Gear-up at Von Steuben High School

Weekly happenings in room 210

Au revoir

It’s summer time! Sadly, the Gear-up program has ended. All of my gear-up students have graduated and are taking their next step in life. Some are attending universities out of state, while others are staying in Chicago. No matter what career path they choose, be it pharmacy, nursing, advertisement, education, etc. I know that they have the skills needed to be great. As a final farewell, we took a trip to six flags great america a few weeks ago. Everyone had a blast but they goodbyes were  bittersweet. I’ll definitely keep in contact with the students, and I’ll undoubtedly run into them here and there.

To close, here’s a picture of myself with a few of the students I’ve worked with as well as  my supervisor.

Au revoir.

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End of Spring 2012 semester

The semester for Loyola just ended, but Chicago Public Schools still have another month and a half to go! Senioritis is also hitting the students hard! Or maybe spring fever, in any case the turn out for seniors has been pretty low but freshmen still show their faces for algebra tutoring.

Even though I’m graduating next week(Ahhh) I plan on staying on board until the end. A lot of things are coming to a close; seniors are graduating, and it’s the last year the gear-up program will be run in schools.

The students who I’ve gotten to know since I began tutoring in the fall of 2009 have grown immensely, and I’m really glad I’ve gotten to play a small role in their lives. I wish them all the best and know that Gear-up has given them the resources they needed to succeed.

In closing, I’ll update this once the school year wraps up in June for Von.

Until then…

-Celene 🙂

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Punnett Squares

It’s Von’s first week back and the students are slowly getting back into gear. Today I had a few students who were calculating rates from distance vs. time graphs, and teaching them rise over run, something they will undoubtedly encounter forever, well at least the next few years…

So in addition to the algebra homework, one student came in with biology homework! This is pretty exciting for me since only math kids come in. He was covering classical genetics which means punnett squares! He wasn’t familiar with how to set them up at all so we started with the basics, what does it mean to be homozygous dominant/recessive and heterozygous. I gave him some basic examples with eye color and he got the hang of it. His worksheet was about codominance so then I went into crosses between red and white flowers to give pink and so on. By the end of my little lesson he was able to tackle the problems he had, they were basically the same thing except that they dealt with erminette chickens and sickle cell anemia. 

I really loved being able to help that student out because a subject like punnett squares has been ingrained in me ever since I learned it freshmen year of highschool, I can’t believe that was 8 years ago this fall… wow… Anyway the student I was helping really benefited from my lesson since he sped through the rest of  the problems. This instance just goes to show that with a bit of individual attention, students can easily achieve success.

I was talking to a friend the other day and he told me how he really liked the idea of an individualized education, that is to say, you are not separated into your grade by age but rather by knowledge/ability. With the power of technology, new innovations can be made to cater education to an individuals needs. This is sort of like Khan academy which offers hundreds of video lectures in an extensive amount of subject areas. Khan academy’s mission is to “help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace.”Taken into a grade or high school setting, this could allow students to learn more than they thought was possible. 

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Spring Break!

Chicago Public Schools, Von Steuben included, are on spring break this week! I’ll have a real post once classes resume 🙂

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Parent meeting


GEAR-UP has been taking place per the usual schedule with the same happenings: students worried about their quarter exams, college application process, financial aid, etc.

Last Thursday we hosted a parent meeting in the Albany Park Community Center. My supervisor asked me to go so that I could translate for the parents who only spoke Spanish. I gladly attended. I arrived at the center at around 6:15pm and a few parents trickled in. The pizza arrived(apparently there are no meetings which aren’t pizza parties) and students and parents alike ate while eagerly awaiting the start of the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting was to alert parents as to what steps need to be taken in the GEAR-UP scholarship process to ensure that students receive the scholarship money. The contact(VG) who works for the Illinois Department of Human Services, more specifically with Community Service and Prevention and the Illinois Steps AHEAD GEAR UP was supposed to attend the meeting but due to extraneous circumstances was unable to attend.  To improvise, she was on speakerphone and parents were free to answer questions regarding the scholarship.  This set up was a bit unorthodox, but it worked.

Parents questions were answered by VG.  She was under the impression that most students were struggling with high school and really needed a push to even attend college. Thankfully, the students in our center at Von Steuben and surrounding high schools are extremely motivated to attend college and have always had that mindset. It just shows the struggle that other schools in the city and state have to keep students motivated and dedicated.

My bilingual skills came in handy since a few parents did not speak English well or were simply more comfortable asking questions in Spanish. I was glad that I was able to help out and keep parents informed on the current status of students’ aid.

A large majority of students have already decided what college they plan on attending so each students situation is a bit different. My supervisor, SD, is working around the clock to get all of the students the money that they need to fund their higher education.

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The tortoise and the hare.

Due to the extraordinarily nice weather this past week, the turn out at tutoring has gotten smaller. Some students attend because they have mandatory tutoring so there are still a handful of students that need tutoring.

Last week I was helping a student with some algebra problems that involved using a position vs. time graph to determine speed with a race between the tortoise and the hare as an example. When I was helping her figure out how to graph each racers position relative to time, she got extremely flustered and couldn’t answer a simple addition problem. At that moment I realized that I had been standing while she was sitting which made her have to look up to me. To rectify the situation, I pulled up a chair and asked her exactly what she found troubling. In this set up, she was able to tell me what she didn’t understand and I was able to further her skills in the subject. She was then able to plot the race of the tortoise and the hare correctly.

Constant reflection and redirection are necessary to really help students fully, the importance of being equals to those helped is of utter importance since it makes everyone more comfortable.

In other news, we’re hosting a meeting for parents this Thursday. The purpose of the meeting is to inform parents about where their students currently stand in the college enrollment process and how the GEAR-UP scholarship will be applied. I’m attending this meeting so that I can translate for my supervisor since many of the students have parents who only speak spanish. It should be fun, I’ve only talked to parents over the phone so meeting them in person should be fun!

In other other news, WP who I mentioned before has decided to attend Loyola! Her financial aid package came in and with the GEAR-UP scholarship, and other financial aid, she won’t need to pay a dime for college. I’m really excited for her, she can’t wait to leave high school and begin her higher education.

I’ll update on how the parent meeting went next week!

Until next time,



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Class of…

Gear-up is still as busy as usual: seniors are eagerly awaiting their financial aid packages for college, juniors are prepping for their ACT exam next month, sophomores are coasting through their second year, and freshmen are figuring out the relationship between speed and time.

Seniors: Class of 2012

WP has narrowed down her college choice to two, either UIC or Loyola. Today she discovered  Locus and found that her financial aid package still hasn’t been processed! The Gear-up scholarship may make it possible for her to attend a 4-year institute without spending any money out of her pocket! Right now, the scholarship is based on number of months enrolled in the program. Students who have been in the program for 2 years automatically receive $5,000 a year and $200 for every additional month that they were in the program, up to $10,000 a year. Most students have been in the program since they were in 7th grade so they total about 60 months which would be $10,000 a year for a 4-year program!

Now that the numbers are coming out for exactly how much the students are receiving makes college much more real for them and gives them more options for which school to attend since money is a deciding factor.

Juniors: Class of 2013

Sine, cosine, and tangent are in the air, the juniors are prepping for their ACT and currently studying trigonometric properties. A few of them are taking Kaplan courses but don’t think that they’re as helpful as the one-on-one tutoring sessions we have at Gear-up. I think that this may be due to the fact that teachers have to teach concepts with limited time and can’t afford to give students enough individualized attention. That’s where Gear-up steps in to solidify the material that was covered in class. At any rate, I’m glad that I’m able to help students really understand what’s taught to them in class.

Sophomores: Class of 2014

The sophomores seem to be getting their work done and enjoying the rest of their free time. The sophomores I’ve worked with just need help in geometry, chemistry, and occasionally spanish. They aren’t too preoccupied with any other issues since getting their school work done is their top priority.

Freshmen: Class of 2015

Oh, the freshmen, right now they’re just preoccupied with speed and time. Really, that’s the unit they’re currently covering!  One student came in who was really confused about the subject and said that his math teacher went through everything far too quickly and if she teaches it and you don’t get it you’re kind of held back. This issue seems to be reoccurring but again, gear-up tutoring is always available for the students!

During Gear-up, I usually make my rounds and ask the students if they have questions or help out the students who raise their hand with specific problems. I have to do this because of the high volume of students who attend tutoring. Thankfully, there are two other math tutors so we help all of the students in due time. Since tutees outnumber tutors, we constantly have to move from one student to another. This has always worked out fine. If one student needs more help there are other tutors to check in on everyone else.

Yesterday, I was the only tutor at Gear-up and again had a high turnout. This is manageable with the system in place and since most students attend tutoring to finish up their homework and have it checked it’s not an issue. Recently we’ve had a new student attending tutoring. MR is a freshmen from the special education program at Von and working with him is a whole new experience.

I don’t have any experience working with special education needs students and my supervisor has given me some pointers since he does. He told me that one of the most important things to do is set boundaries with these students since they will monopolize your time and guilt trip you into helping them.This happened to me with that particular student. I was trying to help him with his math homework which he just needed checking over but he insisted we look at each problem and each of his calculations. Meanwhile, other students needed help and I had to continually tell them that I’d be right there. At one point I finally told MR that I couldn’t have a one-on-one session with him since there were other students who needed help. When I tried leaving to help another student he asked where I was going and when I’d be back. I told him that if he had specific questions that I would gladly answer them but I had to check in on the rest of the students in tutoring.

After this incident MR realized that he can’t take all of  the tutors’ time. My supervisor has also set very strict boundaries with MR since he is always preoccupied with the Seniors since there is a lot of paperwork involved for their scholarships. He has one-on-one sessions with him twice a week but no more. Usually MR doesn’t really need help but I think he just likes having someone to listen to him speak out loud and go through his train of thought. Working with MR is a challenge but with the right approach he can be properly assisted.

Von Steuben

These incidences have again shown where the priorities of students at different grade levels lie. I feel that that’s a vital transition that students need to go through in high school since it prepares them for the lives they will lead in their higher education. It’s refreshing to see the changes these students are going through and reflect back on who I was back in my younger years. I’ve undoubtedly changed and know that I, like most, will continue to evolve.

Until next time


P.S. A day trip to Milwaukee, Wisconsin has been approved for April 13th! Now to get out of my microbiology lab… 🙂


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GEAR-UP at Kendall College

After school tutoring started at Von Steuben High School. There were a decent amount of math students and I started making the rounds. The program coordinator, SD, was busy making sure everyone was going to show up at the field trip to Kendall College that we had planned for today.


The last period of the day was over and all of the algebra kids showed up with homework, fretting over remembering what’s a domain and what’s a range! I have no idea how many times I said, “Remember, domain is possible x values and range is your possible y values.” The two other regular tutors couldn’t make it in so I was the only math tutor around! I was moving like a flash all over the classroom! Meanwhile, SD was still ensuring that everyone who RSVP’d yes was still going on the fieldtrip.


The checking of homework and signing of tutoring logs began. An overwhelming number of students showed up and we constantly had to announce that GEAR-UP was ending at 4:00, much to the students’ dismay! More students who were going on the fieldtrip started showing up, anxious to hit the road. The students pictured below have been in the GEAR-UP program since they were in 7th grade and currently attend different Chicago public schools including, Lane Tech, Northtown academy, Lakeview, and of course Von Steuben.


It was go time. I signed off on the last tutoring forms and we packed up our things to head on out! Our big yellow school bus was parked outside, ready to take us to Kendall College. I hadn’t ridden a school bus in at least 5+ years. I really wish I had taken some Dramamine!



We arrived at Kendall College and made our way to the front lobby where the programs director started telling us about the institution. He showed us some artifacts the school has collected over the years and I was awestruck by a chefs jacket signed by Julia Child!


We were taken on a tour of the school where we were shown their advising office, recreational area, classrooms, dining hall, and their different kitchens. Sugar, flour, chocolate, cinnamon, and flour filled the air on the pastries floor. As we toured, students in white coats zoomed on by moving trays all over the place.



We were led to a kitchen where we would be making our own tapas. We were given our uniforms: chefs hats and aprons. Chef Heidi then instructed us on some cooking basics including how to chop an onion, mince cilantro, zest a lemon, grate ginger, and slice bread. I am the self-proclaimed worst cook ever, I’ve managed to ruin white rice and countless other meals. I really took this as an opportunity to learn some good techniques and think the other students did too. After our demos we were split up into groups, each with our assigned dish, and got to work!



The kitchen was chaos, each group had their own meal to execute with tons of steps to take!


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I buddied up with my supervisor and another student, we split up the components and were done in a flash! Other groups were working hard too… I hadn’t realized just how much grated cheese went into all of these recipes… maybe that’s why everyone had such cheesy smiles!



The boys were my favorite cooking team, they’ve all known each other since elementary school(they’re seniors now) and were working so intensely on getting their tapas just right. DSCN2135

Chef Heidi told them their food looked perfect… although they knew that something just wasn’t right… see for yourself…


Everyone finished preparing their meals and the last few items were being taken off of the stove and out of the oven. The final menu consisted of:

Honey Walnut Pesto and Pear Pizza


Turkey Meatballs with Coconut-Mint Chutney


Porcini Mushroom and Fontina Puff Pastry Tartlets


Crositini of Goat Cheese with Olive Cranberry and Pecan Tapenade


Shrimp Quesadillas


We enjoyed our food to the max. Everything came out delicious, even the unsightly Porcini Mushroom and Fontina Puff Pastry Tartlets tasted really great!




We cleaned up our things, thanked the staff and packed up some of our wonderful creations!






We thanked Kendall College for their great hospitality and hit the road.



Back at Von Steuben the students dispersed after a hard day’s work.

Today was a long day. I think that this college visit/cooking class was a great opportunity for everyone! The majority of the students that participated are graduating high school this year and living on their own for the first time this coming fall. Knowledge of how to cook is vital. I definitely need to step up my own skills in the cooking department. When the class was over Chef Heidi asked what the best lesson of the day was and the students as well as the supervisor, SD, agreed that the proper technique for cutting an onion was the most useful bit of knowledge they gained. I don’t know when I’ll make Crostini of Goat Cheese with Olive Cranberry and Pecan Tapenade again, but at least I know that I have the ability to be proficient in cooking!

This field trip embodied what GEAR-UP is all about, it’s preparing students for life after high school. These types of outings are wonderful since they involve teamwork and working together to reach a common goal, in this case an amazing tapas menu!

Want to see even more pictures?? Click here.

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Another short week!

President’s day was this past Monday which means that Chicago Public High schools were closed! Gear-up did resume today after the long weekend.

A few freshmen came in with some algebra homework and juniors came in with trigonometry. For the most part students knew how to do their work they just got stuck on a problem or two and needed to be led in the right direction.

One of the students SK, a sophomore, frequents room 210 not because he’s in the gear-up program but because he likes to get all of his homework done at school. He was recently placed in an honors u.s. history course because his teacher felt that he was not challenged enough. He is also in a junior level math class which he is excelling in. It’s great that the school recognizes that he needs more challenging material and is offering it to him. Even though he’s a sophomore, he’s really organized and is up to date on all of his work. His great work ethic is a rarity since many students haven’t developed those skills just yet. SK is taking it upon himself to be as productive and efficient as possible which is fantastic and will definitely help him in his future.


Quiet week…

Happy belated Valentine’s day!

It’s been a quiet week at GEAR-UP. There was no school on Monday due to Lincoln’s birthday and Tuesday had a low turn out most likely due to Valentine’s day! A few students did go to tutoring though and I gladly helped them.

One student was working on some chemistry and trigonometry and I was glad that I still have a solid grasp on the material. We were working on a problem that involved carbon and he mentioned that that was his favorite element. If he likes carbon then I bet he’ll LOVE organic chemistry. Sadly, organic chemistry still gives me nightmares…

Another student was working on statistics and I was able to help him manually do problems which tend to be more calculator intensive. Reliance on calculators is a HUGE problem. I’ve noticed that many students, particularly freshman are helpless without them. They sometimes can’t readily do rudimentary addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. To better their math skills, I take their calculators away and make them think! Many get upset but I think they need to learn to do some mental math. The ability to do simple problems is extremely beneficial and saves so much time, especially later on when they take standardized tests like the ACT or SATs where adding -5 and 9 on a calculator is just a waste of time.

Hopefully more kids show up to tutoring in the coming days!


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