Meet the teachers: New staff on campus, part two

By Adolfo Barrales and Ian Wang

From left to right: social studies teacher Benjamin Finch, counselor Jaymie Frazier, counselor Amber Wilson. Photo illustration by Hannah Cosselmon

New counselor aims to help struggling students find their “aha moment”

By Ian Wang

Jaymie Frazier, counselor

“My worst experience was with a counselor who made me cry and said that I wasn’t going to make it,” counselor Jaymie Frazier said. “In that instant I said to myself, ‘I want to be somebody not like that. That’s just not fair to kids.’”

Frazier attended Burton High School in San Francisco, where she played on the volleyball team and attended the Mabuhay Club and Gay Straight Alliance. After college, Frazier taught English in Korea for a year. Before Lowell, Frazier worked worked with special-ed students in K-12 with physical and genetic disabilities.

What were some challenges and rewards in your career as a whole?

As a counselor, I have a lot of hats to wear, so juggling is a big one. Another challenge would be the really high student to counselor ratio [at Lowell]. Sometimes I worry that some kids don’t see me because they think I’m too busy or they’re bothering me. I want them to feel comfortable coming to me and let them know I have an open-door policy, where if my door is open, come on in!

One of the biggest rewards of being a counselor is seeing them be confident in their abilities. I call it the “A-ha moment.” For instance, when I first meet some students, they may tell me, “I can’t do this” to themselves or “I can’t apply to that school, it’s out of my reach.” But then I’ll work with them over time and see them get into that school, win that scholarship or get that passing grade in that class they were struggling so much in. It’s really rewarding to be a part of that journey with them.

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What’s your impression of Lowell compared to other schools you’ve worked at?

So far, I feel the students here are really dynamic and true go-getters. They definitely have a lot of motivation and drive to not only utilize available resources, both on and off campus, but to seek out opportunities related to their college and career goals. I’m always impressed with how involved Lowell students are, and their ability to do so many things at once, such as taking challenging courses during the day, sports and extracurricular activities after school and even internships or jobs. The best part of it all, is despite how jam packed their days are, the students I’ve encountered have been really kind, respectful and overall a pleasure to work with.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

I love reading for fun. It may sound boring to others, but I really enjoy it. I recommend Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari because it’s funny, yet also very intriguing, if you’re interested in comedians and their books.

“My worst experience was with a counselor who made me cry and said that I wasn’t going to make it. In that instant I said to myself, ‘I want to be somebody not like that. That’s just not fair to kids.’”

What’s been your funniest teaching moment (as a teacher)?

During my summer in Korea, I had to teach summer English camps. I would come up with different activities to keep things interesting for my students, because I know it’s summer and they didn’t want to be there.

One of the activities was a cooking session where I was teaching some third or fourth graders how to make lemonade. We got to the point where we’ve squeezed our lemon juice into our cup and we’re adding however much sugar we want. So we’re adding sugar, stirring, and tasting. There’s this one kid who’s mixing like everyone else and out of the blue he says, “This tastes like… like chocolate milk!” Instantly, all of the other kids swarmed him asking for a taste saying, “I want a taste! I want a taste!” I’m thinking to myself, “How does lemonade get to tasting like chocolate milk?” It was just the cutest thing. He told the other students, “No way, this is my special mix!”

Photo by Jennifer Cheung

World traveler shares passion for history and language

By Ian Wang

Benjamin Finch, Spanish and social studies teacher

“I like being able to diagnose problems that happened in the past — their causes, their effects — what happened because of them and how they affect where we are today and then relating them to what we’re doing now,” Spanish and social studies teacher Benjamin Finch said.

In college, Finch originally majored in business but later switched to major in history and Spanish. After graduating, Finch taught English in Spain. He then taught history at a bilingual Spanish-English high school in Salem, Oregon.

Finch started at Lowell as a Spanish teacher, but switched to teaching economics after another teacher left at the beginning of the fall semester. This semester, he is teaching Spanish.

What were some challenges and rewards in your career as a whole?

A big challenge is that [Lowell students] are very tired in the morning. I’m really tired in the morning. There are challenges when it comes to a new school district and when it comes from colleagues or students or parents. There’s never going to be a day when you walk in and there is no challenge. There’s never a day when you walk out without thinking about what you have to do tomorrow.

The biggest reward is knowing that you’ve opened someone’s mind truthfully. It’s about opening people’s minds and making them a better person.

What’s your impression of Lowell compared to other schools you’ve taught at?

I was hired the day before school started this year, the day before teachers had to report. I was on a family vacation, so I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew it was a good school. Xiaolin Chang and Vice Principal Swett were the ones who interviewed me, made me feel comfortable, and I felt it would be a good environment to work in.

[Lowell students] are incredibly smart, but the pressure on you guys is incredible. Here, everything is more intense. Whether it’s teaching a lesson or it’s grading papers, or interactions with co-workers, everything is much more intense.

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

I like traveling; I have been to 46 countries. I want to go to four more so that I can make it 50 before I turn 31. Before I came here, I had spent nine months traveling around the world. I went to Europe for four months and I did a 350-mile hike, went to Oktoberfest, had a tomato fight in Spain. Then I spent a month in Australia, spent another month in New Zealand, and three months in Central and South America.

“Seeing that light bulb going off in kids’ heads. That’s what I like.”

What inspires you?

I had no idea that I wanted to be a teacher. During the recession, I graduated from college and was unable to find any type of job even though I spoke three languages and had a college degree. I was offered a position teaching English in Spain, and I had studied abroad in Spain and liked it and wanted to go back, so I took the job. I only made $700 a month and fell in love with it. Seeing that light bulb going off in kids’ heads. That’s what I like.

What’s been your funniest teaching moment (as a teacher)?

When I was first starting out teaching ancient history in Spain, I was trying to explain the Persian invasion of Greece to my students in English. They were a bilingual group, but they didn’t really understand what was going on. I was trying to relate it to the movie 300. I said, “There were a million Persians invading Greece and there were only 300 Greeks defending it.” They looked at me like I was crazy, so I asked them if they wanted me to explain it in Spanish, to which they said yes.

I did it again, but as I did it in Spanish, their eyes got even bigger and they were even more confused. I asked them if they wanted me to explain it one more time and I did, but they were bewildered and just did not know what was going on. Then one kid rose his hand and asked, “Mr. Finch, did you mean to say Persas?” And I responded, “What word was I saying?” He said, Persianas. And I asked him, “What’s the difference?”

Well Persas are from Persia. Persianas are like the shutters on a window. So I was telling them there was a million shutters invading Greece and only 300 Greeks to defend it. But hey, in the movie they said they were gonna fight in the shade.

Photo by Jacky Huang

Former soccer semi-pro player assists students to reach goals

By Adolfo Barrales

Amber Wilson, counselor

“I can probably see myself [counseling] for the next thirty years, and I’d be totally happy doing it,” counselor Amber Wilson said. “It’s just one of those dreams or aspirations that people have that never change.”

Wilson was born and raised in San Francisco and went to St. Ignatius College Preparatory. She attended college in San Diego, where she majored sociology and minored in Spanish. After graduating, she took odd jobs waitressing in restaurants, working at soccer camps, selling products door to door, coordinating in the Mayor’s Youth Employment and Education Program, and working in case management. Wilson then returned to school to get her masters in counseling at San Francisco State University.

Before coming to Lowell, Wilson interned at Francisco Middle School and worked as a counselor at Balboa High School for five years and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory for nine years.

What are some challenges and rewards in your career as a whole?

As a new counselor at Lowell, I think my biggest challenge has been remembering everyone’s name. Names are very personal but I have a hard time remembering them and I feel bad when I have to ask students two, three or four times to remind me.

The small things feel rewarding. Since I’ve been a counselor for 14 years, I know many of my conversations don’t sink in right away. Sometimes it takes time for things to connect. Students saying thank you or seeing them change for ‘the better’ or achieving a goal they have for themselves are huge rewards for me.

What is your impression of Lowell compared to other schools you’ve worked at?

Students come to Lowell knowing it will be a challenge. Many students have very impressive resumes of activities, volunteering and grades. The one thing lacking, I think, is a stronger sense of pride in their school or community, which is difficult with such a large school.

“I can probably see myself [counseling] for the next thirty years, and I’d be totally happy doing it. It’s just one of those dreams or aspirations that people have that never change.”

What are some of your favorite hobbies?

Personally, I like to play soccer. I played in college for one year, and I played every position, like goalie or playing forward. Afterwards, I joined a club team and we were semi-professional — we didn’t get paid anything, but it was the next level after college. And I still play twice a week with a co-ed team and a women’s team. It’s definitely what I love to do.

What inspires you?

I am inspired when I see people being passionate about something, for example, the debate team working late hours to improve their stances or the dance team rehearsing.

What is your funniest teaching moment?

Since I’ve been at Lowell, Mr. [counselor Jonathan] Fong definitely is funny. One time during our counseling meetings we were discussing some serious topics and out of nowhere he sneezed and coughed at the same time — he snoughed. It broke up the serious mood and we were all laughing for a while. Another sort of funny thing is people keep getting Ms. [counselor Jaymie] Frazier and I confused for each other, which I am totally flattered by since I am a bit older than her.

These interviews have been edited and condensed by Emily Teng.