Teacher as Warrior in Racialized Post-Election America

 

Dear Reader: Below you will find what I consider to be a battle hymn, written by my brilliant friend and teaching colleague Katy Ramón. It may surprise you to know that Katy does not consider herself a poet, and, while she doesn’t publish her poems often, I am always love  when she does. This poem gave me hope and strength in the days after the election, yet it is also a cry for deep personal examination. Last week was a difficult one in our schools, and Katy’s poem shows the warrior strength that so many educators possess and display in a time of turmoil for our students of color.

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Every Ounce of My Strength

by Katy Ramón

That some of you can scroll on, that some of you won’t understand, that some of you will be angered and confused, that some of you won’t care, is heartbreaking.

I don’t need you to comment with acceptance. I don’t need you to comment with dissent. Let it marinate and digest it as you will. This is my story.

To hug and comfort crying and fearful children at school and at home was heartbreaking and took EVERY OUNCE OF MY STRENGTH. To hug and comfort grown adults, was heartbreaking. 

I refuse to pay a dime for cable, and I always have been that way. But I read. I read transcripts, quotations, and opinions from various sources. From there I form my opinions. I believe that a person is directly responsible for the words that come out of their mouths. A person is directly responsible for their actions, as actions and words are the expression of their ideas.

If you support a person that has proved through quotes and documented action that he is a bigot, then you also, sadly, are part of the bigotry.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect women, including myself, my daughter, my sisters, and my mother, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect Mexican ancestry, including myself, my father, my family, my children, my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect black people, including my son, my friends, and my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country does not respect people with different sexual identities, including my family members, my friends, and my students, is heartbreaking.

To realize that a huge portion of my country, including family members and long time friends, hold a bigoted world view, is heartbreaking.

If you find yourself aligning with intolerance, go get to know people that are not like you. Expand your world view. It is courageous to identify your own personal ignorance and work toward understanding. I will look into my own as well.

In the meantime, I will dedicate every day to education, understanding, and tolerance.

 

Katy Ramón teaches middle school mathematics and Algebra 1 at the Gardner Pilot Academy K-8 in the Boston Public Schools.  She holds a graduate Certificate in Educational Leadership from Boston University, Boston.  Katy holds a Masters in Education and is a graduate of the Boston Teacher Residency program, University of Massachusetts, Boston.  Katy also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Political Science from the University of Washington, Seattle.

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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Window “Stopping” for Poetry in Brookline Village

While strolling through Brookline Village this morning, my whole family stopped to admire an awesome display of poetry in the windows of The Children’s Book Shop. Typed poems are printed on large poster boards along with the signature of each poet. Best of all, this public exhibition of poetry is written by children in grades K to 8.

After some online sleuthing, I learned that the poems displayed were winners of the annual Children’s Book Shop Poetry contest, held in honor of National Poetry Month in April. I photographed several of my favorite poems, but a complete listing can be found on the contest’s webpage.

 

The awning of The Children's Book Shop in Brookline Village, Massachusetts

The awning of The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, Massachusetts

 

A great conversation piece poem for young children: "What else can you think of that roars?"

A great conversation piece poem for young children: “What else can you think of that roars?”

 

A poem of familial gratitude

A poem of familial gratitude

A perfect poem for summer

A perfect poem for summer

Short, sweet, savory, hilarious!

Short, sweet, savory, hilarious!

Change Agent: Aminata Keita, Stunningly Accented Teen Poet

As Aminata Keita performs her poetry slam version of her original poem “My Accent”, published in her 2012 book Struggles of a Dreamer, a tear wells up in my eye, cleverly disguised behind my thick black sunglasses. I can remember Aminata’s first days in my 5th grade classroom in the fall of 2007, when, as a student new to the United States, she felt extremely frustrated by the combination of her acute intelligence and her lack of English.

Aminata recalls: “I should have been in the 8th grade, and when I had to go to 5th grade, I was really upset. It was a frustrating time, but I’ve learned to control my temper.” Changing grades wasn’t the only struggle that Aminata faced that year. In immigrating to the United States in order to learn English and improve her educational opportunities, Aminata left behind her mother, friends, and family in her native Guinea-Conakry.

Aminata (right, center in brown and pink jacket) and her 5th grade classmates on the first day of snow in December of 2007.

Now, at age 15, Aminata is the author of two volumes of poetry: Sentences of the Heart and Struggles of a Dreamer, both published by Books of Hope.  Sentences of the Heart is currently out-of-print, as its first edition sold all 100 of its copies. “My sister and I would hustle people at [Somerville High School] soccer games. We would tell them it was a really good book and worth the $12,” explains Aminata as she signs the copy of Struggles of a Dreamer on a late August Sunday inside Davis Square’s Diesel Café.

Aminata signs her latest collection of published poems at the Diesel Café in Somerville.

As we head back to Aminata’s home in Somerville’s Mystic Project, she tells me about the education and the opportunities that Books of Hope has provided for her. When Aminata attends her Books of Hope sessions in the Mystic Project Community Center on Mondays and Wednesdays, the instructors present the students with a social justice topic, such as homelessness or World AIDS Day, for discussion. Then, the students participate in writing exercises, “to get your mind moving”. Finally, the students create performances to present to one another. These in-class performances have led to the formation of a slam poetry team that includes Aminata and other Books of Hope students. The team has performed in Somerville and Boston as well as in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and New York City, including a stint at the Harlem Book Fair.

Aminata and her fifth grade teacher Mrs. Dines pose inside of the Mystic Project Community Center, where Aminata attends Books of Hope writing workshop sessions.

Aminata attributes much of her successes with writing and performing to the dedication of Books of Hope Director Soul Brown. “It’s in the way she helps me and the other kids,” Aminata says,”She gives us hope at becoming authors. She treats us like her own children.”

When asked how an immigrant student can become a published author, Aminata offers the following advice: “Stay focused. Life is what you make it. Try to do something positive. With no knowledge, you’re probably nothing unless you plan on working at Dunkin’ Donuts or Stop n Shop.”

Aminata (center) poses with her book and her family: her brother (left) and her cousin (right).

Perhaps Aminata’s shift from frustrated English Language Learner to confident and serious student can best be understood in her poem “I Used To” from Struggles of a Dreamer.

I Used To

by Aminata Keita

I used to 

Love dating

Love eating

those amazing steak & cheeses

Hate myself

Hate him

Love to party

Love going out

Like music

Love skating

Liked trying to fit in

Love flirting

Love cookies

Hate people who are trying to save me from myself

Like sleeping while teachers’ are explaining

Until one day I woke up and

Realized 10 years from now,

Those characteristics are not going

To be paying my bills

But my knowledge and habits will…

Read with Passion!: “Roslindale event was poetry in motion”

I can’t believe that Rozzie Reads Poetry  generated so much interested. The Roslindale Transcript printed an article about the event online, and it was also featured in the print version of the paper. See – poetry is headline news in our Roslindale community!

 

“I Am From…” Poetry By Pearl

Pearl is my 9-year-old student here in the Dominican Republic, where I will be for the next two and a half weeks. She is participating in Mrs. Dines’ Writing Bootcamp. Today we wrote a poem together called “I Am From” using this template. Although Pearl knows a lot of English from her family, she has never attended school in English. This is her first poem written in English, and it was accomplished through shared writing – Pearl told me her ideas, I wrote them down, and then she practiced the poem and read it for the video camera.

Mrs. Dines: So, Pearl, how did we make this poem together?

Pearl: First, we made a plan to write a poem and make a movie. Then, we posted it on YouTube.

Mrs. Dines: Why did we write a poem together?

Pearl: To make a movie.

Mrs. Dines: Was it easy to make a movie?

Pearl: No because I had to repeat it and repeat it over and over again.

Mrs. Dines: How do you feel that you made a video for YouTube?

Pearl: Good because I had a little help.

Rozzie Reads Poetry: Taking Poetry to the Streets!

Rozzie Reads Poetry took place on August 2, 2012 from 7 pm – 8 pm. Residents of our Roslindale community read poetry in public places around the square. This event was sponsored by Friends of the Roslindale Library and by Roslindale Village Main Streets. The Roslindale Community Center hosted our pre-event meeting spot in their wonderful air conditioning.

What happened?

About 25 readers came out in white and gold to the streets of Roslindale to read poetry to the masses. Our readers read at 4 different locations around Roslindale Square. We read poems from famous poets, such as e.e. cummings and Robert Frost, as well as poems from local poets. One of our readers even read a poem written by her best friend who lives in Seattle! This event was very special because it showed that adults in our community are role models of literacy who are willing to take risks and put themselves out there in order to share a passion for poetry. Tonight I really teared up at one point (behind my sunglasses, of course) because people came together for the simple reason of loving poetry. It was so great to see adults and children listening to poetry from inside their cars with the windows down and stopping as they passed by on the street.

What’s possible?

Imagine if this became a regular event in our community. Every child would grow up with poetry in their lives. They would see the world around them as a place where poetry lives, and it would become a part of them. Let’s do it again, everybody! Of course, I will let Jude, Phyllis, Laura, Sarah, Georgia, David, David, and Cathy handle all of the hard stuff…I will just come up with the next dress code.

The Village Market

Daniel Johnson, Executive Director of  826 Boston reads outside of the Village Market.

The Clock on Birch Street

Jude Goldman reads at the clock on Birch Street.

Redd’s in Rozzie

Poets read on the patio at Redd’s in Rozzie.

Minerva’s Owl

Christine Cignoli reads Invictus, and the longest memorized poem of the night was [anyone lived in a pretty how town] by e.e. cummings.