In February, through a connection with e.e. Charlton-Trujillo, PCTELA received a picture book donation from author Sally Derby, who donated several cases of picture books to Never Counted Out. PCTELA has chosen to distribute these in a number of ways to promote reading at an early age. Below, PCTELA Board member Allison Irwin recounts her experience sharing copies of King Kenrick’s Splinter by Sally Derby.
It really takes a village to raise a child. I’ve never been so sure of that as I am right now. Walking into a community of people who know each other, as a stranger, and being welcomed with smiles and conversation, is just what my heart needed tonight.
I spent the last two hours sitting in a dining room at a local women’s and children’s shelter. Tonight was their monthly community dinner – which is very popular. In addition to meeting the women and children of the shelter, I got to share stories with people from the community at large. The hustle and bustle of little children running around while dinner was set up met with the rolling of stroller wheels, the tapping of canes and walking sticks, and the louder stomping of rough and tumble preteen boys play fighting with their cousins. As the gymnasium opened to serve the meal, the dining room filled with many eager to share in good food and fellowship.
Just before dinner I arranged the donated books on one of the tables. I also had some of my own books for the middle school and high school crowd. One mother stopped by to tell me her story. She has a little two year old boy and another on the way. He was adorable! But wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to even catch his name. Then two mothers of high school seniors stopped by to see what I was doing there. We chatted about their daughters’ interests, what they’re reading currently, and then I made some recommendations from my pile. This naturally transitioned into a conversation about their own interests, and each mother took a book for themselves!
One thing I found is that the value of reading is clearly not lost. I met strong, worn grandmothers who read to their grandchildren every day. One mother asked if she could take two books because she understood that if her seven year old son is reading the book to her three year old daughter, then her daughter should have her own copy to look at while he’s reading it to her. There’s something about knowing a book is yours that is pretty special at that age.
Two 6th grade girls came up to the table and talked with me about Twilight and some other recent favorites of theirs. One of the shelter’s Family Advocates who offered her time to sit with me this evening came right back with a book recommendation for them! She told them all about The Host by Stephenie Meyer and what a fabulous read that was for her.
As a high school reading teacher, I sometimes get bogged down by the feeling that we’re not doing enough to prepare our students for the real life reading tasks they will be faced with as adults. Knowing how to read strategically encompasses so much more than just interpreting text. It requires patience, logical thinking, stamina, and resiliency in the face of challenges.
Talking with these families tonight restored some of my faith in our ability to send the next generation off into the world with the soft skills they will need to be successful. If we work as a village, we might just be able to do this right.
One young girl I spoke with took me by storm. She came in with a large group. Breezed right by me the first time – headphones in of course – and then circled back. Without saying a word she began paging through the books on the table.
She eventually made eye contact and engaged me in conversation. I could tell from her vocabulary alone that she was a voracious reader. We shared book recommendations which of course led to deeper conversation. This is where I noticed her soft skills.
Resiliency. She related stories about her friends and the drama that she often needs to mediate. This young girl was adamant about not letting her friends use her as a “back up friend” when her core group was fighting. “I’m either your friend or I’m not” she claimed.
Patience. It’s hard for any teenager to be patient. But when her little brother walked into the room, I watched her demeanor soften as she addressed him. She waited to see if there was something he needed from her before returning to our discussion. Any teenager that can stop talking about herself mid-story to address the needs of her little brother exhibits a great deal of patience and empathy!
Logical thinking. So we started talking about dual narrators, and I mentioned the book 13 Reasons Why. In my opinion, the quality of the book in its original form far surpasses the Netflix series. All of her friends keep trying to get her to watch the Netflix series, but she only likes to do one or the other (book or movie, not both). I told her to definitely read the book in lieu of the series. She continued to ask me clarifying questions, and I could sense her brain shuffling through the data she was collecting from me. She didn’t cave in and watch the series because all her friends wanted her to, she spent time thinking through what would be right for her. (Happy to say she chose the book after our conversation! She liked the idea of the dual narrators, disliked the extra vulgarity and drama the Netflix series adds to the story, and hoped to actually get a sense of the characters inner thoughts and motives which she felt would be easier to grasp through text.).
Stamina. This girl walked straight from school to meet her family at the shelter for the community dinner. Her siblings are mostly younger than her. The school district she attends is underfunded. When she’s emotionally frustrated, she admitted to expressing that frustration poorly, and this causes a rift between her and her teacher. And yet… she spends her lunch break reading in the library. She provides her younger sister with a role model who dresses modestly and has respect for her own self image. She doles out advice and encouragement to friends in need. She smiles and expresses a bubbly, personable attitude while eating a free community dinner with a stranger. She still enjoys school despite all the mandated testing she’s faced with each year. This little girl has stamina.
As teachers, we only see one side of our students. It’s easy to believe that it’s us against the world – fighting to educate the youth! It’s easy to forget that parents are exhausted and that kids navigate a precarious environment each day. I’m left wondering tonight about this little girl’s teacher. How would the teacher describe her as a student? Has she seen the depth of character that this young, teen girl expressed tonight, or does the girl’s classroom persona mask all but one or two shades of her character?
Our job, in addition to teaching the eligible content, is to make sure we’re our students’ cheerleaders. We need to have patience, we need to think logically, we need stamina, and we need to be resilient if we ever expect to teach these skills to our students.
We also need help.
As a village, and only as a village, we can strategically instill those vital soft skills into their literacy education both inside and outside of school.