair in a show of absent-minded affection. Abby thinks of all this because that’s the kind of girl she is – the soft-spoken girl who never, ever imagined that she could kill.

This isn’t what she imagined would happen when she first agreed to help plan robberies with her father and Hayden. If she could have predicted this, she would have said no the day her father told her: “I promise, it’ll only be this one time.” She pictures in her head that cloudy summer morning, when they had, for the third time that week, charred Spam and runny scrambled eggs. She sees her twelve and a half-year-old thin self, hunched over her chipped Ikea plate, holding her shoulders in a way so that her nipples wouldn’t brush up against her T-shirt. At the time, she was growing what all girls her age wanted, but she also knew that her family had no money, and buying training bras were not on the top of the family’s list of priorities. Her father’s plan seemed like the only option they had, so she said yes.

But now, now, as the bank is empty, as her father reaches for her, she finds herself inexplicably caught in what she wanted to escape that day she said yes. Trouble. Confusion. Desperation. She knows that this is the last time she’d steal anything.

The doors to the bank open up, the entrance bell’s chime gets Abby’s attention. She hears the quick footsteps of the officers who barrel themselves into the lobby and their shouts to “Get down!” and “Drop your weapons!” The dead man is pushed unceremoniously off her father, and before he has the time to rub the pain away from his aching chest, the SWAT officers grab hold of him and roughly slam him back onto his stomach.  Abby’s pale blue eyes connect with the officer who’s pointing the nozzle of a gun at her.

She wants to run away. But then she searches for her father. His gray hair has speckles of blood on it. Her father refuses to look at her, now that he’s being led away. She feels a light hand on her left arm; she glances down and back up to see that a redheaded cop is touching her. Her fingers are light on Abby’s pale and dry skin. Abby thinks this is the maternal instinct of the cop coming out. Maybe the cop feels sorry for her – Abby’s only sixteen and going to jail. She killed for her father. She killed because of him.

Abby’s not going anywhere for a long time.

Fairfield garden serves needs of students

Photo Credit: Loan Le/The Mirror

The collective efforts of Fairfield University students, faculty and administration in 2010 produced a sustainable garden that continues to push the school towards more green initiatives.

Located west of the Dolan School of Business, the 3,000 square feet garden hosts annual and perennial herbs and vegetables like butter squash, tomatoes, jalapeno and Swiss chard.

The produce grown depends on what students might like.

The concept of sustainability deals with the notion that the human race can depend on the natural environment for their survival. Humans and nature can function in unison so that the present and future can be secured.

Junior Jesus Nunez, a garden intern since summer 2011, pushes for the school to become more environmentally friendly. The garden tries to use as little chemicals as possible.

“We have enough energy issues as it is,” said Nunez. “The only way we can really survive as a human race, especially as our populations grow, is to cut down on energy use, on the use of pesticides and the use of fertilizers . . . The more we learn about how to grow our own food, how to grow it in a natural way, the better for everybody.”

Associate Professor of biology Tod Osier Ph.D., said: “I feel like the garden is coming into its own, but it still is evolving every year. New projects like the bees and looking into growing herbal teas are new areas of interest and very exciting. We are continuing to work with the chefs in the campus center to refine what we grow.”

However, the garden has encountered its share of problems since its founding.

“There is also the very real issue of just being successful in actually producing the crops that you want to grow in spite of the weather, insects and disease – that always keeps things interesting,” Osier said.

Nunez also mentioned that the garden once had to deal with powdery mildew, symptoms include white spots that form on the surface of the vegetables. The occasional cat or dog might sneak into the garden, but the deer might pose a problem, since they are herbivores and could eat the vegetables.

To combat these problems and prevent repeat incidents, different gardening techniques are employed. Every year, Nunez said they do crop rotation by planting vegetables in different areas within the land each season, in order to slow the spread of pests and diseases. To enrich and manage the soil fertility, cover crops, such as legumes, are planted.

Nunez and volunteers go in ‘work parties’ on Sundays at 2 p.m. and Tuesdays at 4 p.m. to weed and clean up the garden.

“Facilities Management has also provided a lot of support by supplying mulch, compost, and top soil,” added Associated Professor of Biology Jennifer Klug, Ph.D., also an advisor.

The garden contributes to the campus’ dining services and residential life.

The dining services (Sodexo) use all of the herbs in the garden according to Resident Dining Supervisor Amy Krosky.

Recently, on Sept. 17, for a Bellarmine lunch, 75 percent of the produce used had been from the garden.

Sodexo employs professionally trained chefs who adapt the daily menus to the naturally grown produce that is available in season.

From Sept. 16 to 22, the school participated with 64 other locations in Farm-to-Chef Week, an event promoted by Connecticut Department of Agriculture which connects chefs and food service establishments with local farmers.

Junior Laura Ballanco, a former Leaders for Environmental Action at Fairfield member, remembers the previous ‘Farm to Chef’ weeks that the dining service has participated in. According to her, the taste of local produce is noticeable.

“You can taste the freshness. I felt like I was eating at home,” Ballanco said.

The garden is also not limited to campus use. According to the Fairfield Dining Service website, harvests are done during the fall and then the garden donates a portion to the Connecticut Food Bank through Harvest Now, a non-profit organization that pairs garden communities up with local food banks.

Though mainly funded by the Division of Administration of Student Services, the Office of Academic Engagement and the Biology Department and Program on the Environment also keep the garden afloat.

“Fairfield should be at the forefront of these agricultural-environmental issues, because it’s the future,” said Nunez, “because then everyone has the means to access good, quality food that has low-impact on the earth.”