A Bookworm’s Boston: May 2017

Now is the winter of our discontent

And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house

In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
– Richard III
May has been a wonderful month for this bookworm to come out of hibernation. One habit I begun over the wintertime was solo dates with my daughters while maintaining my husband and I’s catch-as-catch-can solo dates. And the dates have improved along with the weather.
All of the dates involve city walking and public transportation – a writer’s dream and a form of relaxation.  I interact passively or directly with potentional characters in the setting of my Boston community. I capture snippets of dialogue while delighting in the rhythm of the city around me. My professional work as a Boston Public Schools teacher involves thousands of decisions and inserts me centrally in the lives of others, so bopping around town is a relief and a contrast. The decisions I make while out and about- to take Gloucester Street or Hereford, to write in a notebook or just hold hands with my husband or daughter – are inconsequential.
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The other commonality that these dates share is that they are relatively inexpensive. A recent favorite date with my husband was a Pay-What-You-Want afternoon matinee of “peerless” by Jihae Park at the Boston Public Library’s beautifully renovated Rabb Hall. (Note: The Kiersten Business Library is  now located right alongside this hall. It has transformed from a dusty little room with cassettes of foreign language materials into an open study hall with alcoves, white boards, and comfortable couches and chairs). I absolutely loved this rendition of the Scottish play in which a pair of murderous twins plots to kill their classmates who have taken their coveted spots at the college. The sparse sets and the ruthless lack of empathy by the protagonists, paired with rhythmic dialogue, evoked the question: Why is so much value placed on the American Ivy League university? Admission comes at great cost – not only in a fiscal sense, but also in the cost of losing one’s identity in search of admittance to an elitist and exclusive, rather than democratic and inclusive, institution that values lineage and wealth over intellect and creativity? I had the chance to ask Ms. Park in post-show conversation about how to promote a new American ideal away from these preservation institutions, an ideal that values democratic principals and reflects the cultural diversity of young adults across our country. Her work increased my awareness of just how incredibly difficult it is for racial “minority” groups to obtain access to these presupposed American Institutions.  I found Ms. Park’s work to be radical and supportive of true democracy, and the Company One‘s pricing model enables Bostonians across class differences access to a professional (and provocative) theater production. Shows are still available tomorrow and next weekend. 
A second wonderful date was today – I took my middle daughter (almost 3 and younger than her older twin by 14 minutes) to IAM Books, one of my most beloved Boston bookstores and the very first Italian-American bookstore in the country. There was a special I Piccoli Lettori (Little Readers’ Group) from 10:30 – 11:30 am. I am not Italian, but my daughters are the great-granddaughters of an Italian immigrant from Genoa who fled Mussolini at age 5 and came to San Francisco, attended an almost exclusively Chinese school, worked as a garbage collector, and eventually became a wealthy restauranteur. A pre-school teacher from Florence, Ms. Adele, conducted a small group of Italian and Italian-American families with young children in a song and then a reading of Il piccolissimo Bruco Maisazio who eats, among other comestibles, prugnefragoleun lecca-leccagelato, and salsiccia.  And consequently, this piccolissimo becomes very fat. The children passed a piccolisimo to one another during the reading and then used glue and construction paper to create their own piccolisimo. I was touched when another family with a beautiful daughter invited us to Umberto, where we dined cheaply on arancini and pizza. Afterwards, I sat in the grass while Sofia ran back and forth on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway.
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We Always Say “Los Bori”: Grove Hall Library Features Summer Spot Poets

Boston Public Library‘s Grove Hall branch is air-conditioned, but that wasn’t why I headed over there on a 90-degree late July afternoon. I went to visit the branch’s teen center in order to see the brand-new display of work from my Writing Is Thinking teammate Alice Laramore’s students from the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School/Alliance for Inclusion and Prevention Summer Spot program.

As part of our Writing Is Thinking collaboration, Alice and I had read Linda Christiansen‘s  influential article “Move Over, Sisyphus!” from Rethinking Schools at one of our team meetings this past spring. It was exciting to see how the seed ideas that Christiansen planted had blossomed into meaningful pedagogy, and, ultimately, poetry written by our Boston middle schoolers that pops with the rhythms of Caribbean music, the splashes of tropical colors, and the intense heat of summer sports.

Below are photos of the display and a few of the poems. There are many more to read in Grove Hall’s teen area.

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BPL’s Bibliocycle: The Intersection of Produce and Picture Books

Growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore in the 80’s and 90’s, I visited the local farm stand plenty of times. It was a wooden shack on the side of the road with an awning, vegetables, and fruits. There was nothing there for kids specifically…I mean, yeah, you could get some strawberries or corn if you were into that as a kid (I was), but believe me, there was nothing special for kids to “do” there while adults bought their produce and maybe a jar of jelly.

Fast forward to my infant daughters’ lives here in Roslindale – City of Boston – in 2014. They are so lucky because the farmers’ market is not a farm stand…it’s an event! And plenty of it is for kids.

This past weekend, however, was particularly special because the Boston Public Library’s Bibliocycle came to the Roslindale Farmers’ Market.

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The witch in Hansel and Gretel used a candy cottage to lure children to an oven. However, the Farmers’ Market  just uses a diabetic-friendly bouncy house to gently guide children towards the Bibliocycle.

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Cool books on comfortable mats – the perfect summer day for a young bookworm!

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The Bibliocycle was part of a special bike day at the Farmers’ Market.

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A sturdy tent protected the bookworms (and the books) from sunburn.

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The cycle is stocked with food-themed picture books – and my personal favorite is Dragons Love Tacos!

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A child-size table featured books about veggies.

 

Best of all, two friendly librarians greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. You could even check out books!

Best of all, two friendly librarians, Amanda Bressler (left) and  June Thammasnong (right), greeted all those who visited the Bibliocycle. They even helped patrons check out books with their library cards!

 

 

Goals for Summer: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #2

The theme for this week’s Talks with Teachers May Challenge is restoration, which is quite a natural fit for teachers approaching summer vacation. Our project for the week is to share a list of 10 or more goals for the summer.

Although I have completed seven years of teaching, this upcoming summer will be my first “summer off” from any formal  teaching or professional development activities. Following my first three years of teaching, I served as a volunteer teacher in the Dominican Republic. Following my fourth and fifth year of teaching, I worked in Boston Public Schools’ summer school programs, and last summer, I completed the required practicum for my reading specialist license at  MGH’s Speech, Language, and Literacy Center.

This summer, however, my primary focus will be on my health and my family with professional goals of secondary importance. Additionally, as I will not return to work from my maternity leave until January, the timeline for my goals extends into the fall.

My Summer and Fall Goals

Family

1. Establish a reading routine with my daughters.

My twin daughters, Sofia and Francine, are due on June 16th. It is really important for me to establish a reading routine with them from infancy. I have already begun to read to them every time that I am riding in the car with my husband driving. We also read to them at night before we go to sleep. Thanks to my teacher friends, my daughters already have a small library of books (in both English and Spanish) to enjoy! I am really looking forward to sharing my love of reading with my daughters.

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Sofia and Francine’s Little Library Space: the bottom two shelves of one of our bookshelves

2. Create a playlist of Spanish songs for my daughters.

I love listening to music in Spanish. I listen to mainly reggaetone and bachata, however, which I think is better for dancing than a sing-along. I would like to take the time to find some mid to slow tempo music in Spanish to sing along with for Sofia and Francine. (Please comment if you have any ideas!)

3. Take my daughters to the Curious George Room at the Cambridge Public Library.

Recently my colleague Paula Leoni sent me photographs of this delightful children’s reading space at the Cambridge Public Library’s main branch. I definitely want to spend an afternoon there with Sofia and Francine, and I would love to get their pictures in front of the beautiful Curious George murals. Apparently, there are quite a variety of activities, including lapsits and concerts, there as well.

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

Gateway to Heaven?: The Entrance to the Curious George Room (photo: Paula Leoni)

4. Bring the girls to the Infant and Toddler Storytime at our local branch of the Boston Public Library.

BPL Roslindale is our local branch of the Boston Public Library, only a short walk from our house. I am looking forward to taking Sofia and Francine to the infant and toddler storytime offered on Tuesday mornings.

Health

5. Take long walks again.

Recently, for longer outings, my husband and I have had to rent a wheelchair for me from a local medical supply store. This is so frustrating as I normally take walks of three to eight miles around Boston when the weather is nice. But lately, I really can’t go more than twenty minutes due to either my lungs or my legs. I really look forward to taking many walks this summer, as I usually do!

6. Connect back into my running.

The most difficult part of my pregnancy, both mentally and physically, was having to give up running. Running has been a big part of my life since 2009, when I completed my first 5K race. I am by no means a very fast runner, but I absolutely love putting on my headphones and going for a long run. It just clears my mind and body of all stress, and I often get my best ideas when running. Running often allows me to clearly think through large tasks or just to be creative inside my own mind. I completed a half-marathon in October of 2012, and I hope to eventually run a marathon, but my post-pregnancy goal is to complete a 5K by the end of September.

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Runner’s High: Feeling Great After a Race in Salem, MA in Spring 2013 (Portrait with Whale Mural)

 

Professional Life

7. Find a meaningful 1-credit education class.

I am one credit shy of receiving a higher salary, so I hope to find a 1-credit education class that I can take online. Boston Public Schools History Coach Sharon Ennis suggested  Facing History courses, but unfortunately the online courses offered take place in June, too close to my due date. I think I would prefer to take an online course in adolescent literature if I can find one. (Again, please comment below with any suggestions).

8. Work through Teacherpreneurs

I recently purchased the book Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave. From just skimming the pages, the book seems to be a combination of a text book as well as a book that encourages discussion and reflection on the role of a teacher leader. I am at a point in my career where I really want to think about my next moves as an educator, and I think this book with help me to unpack my career desires.

9. Participate in the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club. 

I just today signed up for the Talks with Teachers Summer Book Club, which is a completely free online book club for teachers in which we will read three books. In June, the selection will be a novel; I voted for Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which has been on my Goodreads to-read list for quite some time. A non-fiction selection will be chosen for July, followed by a back-to-school professional book in August.

10. Figure out how to participate in a Twitter chat.

I see great chats for educators advertised on Twitter all the time, and I just need to sit down and figure out how to navigate them. (Once again, please comment with any assistance!)

 

A Letter to My September 2013 Self: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #1

I am currently on medical leave from my job as I prepare for the arrival of my twin daughters. However, I have used some of my time on leave to investigate online resources for teaching, and I was fortunate enough to discover the Talks with Teachers website, and I have entered the Talks with Teachers May Challenge.

The challenge takes place on Facebook, and it enables me to connect and reflect with teachers from all around the country. I am so happy to have this online environment to stay connected with my passion for education.

The theme of the challenge for this week is REFLECTION – very appropriate for the end of the year. Each week, participating teachers are provided with resources as well as a project to complete. This week’s project is to write a letter to oneself at the beginning of the school year. Below is my letter to my September self.

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September 2013: Bending over, circulating, and actively interacting with students

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April Me: 7 months pregnant, posing next to affirmations in my colleague Melissa Shearer’s classroom

Letter to September Self from May Me

Dear Jennifer in September:

Do you remember the end of last school year when Ms. Lugira advised you to “sit at the table”? You have begun to take that advice to heart – beginning your metamorphosis from an inspired teacher to a teacher-leader. In the past, you did great work inside the classroom, but now you are expanding your sphere of influence at the school level and beyond. You are about to embark on a year of reinvention and achievement, a year full of change and surprise.

This year, you will finally became a union representative, something you had always thought of doing! After your election, you will help to organize your school’s first ever faculty senate. Every Friday morning, you and your fellow elected leaders will meet with the brand-new school administration to plan special initiatives and discuss issues connected to the faculty and students. Your collaboration will result in faculty senate breakfasts, teacher-led professional development, special events, long-term planning, and improved communication with the school’s governing board. You and your colleagues will bond more than ever this year as teacher voice begins to shape the present and future of the school.

You have begun your journey as a leader in other ways. You will formally mentor a fantastic second year teacher (Alice Laramore) who has masterfully transformed a seventh grade class with many needs into a community of scholars. You will receive notice that you have earned your National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. You will serve on the Teacher Advisory Board of the Boston Foundation. You led a PD for your colleagues on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

But most importantly, this year, you will to be a creative and inspired teacher for your fabulous middle school students! This year, you will implement your knowledge from your reading specialist certificate into providing word study services to your students, and by April, your students will improve by 1 to 4 grade levels in reading! You will successfully engage students with language-based learning disabilities in learning phonics and building fluency – and all of them will build their confidence and ability in reading! You will connect with Boston Partners in Education to provide 1:1 support and attention to students who need it most – and you received the very best tutors! (Ms. Tarsha, Ms. Karen, and Ms. Moshay). You will organize field trips to 826 Boston, American Repertory Theater, and the Boston Book Festival. You will coordinate an author visit from local author Michael Patrick MacDonald, and you will host guest speakers Ms. Berta (your own mentor) and Ms. Emily (the fantastic librarian from the Uphams Corner Library). You will plan arts-integrated lessons for and publish writing projects with the students in your ESL class.

 

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Ms. Emily, Upham’s Corner Librarian Extraordinaire, with the 6A cohort students

But this year will not be without challenges. Your biggest challenge will be learning to rely on other people for help. Guess why? You will be the pregnant teacher. Not only will you be the pregnant teacher…you will be the teacher pregnant with twin girls. You will be exhausted, but you will also be very lucky.

Your students will help you carry your bags whenever you need it. The 8th grade girls will ask you a million questions about your babies, and you will be the center of attention. The boys will be disappointed when you announce that you are having two girls. The students will argue about your babies’ names. They will tell you to relax and promise that no one will behave badly because they don’t want to stress you out.

Your colleagues will remind you to take it easy, and they will help to cover you when you have to go to about a million doctors’ appointments. Still, you will feel guilty for the (less than 10) sick days you take when you are too exhausted or when you have back to back doctors’ appointment. You will cry when your doctor tells you (after hospitalization for pre-term labor) that you can’t go back to work and you will use your last ounce of energy to get your students’ grades in on time for report cards. Every morning at 9:25 am, you think about the smiling students at morning meeting, chanting the Academy 2 Creed: WHO is success? WE ARE SUCCESS!

You will realize that you have the best students and colleagues that anyone could ask for and you will realize how much you miss them. You will think – when I go back to work in January, I will be a teacher and a mother. And you know that your career has prepared you for your role as a mother because you will know how to educate your daughters and prepare them for school. You will be prepared for the turmoil and excitement of their adolescence. And you will better be able to connect with your students’ mothers because they will see you as a mother too.

Good luck and enjoy the journey,

Jennifer in May (31 weeks and 5 days pregnant)