What does our UWYV Champion (who happens to be an extrovert) do during this time of social distancing? She continues to make friends and collaborate with those new friends to support our community in this time of need.
Who is the Changemaker that I am I talking about?
It’s our Sky View Middle School Champion Sharyn Tomasso. Read on to find out what she has been doing and how she is focused on the positive aspects emanating from this time of social distancing due to COVID-19.
Spotlight on Sky View’s UWYV Champion Sharyn Tomasso
How long have you been a Champion for UWYV? And what do you like best about being a Champion?
I’ve been a Champion for 8 years now. There are so many things that I love about being a Champion! One of the most fulfilling aspects of this role is that I get the honor of providing the opportunity for young people to truly make a difference in the world.
The UWYV program offers students a vehicle through which they can pursue their desire to serve their communities by furthering a cause that they are passionate about. The program gives young people a “voice” and a chance to “stand up” for their ideals and beliefs. This is huge, especially for middle school aged kids who typically feel “unheard”. These students are at a point in their lives when they are trying to figure out who they are and discern what their key values are. In addition, the process of writing an Action Plan and presenting their ideas to a panel of judges, teaches students invaluable real-life business and communication skills. They wouldn’t otherwise learn these all-important skills.
As a Champion, I also get the chance to work with students in an entirely different way, as they are in charge, not me. I am there just to advise and support them. It is an incredible privilege to see the students blossom, show their passion, achieve success, and to experience a sense of self-actualization. It is particularly gratifying to witness the “victories” of the students who have not typically had success in the classroom academically. So often, I’ve watched struggling learners “find themselves” through UWYV and go on to display much greater confidence socially, emotionally, and academically.
How are you doing? What does a typical day-at-home look like for you?
The “teach from home” situation that we are in right now certainly has been a HUGE learning experience for me. Although I have been using technology, like Google Classroom to complement classroom instruction, I am a neophyte when it comes to all of the online learning apps/programs.
Initially, I felt completely overwhelmed and incapable of providing any kind of meaningful remote instruction to my students. I normally plan lessons, but very loosely. Essentially, I tend to focus on the “end game” goals, as in what exactly I want the students to learn. I make sure I have the best materials and that I outline the “flow” of the class. However, when I teach each class, it’s somewhat “organic” based on the particular group of students in front of me. I can see what is not resonating with them and teach according to what does resonate and clicks for them. Teaching remotely doesn’t afford you the luxury of “working the room” and “playing off of the audience.”
Luckily, I honestly work with the most supportive, and collaborative, colleagues on the planet! We’ve had a billion (or so it seems like) virtual meetings and email conversations. Thanks to that, and a whole lot of tech learning, I’m finally in a place where I feel I’m doing an okay job of providing the kids with meaningful work and structure.
What does a typical day look like for me? Well, there are no typical days so far! Some days, I have a lot of virtual meetings with colleagues and/or students. That consumes most of the day. Other days are spent researching and developing content, managing my online portals and grading assignments. I’m still trying to create more structure and consistency to my days!
How has the stay-at-home/social distancing of Covid-19 affected you positively?
The stay-at-home/social distancing is incredibly difficult as I’m a true extrovert who thrives off of the energy of others. However, there have definitely been some positives both in my professional life and personally.
First, I’ve learned a ton about online apps and remote teaching. This has been exciting and has enriched my capabilities as a teacher. I’ve actually had fun learning how to use some of the apps. I am finding amazing, engaging ways to deliver content to kids. I’ve been using these apps (Meme-maker especially!) for personal projects too!!
The “staying at home” thing, if I’m being perfectly honest, initially threw me into a panic. I love being “on the go,” socializing and attending events. The thought of being “grounded” stressed me out. Honestly, I felt both angry and sad.
However, I’ve actually found that having to stay home has been a blessing of sorts. It has forced me to slow down and to take more time to be “quiet” and in the present moment. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect, prioritize, and learn what is really important to me. I’ve tackled so many projects that I had started but never finished. At the same time, I am able to balance the “busy work” with quiet, meditative time.
Overall, I’ve noticed that in general people are turning back to the simple pleasures in life. For example, enjoying family meals, reading, getting out in nature, and spending quality time with their families and with themselves. All of that is definitely positive!
Do you have a positive Changemaking story that has resulted from this?
Oh my goodness, yes! I’ve found, in general, that I’ve been “socializing” more during this time than I ever did. This seems like an oxymoron! While I tend to be an “on the go” person who goes out a lot, I’ve come to realize that I engage in a lot of activities. I haven’t always had the time to consistently keep up communication with people who are really important to me. This stay-at-home time has been a chance for me to consciously connect with family and friends and to engage in really meaningful conversations/interactions with them.
Interestingly, I’ve even made some new friends through this experience. For example, a woman who I know tangentially through work started making jewelry as a way to keep herself occupied while staying at home. She shared pictures of these beautiful butterfly earrings she had made. I mentioned that I would love to buy a pair from her. She hadn’t thought about selling her jewelry, but it sparked some interest in her. Long story short, we came up with the idea of offering the earrings in exchange for any donation amount. The donations would go towards buying gift cards (to support local restaurants in desperate need of income) and for healthcare workers at the local hospital. So far, my friend has sold dozens of earrings and has given numerous gift cards to doctors, nurses, CNA’s, etc.
To make a donation to support local restaurants an healthcare workers, and to get a pair of these beautiful earrings, reach out to Andrea Arsenault via email – firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are you able to connect with your students remotely? (Zoom? Google Classroom, or email?) How are they?
I’ve always used Google Classroom to supplement in-school instruction. However, I’ve had to find additional ways to actually “connect” with my students and maintain a “personal presence” with them. I’m now holding regular Google Meet sessions with each of my classes. I’ve just started recording video lessons to fill in between our “live” get togethers. Interestingly, I’ve found that most of the kids are really missing, and wanting, to see their teachers and hear their voices. I’m working hard to try to make that happen. (I’ve realized just how much I miss the personal interaction with them as well!)
Are you in touch with any UWYV teams? If so, what are they up to?
I really haven’t had much interaction with the UWYV teams. Finding some of them has been difficult and I have been trying to figure out how to do that. I was thinking that I’d love to try to hold Youth Venture meetings remotely.
If UWYV was offered to you as a young student, what would your cause be and why?
If UWYV had been offered to me as a young student, my cause would probably have been something related to promoting tolerance and acceptance of others. I would raise awareness about embracing diversity (all types of differences -racial, cultural, gender, ability, etc.) and self-acceptance.
I say this for a few reasons. First, I grew up in a town that appeared to be homogenous. However, it was surely more diverse than was “acceptable” at the time. People were generally expected to have the same lifestyle and values and to fit into a certain mold. Diversity was not talked about. I think this led to many young people feeling “disenfranchised”. They didn’t embrace the status quo ideology or aspire for the same goals that society seemed to promote.
What was one of your most memorable experiences (so far!) being Champion?
Wow, this is a hard one! I’ve had so many, many memorable experiences as an UWYV Champion. If I had to choose one, however, I’d have to say it was when one of my students, who was selectively mute decided to start a Venture to provide video gaming equipment for autistic children like him. Watching him interact with his Venture team members, and getting up and making his presentation, was life-changing for me. His mom came to his panel and was blown away at what he was able to do. Youth Venture, in this case, literally gave this young man a “voice.”
What message would you like to send all of your students?
What I want students to know is that they are safe, loved, and truly cared about. I want them to know that there are many adults, including their teachers, who are here for them to navigate this confusing, somewhat scary time. Finally, I want to help them to understand that “this too shall pass”. There are so many lessons to be learned and positive aspects emanating from this time of uncertainty. Hold onto HOPE and be a part of the community of Changemakers who are lifting up others at this time.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
I truly believe that the mindset and values that Youth Venture espouses and promotes are directly applicable in this difficult, frightening time. For young people (and us oldies) to know that they can chose to respond to challenges by trying to effect positive change is incredibly empowering. I am sincerely proud, and blessed, to have the great fortune to be a part of bringing Youth Venture into the lives of our future generations.
Thank you for taking the time to update us Sharyn. Stay healthy!
Also, thank you for mentioning Andrea Arsenault and her beautiful earrings. She dropped mine off yesterday after she helped to prepare dinner for 70 homeless people at the YMCA in Fitchburg. Like you, she is another amazing Changemaker in our midst!
Again, to make a donation to support local restaurants and healthcare workers, and to get a pair of these beautiful earrings, reach out to Andrea via email – email@example.com.