Saturday, November 23, 2013

Remembering Where We Come From

I am from books
From Chicken-of-the Sea Tuna and Comet
I am from the simple and comfortable home
Full of dusted antiques
It smelled like casseroles
I am from the corn growing in the garden and the wheat fields
The dandelions and zinnias

I am from holding hands while we prayed and not talking back
From Gene and Mary and Ida
I am from the Winnie the Pooh bedtime stories, church potlucks, trips in the car
From "Keep your elbows off the table" and "If you can't something nice, don't say anything at all."

I am from the Mennonites and the father who became Catholic
I am from Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Germany
From homemade bread and applesauce
from the mother who never learned how to milk cows because her father wanted her to go to college
From the car rolling down the street when I pulled the emergency brake and my dad running after the car, jumping in and saving me
I am from acres of love and mountains of great books.

I shared this poem, that I had written with the help of the "Where I'm From" template, with my students in preparation for reading To Kill A Mockingbird. My intention was to help them see that stories, like their authors, come from somewhere. So, I gave my students a template that I found with a Google search.  The template is based on the poem by George Ella Lyon. As I presented this assignment, several of the students groaned as I expected they might and some claimed they didn't have traditions or family sayings or familiar products in their home. I walked around, gave them encouragement and some more examples and the ideas seemed to start flowing. I loved their finished products.

Here are some excerpts from their writing:

"I am from the 2000's, from Coca Cola and Captain Crunch.
I am from "eat your corn" and "don't throw a fit."
I am from two homes but one big family."

"I am from Uggs, Starbucks and iPhone.
I am from the rose flower, the red rose, so smell the roses- you only live once."
I am from "Have you brushed your teeth?" and "Don't let the bed bugs bite!"
I am from the Catholic faith- the Holy Trinity."

"I am from the dance rehearsals and freckles on brown skin.
From Grandma Re and Grandma Sassy.
From devoted Catholics and open-minded Methodists.
I'm from Kansas and Mexico,
tacos and rice.
In the numerous boxes, waiting to be scrapbooked, are pictures from my life.
I am from the family who taught me to be myself, and to always have a good book."

"I am from Wichita, Kansas
where it is flat and boring and it is quiet.
I am the seed of the sunflower.
"You're still my baby" says my mom forever and ever."

"I am from the crazy house, crowded and noisy.
It sounds like a zoo sometimes.
From "eat over your plate" and "don't hit people."
I am from Egypt
From grape leaves and hummus.
From the family with lots of cooking talent."

" I am from chopsticks and Pho.
From "Work hard to have a better life" and "Be responsible"
From Catholics and the Golden Rule.
From what my mom sacrificed.
I am a group of atoms that was formed into an intelligent life form and transported from Vietnam."

"I am from the home with high ceilings and endless stairs
Large and Warm
It felt like a warm cup of tea on a cold day
I am from the roses twisting in the bushes
the fresh mowed grass staining the driveway."

I think these are beautiful!


Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Hallelujah School

"Mrs. Awe, when the bell rings at 8:00 in the morning, I get a headache." One of my heroes, a student with dyslexia says this to me one morning as he rubs his head and looks out at me from under his blond hair, hanging low over his eyebrows. Nevertheless, he finishes his work, scoops up his papers and swaggers out of my office. I hope his spirit stays strong as he navigates his way through the deep waters of education. He has a strong sense of self, a loving family and teachers who adore his winsome personality and incredible work ethic. He was, by the grace of God, born with the coolest smile and a natural proclivity to joy. He was also born with a neurological difference known as dyslexia. Learning to read was no walk in the park and although he has made much progress, a page of text renders him exhausted after 20 minutes. Uncanny comprehension skills and a vast amount of something I can only call insight carry him through the pages of text that are cast upon him day after day.

Sometimes, I wonder about our current practices and I feel badly for students who struggle and for those who are highly creative, intuitive, and open hearted, all things we don't formally assess! When I become disillusioned by state standards and mandated assessments, I am prone to daydream about my "resurrection" school. Like the Sadducees in today's gospel wondering about marriage in heaven, even whilst disbelieving the promise of resurrection, I question if in the perfect school, indeed if in heaven, there is a place for standardized tests.  My internal questioning led to a dream to start a resurrection school, named "The Hallelujah School for Creativity and Imagination."  It is a loosely formed dream, devoid of a funding plan or financial blueprint but borne out of a desire to have a school community that feeds the natural inclination toward curiosity and allows lots of time for discovery and questioning, along with the basic instruction needed to read and reason, with a least an hour for lunch and sitting under the broad blue sky.   And I wonder if like the Sadducees, I too am riddled with disbelief in the power of the resurrection. Jesus' answer, "He is God of the living" is meant for me too.

I shouldn't wait for the perfect day and the perfect school.  My Hallelujah school, or at least glimpses of it, may be for now, the strategies that are creative and imaginative and inspired. Whenever we act with hope and renounce despair we are living the resurrection, now and today. We live the resurrection when we create safe places for students and teachers to learn and grow. We live the resurrection when we fill the cracks between cultures and social groups with love and acceptance and we live the resurrection when we share our love of learning with students. We live the resurrection when we stop and listen, cry with those who cry, and laugh with those who laugh. Today is what we have and we are resurrection people.

With hope,