Last fall, I purchased several copies of Katherine Applegate's Home of the Brave which I donated to my students in ED 459: Developmental Reading in Secondary Schools and to teachers at Cesar Batalla and Bassick High School in Bridgeport. The YA novel, written in narrative, free-verse form, tells the story of Kek and his assimilation to the United States as he misses his homeland, Sudan, and learns to fuse his childhood with responsibilities of school, family, and a new language. My graduate students have read developmental reading texts and articles, and from them we've applied learned skills to create a curriculum guide for teachers to use Home of the Brave at their schools. We've also created opportunities for students in ED 459 and in ESL classes at Bassick to dialogue with one another.
During class last night, Bassick students worked alongside those enrolled in my Developmental Reading course and participated in a few drawing, reading, writing, and speaking activities. The majority of youth were from Congo and Rwanda, with one young woman from Guatemala. We read two poems from Home of the Brave and briefly applied the advice from Beers & Probst in their Notice and Note text. Specifically, we looked for "memory moments," "again and again words," and "words of wisdom." Beers & Probst argue that clueing readers towards predictable writerly techniques for fiction and narrative, helps readers to think more critically and deeply while they read.
The students also participated in a dialogue book (a series of questions stapled together to discuss themes from Home of the Brave and our own experiences). Where I could, too, I hinted at the postcolonial lens for reading , as suggested by Deborah Appleman in Critical Encounters (another text graduate students read for the course).
The curriculum and objectives were secondary, however, to the enthusiasm of Fairfield and Bassick students learning alongside one another. I was unsure we'd get students from Bassick to attend, because the teacher helping us to coordinate shared class time was pulled out of the classroom for professional development and has been out of the building 10 days this semester. Even so, word of mouth spread (ah, the power of Facebook) and kids were ready to go - granted, it was a posse of ten different kids than the original list. My service learning associate, Jillian, has been spectacular at assisting the course's activities and keeping the events rolling.
I only got through 1/4th of what I planned. The students from both venues were really into learning with and from one another. When I alarmed them that the 2 hours were up, they looked at the clock and thought, "No way."
On the drive home, the young men in my car discussed how much they loved coming to the University and wondered if they could do it every night. They talked about wanting to come to the University when they graduate and wondered if there were more opportunities for them to be mentored by my graduate students. Enoch, one young man from Congo with incredible soccer skills and intellect, noted "Wow, that was such a surprise. I didn't know what I was going to, but I came for education. The education was so good. I am so glad I came and I want to do this again."
Another young man remarked, "This was so good for my English. I spoke more tonight and practiced my language more than ever before." He's only been in the country for 6 months. Each of the students was paired with graduate students and participated on the literacy tasks.
I'm sure the pizza and Double Stuff Oreos helped, too.
I left last night wondering how face to face time can be more normed for the length of the entire course. What if the young people attended a majority of the Tuesdays where Developmental Reading in Secondary School classes meet? What if they learned alongside graduate students as part of their weekly routine?.
I loved hearing the willingness of Bassick students as they contributed much and held back little. At that age, I was more apprehensive about sharing my ideas around adults, but they jumped right in. They had much to offer, including connections to Biblical readings, stories their families told them in Africa and Guatemala, words, and the role of books in our lives. They were not shy and saw themselves on the same level as the Fairfield students. They made intelligent connections about colonial history, language, oral storytelling, memories and the power of education, too.
Nights like this simply have me shaking my head with joy and delight. Then I get my head out of the clouds and think, "How can we do more?'