Author and Activist Michael Patrick MacDonald Visits the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School

I was both surprised and thrilled when my colleague Susan Lovett sent out an e-mail about arranging a visit for author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald. I jumped in right away to help organize this event for our school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.

Years earlier, I had taken Mr.MacDonald’s book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie out of the library and read it cover to cover over the course of a single weekend. The book is a memoir of MacDonald’s early life in South Boston during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the story that unfolds is much more than a personal narrative. All Souls offers a historical narrative with vivid first-hand descriptions of  Boston’s busing era and the influence of notorious criminal “Whitey” Bulger on the Southie neighborhood. The novel is also a spiritual journey of resistance and resilience on the part of young MacDonald, whose bright soul, curiousity, and dedication to his family and community shines through the trauma of living under the effects of poverty, crime, and death. The writing and publication of the book itself is a tribute to MacDonald’s bravery and activism, breaking the unwritten “code of silence” that long prevented the residents of the Southie neighborhood and others like it from reporting and discussing crime, drugs, and deaths plaguing their communities.

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My autographed copy of MacDonald’s first novel

 

During Mr. MacDonald’s visit to our school on Tuesday, the acclaimed author spoke to a group of about fifty of our students, who were specially selected to attend the event based on their commitment to social justice and community leadership. Mr. MacDonald talked about the City of Boston’s Gun Buyback program, and he read a passage from his second novel Easter Rising which discussed the post-traumatic stress he experienced following the deaths of his brothers. The students had many questions to ask Mr. MacDonald, and he thoughtfully answered each and every one of them.

After the presentation, students received copies of All Souls (one young man even brought his own hardback from home) and had the opportunity to have their books signed. The students were overjoyed to talk with a real author, and I saw many students reading their books in the hallways while walking back to class. In fact, I taught a class right after Mr. MacDonald’s visit, and I had to ask students to put their new books away to focus on the lesson – this is the kind of focus issue that I am more than happy to see!

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Students gather around MacDonald to have their books signed.

Two students from Academy 1 smile and show the cover of the book.

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Sixth grade student Rasha shows his beautiful smile as he stands next to Mr. MacDonald.

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7th graders Mikel and Kiajah look on thoughtfully while Mr. MacDonald autographs Kiajah’s copy of All Souls.

Over the course of the week, many teachers reported to me that students were carrying the books in their backpacks and “showing off” the autographed books to students and teachers alike. My colleague Alice Laramore commented that the students were treating the books “like a trophy” of Mr. MacDonald’s visit.  I myself have ordered additional copies to use with my intermediate and advanced ESL classes in the last quarter of the year as part of a unit on argument and persuasion – at the conclusion of the unit, students will produce argument essays about how to best prevent violence in an urban community. Mr. MacDonald sent me some photographs of toy gun buyback programs to inspire our students to perhaps organize their own drive. The note I received from Mr. MacDonald read: Jennifer, please share these images from past buybacks and concurrent toy gun turn-ins organized by middle school aged kids, in case that might inspire some local community organizing in the school with the local community. These toy gun turn ins (in exchange for non violent toys and books donated by businesses like Toys R Us and Publishers like children’s lit Houghton Mifflin) are very fun.  And it’s a great way for teens, pre teens, and the smaller children to feel a sense of voice and agency.

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Photograph of mothers from Charlestown as promotion for Boston’s third gun buyback

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Mr. MacDonald with a young activist and organizer

Mr. MacDonald’s visit was a perfect fit for our school – our building itself is a symbol of triumph over violence, as our school was built by activists on a lot that was once a hub of criminal activity. Formerly named the New Boston Pilot School, the Lilla G. Frederick (LILL-LUH, not LYE-LUH) is itself named for a Grove Hall community organizer.

Middle School Students Accurately Predict Boston’s Next Mayor

Yesterday, students in Academy 2 at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School voted in a Mock Election. Prior to the election, students created campaign posters and completed Voter Registration forms. Students with completed registration forms cast their vote for Boston’s next mayor.

The Mock Election

56 students in grades 6, 7, and 8 participated in the election. Martin J. Walsh won the Mock Election, and he also won the City of Boston Election to become Boston’s next mayor. 42 of our Frederick students voted for Marty Walsh, 13 voted for John Connolly, and 1 students voted for both candidates. This vote was discarded.

Our wonderful Lilla G. Frederick Technology Coordinator Victor Woodroffe streamed the Mock Election Live on You Tube.

The Days Leading Up to the Election

Students used the candidates' website to research their personal histories and views on issues.

Students used the candidates’ website to research their personal histories and views on issues.

Students completed graphic organizers to record information from the websites.

Students completed graphic organizers to record information from the websites.

John Connolly Graphic Organizer

John Connolly Graphic Organizer

Students compared and contrasted the Mayoral Candidates.

Students compared and contrasted the Mayoral Candidates.

After researching and comparing the candidates, students formed their opinion about who they supported in the race.

After researching and comparing the candidates, students formed their opinion about who they supported in the race.

Many students supported Martin J. Walsh.

Many students supported Martin J. Walsh.

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A few students supported John Connolly.

A few students supported John Connolly.

Today’s Classwork and Homework

I have created an adapted text and summary lesson for today, using the New York Times’ article on the Mayoral Race. You can download the lesson materials here: Post-Election Lesson Materials.

Boston’s Mayoral Race 2013 Lesson Plan: Persuasive Campaign Posters

Dear Readers:

In order for our students to participate in the historic 2013 election in Boston, I have created a Boston’s Mayoral Race Campaign Poster Lesson Plan that instructs students in how to research, compare, and select their choice of mayoral candidate. Then, students create a persuasive campaign poster that convinces other students to vote for their chosen candidate. Please feel free to edit these lesson plans as needed to fit the needs of your students and schools.
These activities deliberately address two Common Core standards that we are working on at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public middle school.
MA RI7.6 Craft and structure analyze, compare and contrast information in text at a 7th grade level

MA RI7.6 Craft and structure analyze, compare and contrast information in text at a 7th grade level
Students in our academy (small section of the school) will be given voter registration forms next Monday, and students must bring in their voter registration forms on Tuesday to vote in the Mock Election and receive candy!
Last year, our students very much enjoyed our mock presidential election. (See here: https://literacychange.org/2012/11/06/middle-school-students-vote-in-a-mock-election/).
It is really fun for the students to feel like a part of history!!!
Best,
Jennifer Dines, M.Ed., C.A.S.

Shutdown 2013: Interview with a Government Librarian

Kara B. (a.k.a. Bollywood Blogger  Filmi Girl) and I have been friends since we attended college together at Berklee back in the early part of the millennium. We were in several bands together, and we have stayed friends for the past decade plus.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scoot in Allston circa 2003.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scott in Allston circa 2003.

Fast forward to 2013.

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago... striking poses at H Street NE DC

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago… striking poses at H Street NE DC

This morning, Kara B. granted me this interview about the effects of the government shutdown on a federal librarian working in our nation’s capital.

Literacy Change: What is your job?
Kara B.: I’m a librarian for the federal government. My job is completely nonpartisan. Tracking down accurate statistics or digging up hard to find articles or recommending background reading on a certain policy topic, I make sure that our patrons get the information that they need to do their jobs.
LC: How does the government shutdown affect you?
KB: I am on unpaid leave with no guarantee that I will receive backpay. That is my biggest concern at the moment: how big a financial hit will I take from this shutdown. And for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the same situation–not to mention the hundreds of thousands more forced to work without pay–it’s really insulting to see certain segments of the media play this shutdown off like a joke. Our jobs, our professions, our lives are not being treated with respect.
LC: I understand that you were out and about in D.C. yesterday. What was different from a normal weekday?

KB: There was a very strange mood in the city yesterday. Many employees were required to go into work for a few hours in the morning in order to shutdown their offices and when I went out for a walk around lunch time I saw a lot of aimless looking people in suits. Rush hour on the subway in the evening was eerily quiet.

LC: What do you plan to do with your time during the shutdown?

KB: Because my family and friends are in similar situations, we’re going to try and get through it together. I spent yesterday afternoon having coffee with a furloughed friend from IRS and today my father, who is also furloughed, and I are going on a little day trip to Southern Virginia. I plan to spend as much time away from my computer and the television and the news as possible.

LC: Are there any books you are hoping to read during the shutdown?

KB: Unfortunately I was too busy on Monday to assemble a reading list of work-related books to check out but I may use the time to catch up on the stack of books on my bedside table, which includes:

Boston: Don’t Forget to Vote Today!

I am about to go to my local polling place right now. Tomorrow, any of my students who know the names of the candidates who will be running for mayor in the November election will receive candy.

My Ballot Choices

Mayor:

Felix Arroyo

City Councilor At Large: 

Ayanna Pressley

Stephen J. Murphy

Annissa Essaibi George

City Councilor District 5:

Mimi E. Turchinetz

Malala Yousafzai News Broadcast

Below you will find three wonderful video clips from Japan’s NHK Television Broadcast about Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in July. It was interesting to watch and re-watch these clips in Japanese. Although I do not speak any Japanese, the images alone served to tell Malala’s story and how it has affected children in Pakistan and around the world.

 I am so pleased that my student Quddus Rodrigues and his fabulous “super mama” Filomena are featured in this compelling program. Quddus is a model of how reading and writing can inspire us and empower us to advocate for others. I love that he is a young man that stands for education. As Malala says: “Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge…Education is the only solution.”
Quddus’ Clip in the Broadcast
Malala Broadcast, Part I
Malala Broadcast, Part II

Being Bostonian: How We Make Boston Strong

Dear Readers:

 I am very pleased to share my students’ latest e-book publication with all of you. It is titled “Being Bostonian: How We Make Boston Strong”, and it is a collection of essays which share how our students, their families, communities, and our school contribute to the City of Boston’s strength. My students have worked diligently to create this publication for Mayor Menino and the Boston Police Department as a humble thank you for all of their courage during all of the recent events.
In a time of great uncertainty, this collection of essays serves as a powerful reminder of why I teach. The students’ writing is expressive and sophisticated, capturing their identities and their dreams for the future. I cannot believe that I am so privileged to work with this group of young people.
Thank you, Jennifer Dines
Being Bostonian (download)