June 10, 2015
By Jessica Broussard

Group Photo copy

Whenever I tell anyone that I am a middle school math teacher, the typical response is, “Oh, I’m sorry. I was never good at math!”

Math needs a real good PR guy.

I love the rules, the creativity that it allows, how often you get to make mistakes and learn from them. I just finished my sixth year as a teacher in the second largest school district in the country, Los Angeles Unified School District, where my students build, design and learn. Most of our students are bused from the inner city every day.

My colleague and mentor Jeff Nielsen and I came up with this crazy idea: students would use geometry to design and build dog houses, sell them and then donate the money to local animal shelters. The only problem was that neither of us knew how to build a dog house.

Wright Middle School (2) copy

I have no idea what made me think of veterans to help us. For some reason they seemed like people who would know how to take a team of kids and build something. So I googled “veterans helping their community.” Best Google search of my life. The Mission Continues website was the first hit and I clicked. As soon as I got in touch with Tristan Williamson and their team, I knew this would be a life affirming experience.  

There really is no way to express how grateful I am for the veterans help. Getting 27 groups of 7th graders to build dog houses is not for the faint of heart. The Mission Continues helped us buy the supplies and brought in veterans tasked with helping our students take their design and build a dog house in one day.

Wrighte MIddle school copy

Each veteran was positive, kind and inspiring. When one group couldn’t get their roof to work, Allison Bailey, Los Angeles 1st Service Platoon Leader, insisted that her group was building a sleek modern dog house. Who needs a triangle roof anyways?

Army veteran and platoon member Tracey Cooper-Harris saw so much good in my students. “Our house didn’t come out exactly as they planned, but they made smart decisions, had great teamwork and used good troubleshooting to get it done,” she said in an email. When I shared her message with the boys the following day, they were so proud of themselves and glowed with pride.

Wright Middle School

And, then there was Richard Krykew, an Army paratrooper and Iraq combat veteran placed with a group of five 13-year old girls—which sounds like too much to handle. But Richard was not fooled by a facade of manicured nails and giggles. Those girls meant business and got the job done.

Over and over again, I kept hearing overwhelming positive feedback from our students about each veteran who came in for a day of service. “No, Ben was the best!”  “No way! Francisco was awesome!”

Wright Middle Shcool (3) copy

What I expected was that these veterans would do so much for my students; they inspired, provided emotional support and made my students feel important and special.

One of the things I didn’t expect was how big of an impact my students had on them. As the day progressed, I could see a symbiotic relationship forming between my 7th graders and these veterans of war.

I hope to cross paths with Allison soon. She said it best:  “we couldn’t have asked for a more successful event, as the success was written on the faces of both the kids and our volunteers. For The Mission Continues, it is not only continuing to serve within our communities but to also have a reciprocal relationship where teamwork and bonds are formed. I continued to have volunteers reach out to me, so appreciative to be afforded the opportunity to work with Wright Middle School. So, in turn we would like to say thank you to all the students and staff for making this day one we will never forget.”

Allison, the pleasure is all ours.

Jessica Broussard teaches math at Wright Middle School STEAM Magnet in Los Angeles.  She credits her innovative math curriculum to the Knowles Science Teaching Foundation.

Want to make a difference in your community? Join a service platoon in your area.