Category Archives: Teachers

Mentors that matter

This morning I started working in the ASPIRE program at my local high school to mentor juniors and seniors through the college application process. It’s much more daunting to get into college these days and since I’ve been through the process with three of my four children it seemed like a natural fit. It has also gotten me thinking about all the people who have mentored me and my children over the years.

The one person who has mentored me more than anyone in my professional life is my cousin Kathleen Delaney. She has spent her entire teaching career in some of the lowest income schools in the Chicago area. She has told me stories about her students my entire life–stories about the ones that have inspired her, worried her, made her laugh, made her cry, and sharpened her understanding of the injustices so many face every single day. This August as she was preparing for the school year she stepped across the hall to introduce herself to a new teacher in her building. She was met with a shout of joy and a warm embrace from this new teacher.

The woman had been an 8th grader in my cousin’s school decades ago. Kathy taught 6th grade and after school she coached the girl for the district speech competition. They chose the address of Chief Seattle from 1854 and worked on it together after school for several weeks. Before the competition my cousin gave her the picture book version of Seattle’s speech written by Susan Jeffers. What she didn’t realize at the time was that the girl’s family had come to this country illegally. The mother was struggling to raise five of kids on minimum wage. That book was the first one the girl had ever owned. The first book anyone in her family had owned. They read it until it fell apart. 61gaPRmd8hL._AA160_This girl decided to become a teacher, in part because of my cousin’s example. Her younger brothers and sisters who had Miss Delaney in 6th grade reported that she was the “hardest” teacher in the school, the one who assigned the most homework. She was the one who believed that they could do all that work, even though they were new speakers of English.

This former student took her college classes one at a time over many years because her immigration status made her ineligible for financial aid. But she stuck to her goal year after year and now after all this time, she and my cousin will be teaching side by side. I’ve done author visits for my cousin in recent years and her students are quick to tell me that she is still the hardest teacher in their school. They feign agony in reporting all the writing assignments she’s given but it’s easy enough to see their pride underneath all that complaint. Some of them come voluntarily to school an hour early every day to work in her room before school starts.images

I mention all this at the start of the school year because my cousin cheerfully points out that there is nothing unusual about her. Most teachers mentor students before and after school. Many have very high expectations for even their most impoverished students, and almost all of them give away hundreds of books over a teaching career. So this is my thank you to all of you for all you do to change lives, to raise up one literate generation after another, and encourage those who enter school powerless to leave it with something to contribute to the world. It’s easy to get discouraged and in the minutia of daily work and lose sight of your power.

You make history every day. When a child learns to read, you change that entire family’s economic fortunes forever. Our economy cannot function without you.  I’m grateful–to my own teachers, my children’s teachers and all of you everywhere who work with students wisely and generously every day. Thank you!

 

Celebrating Stories about America’s National Parks!

Junior_Ranger_logo

courtesy www.nps.gov

Happy Birthday America!

In honor of July 4th, and family travel season, I thought I would write about one of this country’s greatest treasures: The National Parks System. I’ve come to more deeply appreciate the NPS through my middle-grade reading kids, who are obsessed with the “Junior Ranger Program” – a program available at almost all U.S. National Parks and Monuments. On visiting a park – great or small – our children will ask the ranger if they have a junior ranger program. This is usually a printed booklet that asks the kids to to age appropriate activities relevant to the park — everything from taking a hike, attending a ranger talk on geology or nocturnal creatures, reading about a historical event or figure, and then completing various puzzles, activities and games. On completion of a booklet (which may take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 or 3 hours), the ranger checks their work and viola! They are sworn in to be junior rangers!

5623805_f520My kids are really excited to collect the various junior ranger badges — there are about 400 in this country and my kids have 72 each — but others enjoy collecting patches, or stamping their “national parks passports” with stamps from various parks. It’s a great way to see America, and have the kids be the instigators and navigators of family trips (rather than the ones who dread going places and drag their feet) But you don’t have to go far (usually) to find a great NPS site – there are many smaller sites that you may not know about right around the corner from you! Just visit www.nps.gov to look at the list of wonderful junior ranger program-containing sites. (There is also a web ranger program, and several you can do online!)

There are many TERRIFIC books for kids to learn about national parks: check out some great lists here and here. When we visit a site, we often try to read something that gets us excited about what we are about to see. There’s undoubtedly a biography, nonfiction or fiction for every middle grade reader that would be appropriate to read about almost every park! Here are some thoughts that might make your summer NPS vacation both informative and literary!

 

1. Visiting Boston’s Historic Sites or just stopping by on your way to the Cape? There are several junior ranger programs in the area. And while you’re clocking miles on I-95 why not give your middle grade biography or history buff Who Was Paul Revere?

Who Was Paul Revere?

courtesy barnesandnoble.com

courtesy barnesandnoble.com

2. Heading to Florida for a beach vacation or to visit Disney? Take a day trip to the Everglades or the several other terrific NPS sites in Florida! Maybe your mystery reader will enjoy Nancy Drew 161: Lost in Everglades. 

3. Going to the big parks in Arizona? What about giving your animal-loving reader that old classic Brighty of the Grand Canyon

4. Of a literary or oratorical bent? What about visiting Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s home in Cambridge or Edgar Allen Poe’s Birthplace in Philadelphia or Fredrick Douglass’ National Historic Site in Maryland?

 

Feel free to add your favorite park/vacation related books below! And enjoy your summer exploring this nation’s beautiful parks!

Here’s an adorable link to get your younger travelers excited about national parks:  Sesame Street Explores National Parks

 

Freedom Summer 1964: Looking back with a new generation


Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around
traditional song that became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s

Fifty years ago this month, the arduous efforts of civil rights advocates through the 50’s and 60’s coalesced in Mississippi as thousands organized to push for voting rights long-denied to African Americans.  Our nation’s work for equity and social justice goes on today, and the examples set by those who would not give up are treasured by ongoing generations of readers.  In their remarkable book, Oh, Freedom! Kids Talk about the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made it Happen,  Casey King and Linda Barrett Osborne share interviews that fourth graders conducted with family members and others who worked for justice during this time.

Starting with Oh, Freedom!, Seattle teacher Kay Yano built a unit on Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement so that her fifth-graders could also learn from — and be inspired by — this important time in our history.  Kay’s goal was “to draw students into the lives of some of the leading voices of the Civil Rights movement in the 60s and to see that they were all ordinary people who saw injustice and felt moved to action from it.  I want students to understand that people just like us can rise up and do extraordinary things, and that when we work together, we are able to be change agents.  My hope is that students can find that place in themselves that resonates with these leaders and find the ability to be change agents too.”

A Sampling of Books about the Civil Rights Movement and Freedom Summer

Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles; ill. by Jerome Lagarrigue.  Friendship defies racism for two boys in this stirring story of the “Freedom Summer” that followed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Now in a 50th Anniversary Edition with a refreshed cover and a new introduction. (Indiebound description)

Through My Eyes by Ruby Bridges.  This is a book written by Ruby Bridges herself!  She writes in her memoir about her experience, accompanied by Federal Marshals, of being a 6-year-old who became the first black student to attend her elementary school.  This book has articles that appeared in newspapers at the time and helps to create a context for her remarkable story of courage (Kay Yano description).

When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson by Pam Muñoz Ryan; ill. by Brian Selznick.  This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of Marian Anderson, who was a gifted singer who was prevented from performing at the Metropolitan Opera and Constitution Hall because of discriminatory policies.  However, she was invited by President Roosevelt to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where she performed in front of an appreciative crowd of 75,000 people.  This performance opened doors for her and for others that had previously been closed. (Kay Yano description)

Rosa by Nikki Giovanni; ill. by Bryan Collier.  Rosa Parks’s story is told here, both her life leading up to the moment where she “sat down to stand up” for the African American community in Montgomery, Alabama.  The story then moves into the resulting bus boycott and some of concrete results of her actions of civil disobedience. (Kay Yano description)

As Good as Anybody: Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing Walk toward Freedom by Richard Michelson; ill. by Raul Colon Tells the parallel stories of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel (a Polish-born rabbi who fled Nazi Germany) and how they came together in the March To Montgomery.  It talks about the many influences and common experiences of oppression that both men faced and how they found commonality that helped to cement their alliance. (Kay Yano description)

Revolution by Deborah Wiles.  It’s 1964, and Sunny’s town is being invaded. Or at least that’s what the adults of Greenwood, Mississippi are saying. All Sunny knows is that people from up north are coming to help people register to vote. They’re calling it Freedom Summer.  As she did in her groundbreaking documentary novel COUNTDOWN award-winning author Deborah Wiles uses stories and images to tell the riveting story of a certain time and place — and of kids who, in a world where everyone is choosing sides, must figure out how to stand up for themselves and fight for what’s right. (Indiebound description)

Learn more about Deborah Wiles’ “60’s Trilogy” in MUF team member Laurie Beth Schneider’s interview with Deborah Wiles and her editor, David Levithan

Thank you to Kay Yano for sharing her unit ideas!

Katherine Schlick Noe teaches beginning and experienced teachers at Seattle University. Her debut novel, Something to Hold (Clarion, 2011) won the 2012 Washington State Scandiuzzi Children’s Book Award for middle grade/young adult and was named a 2012 Notable Social Studies Trade Book for Young People.  Visit her at http://katherineschlicknoe.com.