Sunday, September 02, 2007


August 31, 2007

Despite both of us being unspeakably busy lately, we managed to sneak out of town on Friday night of Labor Day weekend, leaving Rowan with his MeMe for the night. Our destination - Oxford, home of the University of Mississippi and local cultural hotspot.

Oxford has some good restaurants, and a couple of them are really excellent. On this particular evening we hit up Petra, a mediterranean-fusion restaurant that serves the finest Baba Ghanoush we've ever tasted, as well as a fantastic Yellowfin Tuna Carpaccio - essentially wafer-thin tuna sashimi topped with Italian seasonings and capers. MMMmmmmm! They also serve all kinds of kabobs, hummus plates, and even steak and lobster plates.

Our ultimate destination was our favorite little music venue in the region, Proud Larry's (this is where we saw Peter Rowan last spring) to see Big Sam's Funky Nation. Big Sam is a renowned New Orleans trombonist who used to play in Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Now he leads his own band, playing all kinds of New Orleans funky music, leading the audience in call and response chants, and throwing down some New Orleans second-line dance moves.

This was one of those shows you could not help but dance to!

We spent the night at sweet little Bed-and-Breakfast a couple blocks away (this was a 1-year wedding anniversary gift from Carley's parents that we just got around to using 11 months after the anniversary). After a home-made old-timey french-toast-casserole breakfast the next morning, it was time for the severely hung-over drive back to Tupelo and the domestic family life again.

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ROB - Busy Busy Busy

On August 10, 2007, Rob officially started his new job teaching math at Tupelo High School, after taking on-line classes last spring to get his teacher's license. Despite Mississippi's reputation as being worst in the nation in education - mostly due to the huge number of impoverished rural county schools, including districts just 30 minutes to the north and south of us - our local school district is nationally recognized as being in the top tier, and definitely one of the highest-performing districts in Mississippi. Tupelo High School is also the biggest high school in Mississippi, with 14 buildings on campus and about 2000 students from grades 9-12.

The calm before the storm...Rob in his classroom on the first day of school, just before the first bell rang to let all the students in to the buildings. Rob is teaching 3 subjects: Pre-Algebra, Transition to Algebra, and Algebra I. To make things extra-tough for the first-year teacher, Rob was asked by the principal to take on a challenging assignment - get an additional certification in special education and teach these 3 subjects to students in Tupelo's special education program. This was a new requirement, since as a result of the George Bush education initiative No Child Left Behind, all school districts need to start making students in special education take the same standardized tests that students in regular classrooms take. With the lesson planning for 3 subjects, organizing, grading of homework and papers, and extra paperwork for special education, Rob has often been doing work at home until 10:00 at night! Hopefully things will become more settled in September.

Rob's favorite student. OK, so he's not really taking the Algebra class, but we think he'll be ready in a year or two!

Earlier this summer, Rob worked the month of June as a teaching-assistant at Parkway Elementary School for the grades K-3 extended school year. He assisted an elementary school teacher with a small group of kindergarteners and first-graders who are ELL students (English-language learners) whose first language is Spanish. All of them were from Mexican-American families, representing a growing demographic in Tupelo. For a part-time job, it was pretty exhausting, since you never really get a chance to sit when you have kids that age! They were so darned cute, though!

All the while, Rob has still been doing his other job as an ESL teacher on Tuesday and Thursday nights, teaching English to adults as part of the El Centro non-profit organization that Carley runs here in town. (see the bottom half of this page more info on El Centro.) This photo was actually taken in December 2006, as Rob has been teaching the classes since October 2006. This summer (2007) the class size increased to 15 students, from ages 14 to 42, all of them from Mexico.

Unfortunately for Rob, all the work he has to do for his high school job keeps him too busy to continue the ESL job. So, after the most recent course ends on September 4, Carley will be hiring a new ESL teacher, and Rob won't be so over-worked and stressed out every Tuesday and Thursday.

The graduation ceremony for the 1st ESL course that Rob taught in the fall of 2006. The white guy in the tie is Chuck Stokes, chairman of the El Centro board of directors and CEO of the regional hospital.

CARLEY - El Centro

Carley is still the director (and only full-time employee) of El Centro, Tupelo's non-profit Latino Center, and the beginning of school means things get busier for her too. El Centro's after-school program, Campo Brillante, started with the beginning of school, and she's got 16 elementary school kids, new teachers, new volunteers, transportation routes, materials, school officials and parents to deal with. It's a lot of work but also a lot of fun.

And, since Rob is busy with work and teacher certification classes, Carley's had to find a new ESL teacher for the adult English classes as well. As an employer, she's very bummed to lose Rob - all of his students love him and the classes are full. But, as a wife, she'll be glad to have a less stressed out husband.

For more info on El Centro, check out their web site:

Pam reads a book to Campo Brillante kids.

Newspaper dress up!

Elizabeth reads to Claudia and Leslie.

Fun on the floor!

Angel, Oscar and Jovani listen intently.

Iridian and Liz smile for the camera.

Here are some photos of Luciernagas, a bilingual family reading program El Centro did in conjunction with the Mississippi Humanities Council. June, our storyteller, plays a $10 guitar while the kids play makeshift instruments.

Luciernagas kids and parents.

Local dentist Dr. Harry Rayburn donates his time.

Open wide Sarah!

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