NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

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.

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Reflection #2

NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection

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: Daecia Smith

Role: Grant Recipient

During my time at the elementary school with my book club of six fifth grade girls, I had many memorable experiences. One Wednesday afternoon, before we started the novel The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake, I decided to do an activity to introduce the book. I picked three videos to show to my students. One video was by Dove and embraced curly hair texture. The second video was a poem entitled “The Average Black Girl” performed by Ernestine Johnson on the Arsenio Hall show. The last video was of a three-year-old girl reciting the poem “Hey, Black Child!”

I chose videos pertaining to self-identity and struggle in the black community because those are the main themes in the novel. The front cover of the book is the face of a dark skinned African American girl, Maleeka Madison, the protagonist of the story. I was a bit apprehensive about bringing up this sensitive topic, but I deemed it necessary in order for them to fully comprehend the message of the book. Also, I thought this conversation was pertinent because it is very relevant to their lives as African American females growing up in Philadelphia.

They appreciated the videos in book club, but they were more interested in why I chose to show them. I explained my reasoning and then the girls started to talk about how hard it is being females of color in Philadelphia. They added that they do not like White people because they always mistreat them and because they are all racist. I tried to explain to them that their feelings of alienation are justified and that we will discuss this later on. I added that despite their instances with certain White people, their actions do not speak for the entire race. I asked them if they hate when other races make assumptions about Black people. For example, I asked “Do you hate it when other races say that all Black people are loud, ghetto, ignorant and eat pig feet?” First, they exclaimed their distaste and hatred for pig feet and then they agreed that they don’t like it when assumptions are made with regard to the entire Black community. I asked if they can see how other White people would feel since they made assumptions about their race based off a few bad experiences with specific people. They stared at me in dismay and I knew that based off of their hesitation, we were going to have an interesting time together.

My one goal while spending time with my students was to open their minds to the world around them. The broadening and expansion of their minds included the knowledge and accessibility to neighboring cities as well as acceptance, tolerance and conversation about race, gender and education. The novel The Skin I’m In helped me achieve my goal to have active and fruitful discussion about the world around my students. I wanted to provide them with instructions and advice as how to navigate their futures and the struggles that are uniquely theirs as young, black girls.

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NCTE Fund Teachers for the Dream Recipient Reflection