Tag Archives: stories

2019 Prospect Sierra Summer Stories


Abby Guinn

My husband Jon, daughter Shelby, and I took a car camping trip up the California coast to Oregon this summer. Along the way, we stopped at Jug Handle Beach and camped at the Jug Handle Creek Farm. Both the beach and the farm were amazing spots – highly recommended from the Guinn-Stewart family!





Amy Millikan

My summer was filled with some productive work at Avis and some trips to Montana and the east coast. In August, we took our oldest child off to college. He seems fine. We are still recovering. 🙂




Amy Sullivan

A highlight for my family this summer was our Northern California road trip. We went to Lassen Volcanic National Park for the first time (and it won’t be the last since we all fell in love with it) and the Mount Shasta area. Wonderful hiking, s’mores by the campfire, sledding (!!) on Lassen Peak, climbing on rocks behind waterfalls, kayaking on Lake Siskiyou, and relaxing in some of the most beautiful places we’ve seen.

The other highlight for us was getting Max ready for kindergarten! He is so excited to be at Prospect Sierra, and we feel beyond fortunate to have him here.


Annie Fujimoto

I spent the summer with my new family of four! Me, my husband Chris, Dylan, and Vida went to Monterey together and we also spent a week in San Diego. Other than that, we hung out in Berkeley, enjoying our new baby Vida who is now three months old!






Audie Adage

This summer we did a little bit of everything. We had some late nights and lots of lazy mornings. We camped and spent some time on Eel river with friends. Jones and I joined my parents for a week in Mexico. He can give his review of all of the local chicken tacos and virgin margaritas he tried. We also took our annual trip to North Carolina to spend time with my in-laws. Whenever we are there, we are sure to see Jacqueline, our former PE teacher, and her son, Reilly. What a sweet and busy summer.


Beth Lewis

Our summer seemed to revolve around hiking to waterfalls! We went from a snowy summer hike to Alberta Falls in Rocky Mountain National Park to a very long and hot hike to the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park. It was a great way to spend more time with our boys, who are now 16 and entering their Junior year of high school!

Chaitali Thakar

One weekend prior to my West Coast move this summer, after sifting through boxes and finding myself ready to see something more than cardboard, I decided to take a day to re-explore Boston and do a few things that had lingered on the postponed list. The other hope I had in mind was to walk and/or ride all the four colors of the “T” the local train system in one day. I started in “Eastie,” an area close to the Logan airport, sitting on a patch of green overlooking a segment of the Charles, directly across the “new Boston skyline,” filled with buildings that were still shiny and new from recent construction as well as classic brownstones. Within a matter of an hour, the sun shone and the rain fell, typical of fast changing weather patterns of New England. I walked around, squinting every so often into the sky to identify which airline was flying above. A stop at a heladeria completed the journey, after which I hopped on to the Blue Line of the “T”, mostly for the fact that I liked that it had a station called Wonderland. Perhaps the highlight of that day, though, was a stopover to Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club, a cozy music venue where local Berklee College of Music students and other artists played. It had been on my to-visit list since 2008, and I wasn’t about to pass up a chance to see it! I smush-walked through the crowd, making my way to the front, and for a good couple hours, enjoyed the quartet that was featured that evening. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a full day of reacquainting this city which I had called home for 11 years. Much like the piece they played that night, Boston life had been a mix of eclectic and improvised days of living and yet, it had eventually all come together for a pretty pleasant tune. I can’t say I won’t miss it, but I do hope to find some new songs and sidewalks to explore here in the Bay Area.

Cindy Cheong

Getting a photo of the three of us is rare since my husband is always the person behind the camera! Even more rare is that as a family, we finally got to spend a little time together when we took a quick trip to Vancouver, BC Canada in June to watch Tyler’s dragon boat team – The East Bay Rough Riders – compete in the Concord Pacific Dragon Boat Festival. We ate the most amazing food and had a wonderful time hanging out with great friends!

Tyler and I also spent five days in Columbus, Ohio for the Fencing Summer Nationals and July Challenge for his “final” competition as he has decided to leave the sport after 9 years. The adjustment to life without fencing has been bittersweet (for me), but the reward of having more time and a happier child is priceless!

In July, I went to Arizona for my cousin’s 70th birthday and took a side trip – “Girls Trip” – with my sister and cousin. We did some hiking, visited the Lava River Caves in Flagstaff, and visited the South Rim of the beautiful Grand Canyon.

I feel so fortunate and lucky to have these beautiful treasures around me – family, friends, and nature. It was a great summer!

David Allen

This was a busy summer for me! I moved into a new home, helped run a summer camp at Avis, and participated in a few really great professional development workshops. Fortunately, my partner and I found time to get away around July 4th for an epic road trip to and from Seattle. We hit some great state and national parks along the way and even got to visit with Aaron (former 5th grade math/science teacher) at his new place in Bend, Oregon. There were many great places and moments (feel free to ask me about them!), but if I had to pick one highlight to feature it would definitely be the northern Oregon coast near Astoria. Here is a picture I took early one misty morning on Crescent Beach.


David Gould

This summer, I tried to catch a nap wherever I could, but mostly stayed busy with various projects and spending quality time with my wife and kids. I also had a few occasions to travel, seeing relatives and old pals around the country. A few highlights include visiting the National Portrait Gallery (Washington, D.C.) splashing around in the North Folk of Long Island (NY), driving/ferrying around the San Juan Islands (WA), and hiking in Mount Diablo (CA).


Emily Burns

This summer was a time for rest and relaxation as I prepared to start my new position here at Prospect Sierra. I spent a lot of time cooking new recipes and spending quality time with my husband and my cat. I made a quick trip to Michigan for a wonderful family wedding, but mostly we stayed put. The Bay Area is such a great place to have a staycation!





Evan Duffy-Ledbetter

For most of the summer, I worked at a restaurant that was located right on Highway 1 overlooking the ocean. It was fantastic! I was in charge of the music that we played, which was a small perk that always made my day. Then I traveled down the coast to Cayucos to visit my aunt where we ate fish tacos, walked on the beach, and saw the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. Although I am a little sad that summer has ended, I am very much looking forward to the start of the school year!


Janis Chun

This summer my family and I went on several trips along the West Coast and spent quality time visiting friends and family. Our favorite adventure was a road trip to Las Vegas where we passed through Ridgecrest. Our friends took us to a horse and burro sanctuary where we fed the animals 25 lbs of carrots!  We were currently reading What is a Reptile? and we found a horned toad in the desert! Just like in the book! Can you see the lizard camouflaged in the sand just outside of Grant’s shadow? We have since gone on many lizard hunts and really enjoy observing animals in their natural habitat.

Jeanne Wong

This summer my family had the opportunity to learn more about my mom’s history. She was incarcerated in Japanese internment camps during WWII and survived a tidal wave. We always heard about these stories growing up, but this summer we engaged in this history in new ways. We found her name on a wall at the exhibit in the Presidio. We found her name on an exhibit in Honolulu. I took my mom to the candlelight vigil for Lights for Liberty. And my favorite, while vacationing in Hawaii we visited Volcano National Park on the Big Island of Hawaii. There, we learned that at the Kilauea Military Camp in the National Park they interned Japanese from Hilo. The park ranger had plaques made to commemorate the Japanese that were interned there so that we would never forget. To our surprise, we found a sketch of my grandfather on one of the plaques. We go to Hawaii every summer to visit family but this summer was special as we heard story after story and stayed curious to learn. May we never forget!


Jesse Feldman

In July my family and I hitched a trailer to our car and set out for a month-long road trip through California, Oregon, and Washington. We had unique adventures at each spot along the way, including lots of camping, hiking, and paddling. We even did some sandboarding on the Oregon Dunes! The delicious and creative food and drink we found was a perfect complement to all of the outdoor activities. One of our stops was in Bend, Oregon where we checked up on Aaron Moorhead and his family. They are doing great and send their greetings to the PS community.


Jessica Boyles

Our family enjoyed plenty of mountain time in Tahoe and Steamboat, Colorado. This is a photo of my son and me on the hike to Long Lake near Truckee, CA.




Jessica Walker

This summer was a joy! We took our first family camping trip to Fern Canyon about six hours north of the Bay Area. Although our family got very little sleep, we loved our first camping adventure and can’t wait to do more. I also had the pleasure and privilege of becoming an aunt for the first time! In order to properly welcome my nephew to the family, my husband and two children and I piled into our Nissan and drove nine hours to Las Vegas, Nevada to meet the little guy. It was a wonderful experience! I also had time to explore old and new hobbies such as raising monarch butterflies after I capture their eggs on the milkweed in my yard, and learning to brew homemade beer! It was a summer to remember.


Maddie Hogan

We had never visited Italy because of our reservations about summer crowds, but this summer we finally decided to make the trip. Italy did not disappoint. Rome, Florence, Venice, the villages of the Tuscan hillsides, and the Dolomites were everything that our friends had been raving about for years. Of course, we paid special attention to music, and a Verdi opera in the ancient Roman amphitheater in Verona was a highlight. We began our trip in Munich and traveled by car through the scenic countrysides of Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, and Switzerland. The incredible beauty of Plitvice National Park in Croatia, with its thousands of waterfalls, took our breath away.

Nathan Tanaka

This summer I spent time with my new baby son, Pax. We walked to the farmer’s market to hear live music and explore fresh produce. Other days, we walked to the park to enjoy Pax’s favorite activity, riding the swing! Towards the end of the summer, Pax learned how to roll which is now his favorite of way moving about the house. When not playing with Pax, I spent time settling into my new job as Middle School Division Head! The work has been challenging, fulfilling, and exciting. One work highlight was our Middle School Team Leader Retreat in Guerneville. We spent time planning for the year, bonding as a team, and swimming in the Russian River.


Rachel Monzon

I had so much fun teaching 6th grade science. It was my first time working with older children and to be honest I was terrified they would eat me alive. My time with them was just like summer always is, it went by in a flash but filled with memories to fill my heart. The best compliment that I received was, “Miss Rachel, we need more teachers like you.” I truly owe this compliment to Prospect Sierra and Miss Robin, because of the strong mentoring I’ve received these past two years. I couldn’t have done it without PS.

Remi Rubel

I loved teaching Remily Art Camp at Tapscott this summer. Emily and I ran four sessions of camp at the beginning and end of summer break. Our artists made new friends and were in full-on creative mode while they produced awesome, unique, and gorgeous works of art in a relaxed and fun environment. It was fabulous. Sandwiched between camps, I took long walks with my 13 year old girl dog, Marley, laughed a ton watching Brooklyn 99, ate relaxing meals with good friends and family, and slept as late as I possibly could.

Travel wise, I saw brilliant plays at the Ashland Oregon Shakespeare Festival with my mom and sister, (catch the backstage tour if you ever go), and spent a glorious week at Quyle Kiln in Murphys, California where I breathed life into some art of my own. After not throwing on the wheel for at least 25 years, I was excited to get back to it, and amazed myself by spinning out 10 large dinner plates, a gift for my husband to celebrate our 20th anniversary this month.

Sandi Tanaka

I spent my summer days (and nights!) with my sweet baby, Pax who is now 7 months old. We took long walks around the neighborhood, listened to the same Japanese children’s music on repeat, did lots of mama and baby yoga, and even worked in the classroom together! My most favorite memory from the summer though was our family glamping trip in Mendocino.



Sophia Genone

I opted for slower family living this summer and enjoyed time with my two children (ages 5 and 8). We swam, biked, read, camped, and played with friends along the beaches of the Oregon coast. We gardened, crafted, and hiked between trips to see family in San Diego and Martha’s Vineyard, and then delighted in simply being home.

Trevor Smith

I spent a good part of the summer playing music with toddlers in preschools and other programs. Between classes I wrote some music and got up to Marin for bike rides as much as possible. I also camped a couple of times outside of Nevada City and up near Tahoe, and celebrated my little niece’s third birthday with her!

Trini Huerta

This year our entire family of 22 went to my hometown Teocaltiche Jalisco, Mexico to celebrate our parents 50th anniversary. We were also able to see family that I haven’t seen in 15 years! They were also able to meet my boyfriend and daughter for the first time. Another big trip we did was to visit my boyfriend’s grandparents who he had not seen in 20 years. It was a great reunion trip!


Whendy Costa

This summer my aunt and I finished our third and final section of the JMT (John Muir Trail), including summiting Mount Whitney! Coming from a year-round program, I wasn’t able to take long periods of time off to do the whole trail in one go, so we split the trail up into three. I can’t wait to see what kind of hikes I will be able to accomplish with summers off now! After finishing the JMT we spent a few days exploring both Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, adding two more to the list of National Parks visited! Afterward I went on a solo camping trip to Yosemite for a couple of days to bring it full circle. While there I was fortunate enough to see Lee Stetson, a theatrical performer who portrays John Muir. It was amazing! For Labor Day weekend I will return to Yosemite with my husband to see another portrayal I have been waiting a long time to see – Shelton Johnson – a Yosemite Park Ranger who reenacts the experiences of the Buffalo Soldiers who were stationed in Yosemite in the late 1800s. Finishing the JMT and having books signed by both of these gentlemen put this summer at the top of my list!



Abby’s Corner – Winter Performance, Technology, and More

Building Community

As 2017 comes to a close, teachers and students are heavily immersed in our preparation for our Winter Performance, Anansi the Spider. During the two weeks prior to our performance, instead of adhering to our typical class schedule, we employ a project based learning focus and have created 90 minute blocks for students to dive deeply into different aspects of the story. Through this new understanding, they’ll recreate the story using song, dance, and art. Our teachers collaborate to bring this together in the same way our students collaborate to create the final product.

A few years back, our faculty discussed the merits of having a winter performance since some schools don’t do this, and many schools do a spring concert or some other event later in the year instead. Our team felt strongly that our winter break is the longest break during the school year, and therefore an important time to bring our community together to celebrate the kind of learning we value. As a school dedicated to deep, meaningful understanding, our hope is that our winter performance is a chance for you, as parents, to see how the power of a simple story can bring community together while deepening learning and developing skills for students. Our commitment to illustrating the importance of giving students windows to see out into the world beyond them and mirrors to reflect back who they are is something we always strive for. My hope is that you have a chance to come to one of the two winter performances this year!

A Peek into Program

Using Technology

One question often asked when prospective parents tour Prospect Sierra is what our approach to technology use is at our elementary campus. Like many other areas of curriculum, I often share that our choices about what technology we use and when is deliberate and reflective. For example, at times we use technology in order to integrate 21st century skill development into what kids are learning at school. Integration of STEM into project work with tech tools can promote creativity, encourage mistake making, help develop a growth mindset, and often require collaboration in real time.

Robotics programming through Dot and Dash, for example, allows our students to work with other students in colab to map routes and then program Dash to actually do something. I’ve watched our second graders this year, and often this work requires them to fail several times, collaborate and share new ideas, and then finally get the robot to do what they want. This type of activity instills in students an understanding that learning requires failing and making mistakes in order to get to a final goal. It also helps them practice using their social emotional tools like the Patience Tool and the Listening Tool, and may require them to regulate their emotions when the first attempt doesn’t work! Tech tools and activities that bring together 21st century skill development with social and emotional skill development are the types of technology tools we find particularly useful as they allow our teachers to demonstrate in a hands-on way why your Patience tool, for example, is a tool that can help you in moments when you are trying to do or make or build something. In learning too, we want to demonstrate that all of these skills come together to help a person do what they set out to do.

Screen Time

We limit how often students are on screens as passive viewers rather than active creators when engaging with technology. For example, a teacher might show a short video clip using Apple TV in science to demonstrate what happens in the brain when new pathways are being created and areas of the brain actually light up on MRIs. This can make a piece of abstract learning extremely concrete, which is necessary for young learners who often need a visual aid or to do something hands-on in order to understand what is being explained. Students could then apply this to an experiment or data collection of their own. The video was a helpful tool to give them enough understanding to connect their next piece of learning to a larger learning objective. In this way, technology can be quite powerful and a good use of class time. Most of the time, we want our students actively engaging in learning, and sometimes a short video clip can illustrate something that a book can’t do as well. Other times, the tech tool itself provides a hands-on way for them to do the learning.

It’s worth noting that most of our class time is spent free of technology, as there is still powerful learning to be had through books, paper, pencils, dry erase boards, turn and talks with partners, and group conversations where ideas are shared and often recorded. Shared reading and writing experiences continue to be the norm at Tapscott, with students engaging with mathematical thinking, mentor author texts, or independent reading literature more often than not.

As a school, we want to support you as you consider technology tool choices at home. For many students, much technology use tends to happen outside of school. To that end, our tech team will offer a parent training in February about general technology use, what kids are interested in doing, and ways parents can best monitor this aspect of development. In the meantime, here are some suggestions we think will help guide you over the next few weeks and especially over the winter break.

  • Ideally, devices live in public spaces within the home (not bedrooms).
  • There is open discussion between parents and children about what each wants and needs, so that agreements and expectations can be made in advance.
  • Your digital footprint must be discussed, as elementary students do not always understand that anything they say or do online lives forever and is connected to them. This must be discussed repeatedly as it is still a developmentally tough concept to grasp for most third and fourth graders. (This is the age at which we are noticing many students now engaged in apps that allow them to communicate within a game, for example, text friends, and other online activity that requires more sophisticated communication skills and awareness than most elementary students have.)
  • All forms of communication with others via text, chat, email, etc., should be closely monitored by an adult or avoided completely at this age. This means that if they aren’t comfortable with you reading or seeing what they are sending, it probably isn’t a good idea to send.
  • Parents should have passwords and access to all devices and accounts so that you can regularly monitor what is going on. (There are also new tools to help parents monitor online activity, and we’ll review some of these at our February parent presentation.)
  • When something comes up that feels like it could be going down a wrong path, it is helpful to reach out to parents of students involved to be sure they know as well. Parents need to work in collaboration so that your children know you are all talking together.

If your schedule allows, please join us on Friday, February 9 from 8:30-9:30 a.m. for a parent presentation at the February PSPA meeting: Prospect Sierra’s Best Practices on Technology and Social Media Use. Mark Basnage, Kathleen Arada, and Sandi Tanaka will present valuable information and suggested guidelines to support you and your children so that they can venture into technology use in a way that is healthy and safe.

Helpful Parent Resources

If you want to research more in the area of developmentally appropriate technology use, Common Sense Media is a great tool for parents and teachers. We use this resource often and feel that it’s a reliable source in terms of identifying appropriate ages for things such as online games, movies, and much more. They have reviews of current books and movies with age suggestions that are not by reading level but rather by content and include information on language, violence, etc. They have a parent concerns tab that has everything from suggestions by age to articles about very specific questions you might have around technology use.

Here are a few articles and resources that I recently found very helpful:

  • This article about a few simple steps to take as a family to consider ways to set up a healthy family media diet, similar to a balanced food diet!
  • Another article with recommendations such as no screens before bedtime and ideas for  co-viewing and co-playing as a way to monitor the creative screen stuff that is available!
  • A guide on Youtube given some of the news that came out about Youtube kids
  • Family Time with Apps – great questions to ask when evaluating an app to download, the three C’s for apps
  • Parent Minecraft guides
  • Parent guides on some popular apps

Worth Reading

Encourage your children to be producers, not just consumers, of technology! I love this message as it really looks at technology as a tool to develop 21st century skills that link technology to creativity and innovation. This is certainly our approach at Prospect Sierra, as we want students to see technology as one of many tools they can use to do something, not just watch something. This is worth a quick read!

And if the upcoming winter break affords you and your family time to travel, consider new devices for your home, or co-view some cool apps, please check out some of the articles below that can guide you in these endeavors. I cannot stress enough the importance of educating yourselves before you allow your kids online. In the same way you might review a product for its age appropriateness and alignment with your values (think movies, books, toys), the same degree of evaluation should occur for every site, app, and activity your child wants to engage in online.

  • Apps for family travel
  • What to know before buying Echo or Google Home
  • New healthy media habits
  • This NY Times article mentions apps to be aware of. While focused on slightly older students, and teenagers, it is worth a read as it highlights what is going on for older students and the complexity of social media use for children growing up today. Starting early with plenty of conversation can be one way to really increase their understanding before they are engaging in social media, owning cell phones (my advice – wait!), and playing games that allow for communication with others online.

Thanks for reading everyone. Wishing you a wonderful winter break!

Books, Books, Books! Elementary Edition

The weather is cooler and the days are shorter – what better time to cuddle up on the couch with books recommended by our amazing Tapscott teachers (and even our principal)! I recently spent some time in the faculty lounge basking in the brainpower of our K-4 teachers and asked them about their favorite kids’ books. The books they shared represent a range of reading levels, story worlds, and moments of change and inspiration. They offer windows into new worlds and mirrors that reflect back some of our own experiences. I know that I’m looking forward to diving into many of these stories this winter. Happy reading!

Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman

Helen and the Great Quiet by Rick Fitzgerald

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Life Doesn’t Frighten Me by Maya Angelou, Jean Michel Basquiat, and Sara Jane Boyers (the picture book version)

The Magical, Mystical, Marvelous Coat by Catherine Ann Cullen

Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe

One by Kathryn Otoshi

The Quiltmaker’s Gift by Jeff Brumbeau

She Come Bringing Me That Little Baby Girl by Eloise Greenfield

Slinky Malinki by Lynley Dodd

The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox

The Old Woman Who Named Things by Cynthia Rylant

Wonder by RJ Palacio

Sharing Stories, Building Community

We started the school year with such a burst of joy–from greeting new families and welcoming old friends, to celebrating our community at Panther Picnic. As always, being at Prospect Sierra gives me a tremendous amount of happiness and sense of purpose. This year I made it a goal to spend at least a few hours in every classroom or grade level in the first six weeks of school so that I could get to know the students better, observe our teachers in action, and more selfishly, to participate in all of the rich curriculum and activities that Prospect Sierra students are engaged in every day.

The classroom visits were, in a word, awesome. Besides doing challenging academic work in every subject, from geometry veiled as art in kindergarten, to researching and debating constitutional amendments in 8th grade, I had a chance to play tag, paint, engage in literary discussions, learn a song and dance, do a science experiment, practice improv games, and sit on the rug for quiet story time. Every day that I devoted to classroom visits was enlightening, inspiring, and tons of fun! I witnessed how thoughtful our teachers are in designing their programs, not only for their own students, but also across disciplines and grade levels. I was impressed by how our students embody our school’s values of empathy and inclusion through their classroom collaborations and outdoor play. To experience Prospect Sierra through the eyes of your students provided me with countless moments of appreciation for our school and our community.

In stark contrast to the vibrancy of each school day at Prospect Sierra, the world around us has been through a devastating time. In the last few weeks I have felt overwhelmed by the devastation, violence, and natural disasters that have hit our country and very close to home. We have wanted to do our part to engage students in conversations about the hurricanes, Las Vegas, and fires, while also protecting young students from developmentally inappropriate information and making sure that they feel safe and hopeful. This is not always an easy task. Below are resources that you may find helpful as your children continue to process difficult news. Please remember that feeling sad builds empathy, and empathy leads to action. It is okay for children to feel sad, as long as you remind them that they are safe. Being industrious and taking action can also build students’ agency and hope. 

Finally, one way I process overwhelming emotions is to write. In 2005 I moved to New Orleans, just weeks before Hurricane Katrina. I evacuated to Houston temporarily and three weeks after that had to evacuate again to Dallas because of Hurricane Rita. To say that I experienced loss, confusion, and instability is an understatement. Surprisingly however, as I wrote, I gained a sense of perspective that was profound and continues to support me through difficult times. You are welcome to read the essay that I wrote below, which was originally published in The Houston Chronicle and is now being used in a school writing curriculum and textbook. I believe that stories bring us together as a community, and we are all in need of community in times like these. I hope you will find some connection to my story below, especially if you have experienced loss or instability recently. My heart goes out to all who have been affected by recent disasters and tragedies. If you have been through a trying time, I hope you will feel comfortable sharing stories and being cared for by our community.

Published as “Vietnam Revisited: “I Was a Refugee Long Before Katrina” in The Houston Chronicle, October 16, 2005

Recently, I’ve found myself struggling to describe where I come from. I have lived in Houston for just over a month, since the day my husband and I left New Orleans with our son and dog, two days before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

As New Orleans was destroyed before our eyes, I wept for all those who lost their homes and their lives. As sympathetic friends and family called me, begging to help, however, I found it difficult to feel too sorry for myself. Losing my home is not the most momentous thing to ever happen to me. I don’t consider myself a victim of Katrina. I lost my home long before the winds and high waters swept over New Orleans.

I am a refugee from Vietnam, not New Orleans. Thirty years ago, my mother left Vietnam with her six children, carrying little else but a valise packed with sepia-toned photographs and a heart full of courage and faith. My father was in prison, and my mother had to make the decision to leave without him in order to save her children from re-education camps or death. She was headed for America, where she didn’t speak the language, didn’t know anything about the culture, and knew no one.

In 1975, when we came to the States, we were refugees. We huddled together at Camp Pendleton in California, until we were sent to Alexandria, Virginia, where a Roman Catholic church had offered us sponsorship.

Shortly after we arrived in America, we learned of my father’s miraculous escape from Vietnam, just hours before the fall of Saigon. With incredible fortune guiding him, my father made the perilous journey from the South China Sea, and eventually to a camp in Pennsylvania, where a U.S. soldier gave him the bus fare to meet his family.

We were very fortunate. Yet, we started with nothing. The church found us housing, but my parents did not have jobs; we had no clothing and no toys. We learned English from scratch, and tried to create a home for ourselves in our new country. We folded paper to make toys and taught ourselves to read. We wore whatever the church parishioners donated to us and had no idea what was fashionable, which in a way gave us some freedom. We were different, but we didn’t try too hard to fit in. And most importantly, we didn’t try to recreate our old lives, the lives we had known in Vietnam.

After their narrow escapes from Vietnam, my parents managed to confront the most daunting task of all—to raise their children in a foreign land.  My parents held full-time jobs, worked overtime and modeled for all of us that perseverance borne out of extreme hardship.  What amazes me most about my parents is that they accepted right away that their stay in America was not temporary. They would never return home.

I, on the other hand, could not help but find my way back to the place where I was born, some 25 years after I had left Saigon. When I arrived, however, I found myself very much a foreigner.  I dressed, walked, and talked differently.

Some locals spoke to me doubtfully in Vietnamese, but I could see on their faces that they didn’t expect me to understand them. I sought out my parents’ former home in Saigon, and snapped some pictures. Later, I found out that I had never actually lived there.  In my search for home, I only found myself to be a stranger.

When I hear from others affected by Hurricane Katrina that they are mourning the loss of their childhood home, or the home that belonged to their family for generations, I feel great sympathy for them. In a strange way, I also feel envious that they have such a clear image of what was their home. After all of these evacuations and refugee experiences, the only thing I’m sure of is that I can’t call any place home. My home no longer exists as a picture in my mind, or as a warm memory embedded in my soul. I don’t have a home.

Yet, I didn’t lose my home to Katrina.  In fact, I have lost nothing. I have only gained. I have gained perspective. I have gained a deep sense of gratitude for all those who have reached out to me and my family 30 years ago and today. I have gained a powerful resiliency and, most importantly, an appreciation for the grace that I have experienced in my life.

My one-year-old son talks a lot, but up until last week, had never completed a coherent full sentence. All of a sudden, a few days ago, he said, “I love you.”

I don’t know how my journey has led me to this place—America, Houston, in a grocery store parking lot with my son and hearing his first full sentence. But I do know that feeling the comfort of home is not what’s most important.

I suppose I will always be searching for my home, but I am also certain that I will never find it. And I hope I never do. The journey, as difficult and tiring as it can be, is worth it.

“How Teachers And Schools Can Help When Bad Stuff Happens,” Anya Kamenetz, KQED Mindshift
“Explaining the News to Our Kids,” Common Sense Media