PCTELA was awarded the Fund Teachers for the Dream grant this year! NCTE was extremely generous in awarding this grant. They’ve given us the opportunity to mentor three fabulous pre-service teachers from Pennsylvania. In this series you’ll hear directly from them about their experiences this school year with engaging students in discussions about diversity and self identity. They each used grant funding to develop and facilitate programs in their selected schools. One pre-service teacher chose to establish a book club with fifth grade students reading The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. Another chose to read, discuss, and create dynamic texts meant to guide students through tough discussions and self discovery. The third pre-service teacher offered movie nights to her high school students and used movies like Crash and Schindler’s List as spring boards for discussion. One of our mentors also wrote a blog post about her perspective, and that will be part of this series, too. Join us at our Annual Conference this October 20-21 in Greentree, PA to hear these three pre-service teachers give a panel presentation about their projects and what they’ve learned.
Written by: Dr. Jolene Borgese
Role: Mentor of Daecia Smith throughout the grant period
I am uncomfortable writing or talking about the different shades of skin color. But the young African American girls in Daecia Smith’s book club were not. Daecia is a senior at Temple University, majoring in secondary English. She is student teaching this semester at a high academic performing school in Philadelphia.
The afternoon I joined them at the elementary school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for their book club I asked them two open ended questions: “How’s the club going?” and “How do you like the book you’re reading?” Like a fire storm, these 11 year old girls all spoke to me at once – eager to tell me about the book and the characters. Aiming to be the one I heard, their responses became louder and more animated but they were all talking about the bullying going on in the novel, The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, and how it was all the about the lighter skinned character versus the darker skinned character. Without any inhibitions or fear of being politically incorrect they spoke to me candidly about the shades of being Black.
The teacher in me wanted to connect to these free spirited little girls so I shared with them what I knew about shades of skin color. I recounted quickly as to not lose their interest – “I am of Italian American descent and Italian skin color depends on what part of Italy you are from. The southern part of Italy is very close to Africa so if you are Sicilian- which I am part of – your skin is darker. Some of my sisters are very fair but my father, brother and I have darker skin.” They weren’t interested or cared. I got it. I was this white lady talking about getting a tan. I never got the chance to tell them that my mother sometimes wore pantyhose to the beach because her legs were so white.
The girls spoke with such confidence about shades of color that I asked them if they knew of this happening to people they knew or even themselves. With all of their heads nodding “yes” I realized why this was so important to them. Daecia gathered their attention back when she asked them to start reading. Having more girls than books they happily shared books and helped whoever was reading with words they couldn’t pronounce. They all followed along and listened carefully as their club members read.
Daecia would stop and asked them questions periodically about what they were reading. It seemed more like a conversation than comprehension questions because this was obviously important to them. They read for about 30 minutes never inattentive or disengaged. Reading the right book – the book that means something to the reader- was the key. It was obvious they saw themselves in the characters they were reading about.
At the end of the hour they cleaned up their snack wrappers (Daecia had provided snacks for them), collected the novels and journals. The girls put on their coats and headed out the classroom door. One little girl stopped and turned to Daecia and asked, “What are we reading next?” Daecia was exhausted from student teaching all day, and the extra hour she put in with these little girls, but she still managed a smile.