Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Another Wonderful Gesture From the Old Couple Next Door

I came home last night and saw a red bag by my garage door. I had a hunch who it was from, but I didn't know. My guess was right - the old couple from Poland put together a package for Chitunga and me (they don't know he left for college). I will share the goods with Edem, who has moved in to Mt. Pleasant while he works in a local hotel.

In the package was a note that said, "Thank you, neighbors, for shoveling and snowplowing our driveway and sidewalks."

I simply think, "Of course we do." They are not able to do the work. The husband has a difficult time walking to his car, and the wife, although active and working most of the day, shouldn't have to pick up the weight of wet snow.

In the bag was a box of chocolate from Poland, a bone for Glamis, a toy for Glamis - with squeaker (she destroyed that in a three-hour frenzy leaving plastic and cotton all over the place), a basket, and two bottles of wine. Maybe they have binoculars next door, because they definitely know us.

This is the second time they've dropped off a random act of kindness and I am very thankful. Because Edem's birthday is Wednesday and there is only two of us to celebrate it, I am thinking that we will deliver half the cake to them (I plan to make the Alice cake that she taught me to bake while living in Kentucky).

It's the small gestures that tell the biggest stories. I am very fortunate to have these two next door.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Research. Teaching. Service. 20 Hours in Canisius 115 This Weekend.

Don't worry. I didn't sleep in my office...I haven't had to resort to that kind of tomfoolery yet. Rather, I simply knew that the yearly dossier was due this week and wrote of the weekend as a commitment for capturing the last five years in southern Connecticut.

Dr. Marcelle Haddix accused me of being one of the most visual learners she's ever worked with, and I thought of that today when I was trying to graphically explain my role as a CWP-Fairfield Director. In some ways, the National Writing Project leadership role is a swirl and twirl of research, teaching, and service. At the epicenter - ME - trying to stay afloat with all the responsibilities, I've had to think intelligently about turning my practice, the designs in my work, and the community outreach into a research agenda. I haven't perfect this, but every year when I kick, scream, fret, and biotch about reflecting on accomplishments, I feel I am getting closer to articulating the model that explains what is going on with CWP and the fusion of youth and teachers learning side by side.

Everything is always spinning inside my head and I looking for the clearest path to get results.

I wrote to Marcelle last night saying that I need to find a model for assessing writing communities in a school - to gauge the writing temperature of a writing culture - and to articulate what works and doesn't work towards advocating writing success with youth. I know Applebee and Langer have contributed much, but I need a go to model for starting with schools who don't know where to begin. These typically are schools that are overassessed and under-resourced. They can't implement solid writing instruction across the curriculum with written outcomes in mind, because they don't have an imagination for what it looks like.

Now, my imagination is all over the place because I LIVED what it looks like during KY's writing portfolio assessments in a K-12 school that totally embraced writing. In Syracuse, I also felt a writing community amongst youth --- not in school, necessarily, but through our work with Writing Our Lives.

The National Writing Project, of course, has the best collection of tools any school can ask for, but that requires teacher leaders who have attended an Invitational Leadership Institute and administrators who are willing to support them when they return.

Maybe this weekend's break from being at the Mic and in front of kids, gave me time to realized what I need to go after next. I've learned so much from the LRNG work, Young Adult Literacy Labs, the CT Mirror OpEd project, implementing grants in high needs schools, and teaching for over 23 years! I need to frame this in a larger project...one I hope to write, Gallagher-style, for its usefulness in the classroom. I think I have a project for the Fall.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Tired. The Poor. The Hungry. Resources Important To Me.

Like a majority of Americans, I am in utter shock over political decisions to ban immigrants and refugees from entering the United States from war-torn nations...the 1% of the 65 million displaced people worldwide who were, under a kinder, gentler, and more human America, once given asylum into our country. The Statue of Liberty that I've learned to love from elementary school onward promises an America of refugee, safety, and possibility. This is a land that has been built from relocation stories, where people unite over the potential for freedom, democracy, and unity which is not experienced world-wide.

Dr. Steven Bickmore, of young adult literature fame, reached out to me yesterday and wondered how I was doing with all this strife. He asked if I had list of resources I might share with him and I do. I did. I appreciate that he checked on me and am putting this list here in case it is helpful to anyone wishing to begin the journey of texts that definitely counter the rhetoric and policy coming out of the capital of the United States at this time. These recent decisions make little sense when one reads research, considers practice, explores narrative and text, and contemplates history. My lists may repeat texts, but I created two: one for K-6 (above) and one for 6-12 (below). 

For some time now I've collected children, young adult, and adult books that have helped me to understand shifting demographics, the plight of refugees, and the struggle of relocation. In this sense, these resources have assisted the irreplaceable, incredible, and inspirational work I've been fortunate enough to do with relocated African refugee populations since I was a teacher in Louisville. 

Until this year, I did not imagine that the greatest civilization to date could suddenly switch gears on its mission and purpose. It happened rather quickly. I'm not a religious fellow, but it seems to me that these decisions are the antithesis of what the "good" books teach us. To put restrictions on immigration and refugees due to personal whims simply seems ludicrous. 

I don't know where to begin, but for those who want to start somewhere, here you go. When you finish reading these texts, and if you still feel that current decisions are warranted, then we should talk.  At this point, it is no longer about being an American, a Democrat, or a Republican. This is about being a civil human. Period.

African Refugee Narratives in Young Adult Literature

Applegate, K. (2007). Home of the Brave. New York: McMillan.
Bassoff, L., & DeLuca, L. (2014). Lost Girl Found. Toronto, Canada: Groundwood Books.
Cooney, C. B. (2007). Diamonds in the Shadow. New York: Delacorte Press.
Cornwell, N., & Littlewood, K. (2012). Christophe's Story. NewYork: Frances Lincoln.
Dau, J. B., & Akech, M. A. (2010). Lost Boy, Lost Girl; Escaping Civil War in Sudan.
          Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.
Farish, T. (2012). The Good Braider. New York: Skyscrape.
Mead, A. (2003). Year of No Rain. New York: Macmillan.
Mikaelsen, B. (2004). Tree Girl. New York: Harper Collins.
Naidoo, B. (2000). The Other Side of Truth. New York: HarperCollins.
Padian, M. (2013). Out of Nowhere. New York: Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Park, L. S. (2010). A Long To Water: Based on a True Story. New York: Clarion Books.
Stewart, E. (2014). Blue Gold. Toronto, Canada: Annick Press.
Whitman, S. (2014). The Milk of Birds. New York: Atheneum Books.
Williams, M. (2011). Now is the Time For Running. New York: Little, Brown and Company.
Zephaniah, B. (2011). Refugee Boy. New York.

Additional African Refugee Narratives

Akpan, U. (2008). Say You're One of Them. New York: Little, Brown & Company.
Beah, I. (2008). A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier. New York: Sarah Crichton Books.
Dau, J. B. (2007). God Grew Tired of Us: A Memoir. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic.
Eggers, D. (2006). What Is The What. San Francisco: McSweeny’s.
Jal, E. (2009). War Child: A Child Soldier's Story. New York: St. Martin's Press.
John, W. S. (2009). Outcasts United; A Refugee Team, an American Town. New York: Spiegel &
McDonnell, F. J. H., & Akallo, G. (2007). Girl Soldier: A Story of Hope for Northern Uganda's Children. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Chosen Books.
Kamara, M. (2008). The Bite of the Mango. Buffalo: Annick Press.

Other Resources

Bixler, M. (2005). The Lost Boys of Sudan; An American Story of the Refugee Experience.   
          Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press.
Bloomfield, S. (2010). Africa United: Soccer, Passion, Politics, and the First World Cup in
          Africa. New York: Harper Perennial.
Carlin, J. (2009). Invictus: Nelson Mandela and the Game That Made a Nation. New York:
ESRI. (2013). Fifty Largest Refugee Camps. Redlands, California. Accessed online on
Foer, F. (2004). How Soccer Explains the World: An Unlikely Theory of Globalization. New
          York: Harper.
International Rescue Committee (2006). Refugee Children and Youth Backgrounders. New York. 
McMahon, F. R. (2007). Not Just Child's Play; Emerging Traditions and the Lost Boys of Sudan. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press.
Pipher, M. (2002). The Middle of Everywhere: Helping Refugees Enter the American Community. New York: Hartcourt, Inc.
Shenk, J., & Mylan, M. (Writers) & POV (Director). (2004). Lost boys of sudan [film]. United States: Actual Film s& Principle productions in association with American Documentary, Inc. and ITVS.
Smith, S. C. (2005). Ending Global Poverty; A Guide to What Works. New York: Pelgrave Macmillan Publishing.

Selected Research
Alvarez, G., Benjamin-Gomez, A., & Hunklin, M. (2010). Students with Interrupted Formal Education: A Challenge for the New York City Public Schools. New York: Advocates for Children of New York.
Campano, G. (2007). Immigrant students and literacy; Reading, writing, and remembering. New York: Teachers College Press.
Crandall, B. R. (2012). "A Responsibility to Speak Out”: Perspectives on Writing From Black African-Born Males With Limited and Disrupted Formal Education. (Dissertation), Syracuse University.   
Crandall, B. R. (2014). Lost voices in an American high school: Sudanese male English-language learners' perspectives on writing. In C. Compton-Lilly & E. halverson (Eds.), Time and Space In Literacy Research (pp. 107-121). New York: Routledge.
DelliCarpini, M. (2008). Working with English language learners: Looking back, moving forward. English Journal, 98(1), 98 - 101. 
Decapua, A., & Marshall, H. W. (2010). Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education in US Classrooms. The Urban Review, 42(2), 159-173. 
Fu, D. (2007). Teaching writing to English language learners. In T. N. a. R. Kent (Ed.), Teaching the neglect "R"; Rethinking writing instruction in secondary classrooms (pp. 225-242). New Hampshire: Heinemann Press.
Fu, D., & Graff, J. M. (2009). The Literacies of New Immigrant Youth. In L. Christenbury, R. Bomer & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research (pp. 400-414). New York Guilford.
Goodwin, A. L. (2002). Teacher preparation and the Education of Immigrant Children. Education and Urban Society, 34(2), 156-172. 
Naidoo, L. (2008). Supporting African refugees in greater western Syndney; a critical ethnography of after-school homework tutoring centers. Education Research for Policy and Practice, 7, 139-150. 
Rong, X. L., & Brown, F. (2002). Socialization, culture, and identities of Black immigrant children: What educators need to know and do. Education and Urban Society, 34(2), 247-273. 
Roxas, K. (2008). Who Dares to Dream The American Dream? Multicultural Education, 16(2), 2-9. 
Roxas, K. (2010). Tales from the Front Line: Teachers' Responses to Somali Bantu Refugee Students. Urban Education, 46(3), 513-548. 
Roxas, K. (2010). Who really wants "The tired, the poor, and the huddled masses" anyway?: Teachers' use of cultural scripts with refugee students in public schools. Multicultural Perspectives, 12(2), 65-73. 
Roxas, K., & Roy, L. (2012). "That's How We Roll": A Case Study of a Recently Arrived Refugee Student in an Urban High School. The Urban Review, 44(4). 
Roy, L. A. (2008). Language and literacy practices: Somali Bantu refugee students and families in a predominately latino school and community. Dissertation. The University of Texas at San Antonio. San Antonio. 
Roy, L. A., & Roxas, K. C. (2011). Whose Deficit Is This Anyhow? Exploring Counter-Stories of Somali Bantu Refugees' Experiences in "Doing School". Harvard Educational Review, 81(3), 521-541. 
Sarroub, L. K. (2007). Seeking refuge in literacy from a scorpion bite. Ethnography and Education, 2(3), 365-380. 
Shaw, J. A. (2003). Children Exposed to War/Terrorism. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 6(4), 237-246. 
Smith, S. C. (2005). Ending Global Poverty; A Guide to What Works. New York: Pelgrave Macmillan Publishing.
Tadesse, S., Hoot, J., & Watson-Thompson, O. (2009). Exploring the special needs of African children in U.S. schools. Childhood Education, 352-356. 
Townsend, J. S., & Fu, D. (2001). Paw's story: A Laotian refugee's lonely entry into American literacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 45(2), 104-114. 
Trueba, H., Lila, J., & Kirton, E. (1990). Cultural Conflict and Adaptation: The Case of Hmong Children in American Society. New York: Falmer Press.
Vasudevan, L., & Campano, G. (2009). The Social Production of Adolescent Risk and the Promise of Adolescent Literacies. Review of Research in Education, 33, 310-353. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

And I Survived. It's The Weekend. Work To Be Done. But I Survived.

As part of the Philosophy of Education course, we read an article about social justice education and Jesuit traditions, and I asked my students to have a "show and tell" with 10 items from that they could bring to class to depict who they were as human beings.

As part of my philosophy of emphasizing community, I want my students to learn from one another and to recognize that their values are often in line with those of neighbors: what we hold true to our core is typically familiar to what other promote as "good" and "right" in their own philosophies of being.

This is the 2nd year I've offered this activity and I love watching students make connections with their classmates, especially as items resonate with their worlds and they see the humanity between one another, rather than the differences.

I was thinking about this activity this week, as I brought a lot of responsibilities to a close. I thought I would use today's post to "capture" ten items that made this week what it was. I am wiped out, but I am very fortunate to have the opportunities that I do.

  • A Photo of Glamis looking out the window. Every night this week, the canine-extraordinaire has been looking for Tunga to pull in the driveway (he's on his road to find out, but the dog still wants her daily fix),
  • A copy of the Poetry For Peace publication. I am so proud of my colleagues who uphold the verse of so many southern Connecticut youth,
  • Anmol Tabassum receiving the 2017 MLK Student Vision Award (love this kid),
  • A composition book. It is priceless to experience the writing of young people and this week's Writing Our Lives As Kings and Queens Youth Leadership Academy participation did not disappoint,
  • A fish and chips dinner. I'm laughing that Chitunga met up with the parental units at the Cicero American legion for lunch yesterday (so much love knowing that this happened),
  • Attallah and I hugging. It's been too long since we've been able to team-present with one another,
  • The Writing Our Lives logo - being on NWP radio with my Syracuse crew made for a fascinating conversation and tremendous hope for what is possible,
  • A container of cooked pasta. Edem can cook! I came home twice this week and dinner was prepared without me having to cook it!,
  • Strings. All over my house is evidence that Glamis will shred her toys in the zest and joy of doghood. I need to sweep and vacuum, but love knowing that she does as she does, and
  • Dr. Fania Davis. Before this week, I didn't know Angela Davis had a sister. Her keynote helped me to see that MLK's vision is more than historical...it is a seed of all the work still needing to be done.
I actually failed last night and came home to simply do a non-academic night. I posted photos, caught up with a few phone calls, played with the dog and actually went through a couple of On-Demand shows I missed. The brain wasn't working, and that was okay, because I had to save the few cells I have left to complete projects this weekend. 

It's Saturday and I'm going back at it is 3...2...1.

Friday, January 27, 2017

MLK Celebration: Part Three - Youth Leadership Academy for Kings and Queens @FairfieldU

(This is actually part four, but I'm an English guy, so the numbers aren't necessarily a priority for me).


Last night, Dr. Marcelle Haddix, Phil Haddix, Cedric Bolton, Steve Mahon, Tanya Baker, Attallah Sheppard and Alisha Smith spent an hour on NWP Radio discussing the history of Writing Our Lives and the movement of youth conferences from Syracuse to Connecticut to New York City. The show aired at 7 p.m., and when I got home, I immediately started on the Youth Leadership Academy presentation at Fairfield University for the 110 middle school young people who will be attending. We will be in Faber Hall and that crowd is twice the size of any that I've ever worked with in that location. It is going to be tight, but we go this.

This year's theme: Writing Our Lives as Kings and Queens. Once again I will be hosting with Attallah Sheppard, and I've invited a whole city of special guests to speak: my students, my colleagues, administrators, and anyone who responded to my All-Call. My goal is to ask middle school students to be be Martin Luther Kings and Queens, where they will take a pet-peeve or frustration and turn it into something that is worth expressing in proactive ways.

I have designed a workshop that I hope I'll be able to use in other venues for kids, as I found spectacular crowns to put on the heads of all my guests (the photo above models two of them).

So, today will conclude MLK Celebration week 2017 for me, and now I can concentrate on my dossier due this week and all that grading. I have a conference call after the event this afternoon, and then I think I will return home and simply crash. I can feel. I'm wiped out.

Let our kingdom/queendom soar today!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

MLK Celebration: Part Two - MLK Essays and Fania Davis

Yesterday was a fantastic day, although 14 hours days are always a little challenging. The evening, however, was capped off during the MLK Vision Awards, Convocation, and MLK Essay Contest which offered more pep to the step and rhythm to the purpose for the work so many of us do.

Time doesn't allow for me to develop my thinking as much as I'd like to here, but I wish to highlight the memorable experience of meeting Dr. Fania Davis who offered the Convocation Address an insight to her work on restorative justice, taking action, and empowering youth. At one point in her conversation she outlined the principals of Ubuntu, "I am, because we are," as central to the mission of her work. I kept wondering, "Will others think the two of us know one another?" We didn't/don't, but I introduced myself after the talk and shared the work of Ubuntu Academy at Fairfield University and our community partnerships with immigrant and refugee youth in the area.

Dr. Davis's work is the result of her childhood in "Bombingham, Alabama" (Birmingham) where she and her family endured the killing and threats by a White America set on stopping equality and equity in the lives of Black families. It moved to her lifelong mission of promoting freedom for her sister, Angela Davis, and coming to terms with global histories tied intimately with economic powers and hate. In her work, she came to Ubuntu as a circular philosophy requiring the input of many, rather than the totalitarianism of a few. Her research demonstrates the impact restorative philosophies have had on drop out rates in Oakland schools, and the need to rethink the scales of justice that criminalize the already criminalized, to enhance potential in a democratic system.

It was also a pleasure to see the 2017 MLK Vision Awards going to my colleague, Dr. Paul Lakeland, an inspiration, Dr. Ophelia Rowe-Allen, and my student, Anmol Tabassum. These individuals were recognized for bringing the spirit and hope to Fairfield University in ways similar to Dr. Martin Luther King.

I met Anmol Tabassum when she was a student at Bassick High School and when she participated in a partnership program during her senior year. She took two English courses with me and I knew then that she was driven for a life of promoting fairness for all. It is amazing to see how far she's come over the last four years and where she stands today with our Fairfield community and drive for excellence. She is extremely deserving of the recognition.

Early in the night, too, I had an honor with Sonya Huber to name this year's MLK Essay contest winners, four young people who were selected from over 100 entries. Perhaps their insight was the greatest hope arriving from yesterday's festivities, as they shared stories of the discouragement they've overcome, the impact Dr. Martin Luther King had on their lives, and the wisdom family members and friends offered them. Reading selections from the essays served to refuel the fight for what is good and right. Their generation deserves the applause.

Most of today will be spent preparing for tonight's radio show and tomorrow's Youth Leadership Academy, and I know I will find the energy after being inspired so greatly yesterday. I cannot emphasize it enough: I love / to believe / in hope. Hope is all we have, even in what appears to be hopeless times.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MLK Celebration Week: Part One - Poetry For Peace @FairfieldU

One of the greatest partnerships I inherited when coming to Fairfield University was working with the English Department in support of Poetry For Peace. The contest is open for K-8 writers in Fairfield County and 1,000s of kids submit their responses, in poetic form, on what peace means to them. It is part of the Martin Luther King, Jr. tradition on campus.

This year's event was scheduled during my graduate course on developing middle and high school readers, so I told colleagues, Carol Ann and Elizabeth, that I would make an evening of the event to model literacy-in-action for the course. They did service-learning by signing in winners, escorting families to seats, handing out certificates, and guiding K-8 writers across the stage.

I know it is biased, but I love the K-2 readers most, especially the enthusiastic ones who take the Mic with joy and happiness. One young man, Brice, entered the doors to the Quick Center and announced to all that he beat his brother for this contest and he was very proud. He was ready to read the second he walked in and seemed to bounce from person to person with wonder, "Are you the one who wants to hear my poem?". Another young girl skipped to the Mic, read her wonderful poem, and skipped away. It was so impressive to see the bravery of these kids as they lent their voice to the evening's festivity and occasion.

CWP-Fairfield simply works behind the scenes making certificates, providing support and occasionally doing workshops in schools. It is the vision of the English Department and the instruction of classroom teachers, however, who make this possible. Winners always represent the diversity of the county - which is beautiful and necessary to see in the 21st century. In total, 60 young people were recognized for their poetry.

The crowd was large, too, as families who were proud of their writers, brought flowers, relatives, and tremendous love for their spiffed-up, verse-loving youngsters. This event is simply one of my favorite ones of the year,  for it gives me pause to think about King's legacy, the importance of peace and hope for school-aged classrooms, and the need for poetry in our schools.

All winners are also offered a $50 scholarship toward attending a Young Adult Literacy Lab in the summer of 2017, should they choose come.

But now it's time to teach a turbo before  Faculty Salary Committee, the MLK dinner, and the MLK convocation!

I will carry their words in my heart all day.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

I Never Heard From Bella Rosa and We Haven't Been Back

I was cleaning up my desktop last night and found a letter I wrote a Pizzeria in Monroe last summer, hoping they'd reply with a gift certificate for a free pie (it is the least they could do). I saved the letter so that when they replied I would be able to share with my twin-sister-separated-at-birth-but older-with-different-birthdays the letter that I wrote (and they actually replied to). Sadly, I'm giving up on them and just posting the letter I wrote on this blog.

In my investigation, I believe the bone in barbecue chicken pizza was likely a hand bone, an ulna, or a radius bone. I don't think it was a thumb (do chickens have thumbs?). I do know that the incident occurred and I mailed the bone to the pizzeria. I'm wondering now if it may have become stuck in the post office sorting machines and they never got it. Perhaps I should send another letter asking if they did. I can attach the first one along with a new one. I'm scratching my chin hairs thinking this is a possibility.
re: A Bone To Pick With a Particular Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Dear Friends and Management at Bella Rosa,

First and foremost, I wish to applaud your pizzeria and to acknowledge that I am a loyal customer, and when I am in the area of Monroe with friends, I often thumb wrestle with them (and win) so that Bella Rosa is the pizza joint of choice. For the last few years, on occasion of parties, gatherings, and friend-events it is a norm to pick up a few pies at Bella Rosa.

Our favorite is usually the Buffalo Chicken Pizza, and that is why I write. Last weekend, I picked up a cheese pizza and a Buffalo Chicken Pizza before heading to my twin sister’s house (separated by birth – she’s older). We’ve been trying to avoid carbs, but when we choose to splurge on yeast and dough, Bella Rosa wins –which was the case for this past weekend. Unfortunately, my twin sister and I get so excited about feasting on anything other than celery and carrot sticks (are typical bunny rabbit diet throughout the week) that we forget to slow down while we eat.

That is probably why we didn’t catch that there was a chicken bone in the Buffalo Chicken Pizza. We didn’t discover it until it got temporarily lodged in my throat and I had to cough it out. I am returning the bone in case it might be important to you and the chicken suppliers for your restaurant. My twin sister was my savior that day and I’m very lucky she was with me. I hate shoe shopping with her (never take her to DSWs), but I am thankful she kept me coughing. I’m upset, though, that she made us throw the pizza out in case there were more bones

I’m also worried she might use this against Bella Rosa the next time we get together for pizza. Ah, man. I hope not. It really is good pizza.

The Dalai Lama once said, “The purpose of our lives is to be happy.” I believe pizza serves a purpose in our lives.

Thank you for your time.

I hate when I don't get responses, especially on this one, because it's been a long time since I've sent such a letter. It's an art form I truly love. I'm so glad I didn't choke that day. 

Monday, January 23, 2017

And Then There Are Emotions. Man, I Hate When They Take Over

I embraced my inner Marine over the last couple of days and impressed myself that I kept all emotions boxed tight in a male space where they couldn't be reached, unhinged, or emancipated. I knew it was going to be hard to drop him off at school, but I was also ready (even managed to avoid the kid's last good bye to Glamis as we left Connecticut - that was between them). I simply sat in my car "warming it up."

I was also wrote a letter before I left Connecticut where I shared what I wanted to say in print - that way, a one-on-one wouldn't be required. My assumption was he could read it in his dorm and I could be sleeping at my parents Saturday night, however, Chitunga said, "But we're getting breakfast in the morning, aren't we, ...to say our goodbyes?"

(Um, no. My plan was to be in Connecticut by noon where I would text him to say, "By the way, I'm home. Good Luck this semester).

Nope. We did breakfast. It was awkward and I really didn't want to eat. My stomach was in knots, but everyone who eats at the shitty diner we found probably says the same thing. When I finally dropped him back off at the dorm after breakfast I simply admitted, "You know I hate this crap," and he agreed, "I know." Then we stared at each other, until I finally said, "You get the final say."

He gave me his say and I simply maintained a stoic face. He's ready to be independent and I reminded him, "Now is just a comma, not a period." Then we hugged. I gave him a kiss atop his head (he's a short shit, after all) and took off.

I didn't think about it as I drove away. I got engrossed in several essays I downloaded and  managed to return to CT in record time before I  settled to prepare for the week. I felt a need, however, to go into his room to clean up what he left behind....which I did. I rearranged and dusted (that sort of thing). I found many of the Apple phone chargers that have gone missing over the last few years (hmmm, I thought they disappeared for good) and put together a collection of his items that make me the happiest: photos, trophies, the globe, his 5K numbers, his eagles, his SP Plus employee badges, his children's books about becoming a pilot, and his nerf dart guns...This was okay. I have a shrine now that I can look at with pride and love.

Glamis jumped onto his bed and cuddled with the big stuffed animal Jacob Charles gave him. That was hard to see.

I then began to sort Chitunga's air fresheners (Glade owes us a letter of appreciation in how much we've invested in them). Strangely, it was these DAMN air fresheners - those frickin' plug-ins in every outlet of his room - that triggered me. It was then that it really hit me- this is going to be something brand new. He's away. He's in Syracuse and I am here.

I simply went into my room to process it all (read: I couldn't stop the outpouring of tears. Whacky, but true. I guess I needed that). It's hard, and I wonder how my parents did it. How any adult does it.

But where is he?
(It's all good)
It's surreal, but it's part of game.

And then  Glamis stared at me  - how could I come into the house without Chitunga?

Every car that goes by causes her to jump to the window in anticipation. When she realizes it isn't him, she comes to my side and stares, ears pinned back and wondering,

Chitunga's classes begin today. His roommate is in - his suite mates are there - and he's worked hard to get to this place. He deserves the independence and he can't wait to prove he is ready.

The Patriots won, which is a good sign, and he's representing New England in Syracuse. I love it.

It is his story now, as it has always been (but man, I'm going to miss him). The Eagle if flying from the pond.

I can't wait for him to come home.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

And Just Like That...A Dorm Room. A Transition.

It's been a busy 24 hours, but I can say that a dorm room is cleaned, items are unpacked, a bed is made, and orientation has occurred. Before I left Connecticut, I wrote a final letter and wrapped one more gift: a box full of quarters I've collected around the house so that laundry will not be an obstacle. I left that gift, and a letter, on a pillow as we headed out of his room to meet with a friend.

This weekend, I've been trying to recall my own arrival to Binghamton, and what that transition was like (I can't imagine moving into a dorm room in such a tight space, but once upon a time it seems normal and desirable). I just remember falling in love with the adventure, and choosing the adventure to be a trajectory for my future.

One thing, however, that has been consistence, is a return to home - Syracuse - where the base has always been. This trip, the base was handed over to Chitunga (who now has enough quarters to do laundry - or play pool - his choice).

And I think I'm sort of exhausted. This was tiring: packing, traveling five hours, moving in, settling, arranging, seeing everyone, and then realizing, "Whoa. The Eagle is being left in 'Cuse, while the Frog is driving back to Connecticut without him." 

It's beautiful. It's all good. Everything evolves at exactly the right time.

I've copied this poem to other blog posts in the past, but it seems appropriate to repost here. It is one thing to do the leaving and another to be the one that is left. Suddenly the first chapter of Siddhartha (and the ones towards the end) made much more sense. Cat Stevens. Father and Son. And Phew. 

He's off!

his leaving (a sestina)

                          ~Bryan Ripley Crandall

he never turned back.  packed his bags and left
beyond a circus and history in his pocket.
“goodbye, old world.” he promised. “i’m on my way now,”
and stepped on the gas to drive away.
that was when he was younger;
fledglings have reasons to leave the nest.

he walked onto his porch, today, & saw a bird fallen from nesting.
glanced at telephone wires to see if winged parents had left
this featherless embryo with its bulging purple eyes, so young,
and a beak open for insight (the creature could fit in his pocket).
youth fallen from its house, so quiet. he needed to find a way           
to get the lil’ guy into shelter & now

seemed as good a time as any, he thought. the parents
were away and he climbed to the roof, found the finch’s nest.
the flight was his fault. in his world, it’s always
his fault, and he could never be sure how many days he had left.
he put the bird in the twigs, climbed down and put his hands in his pockets
to think about how vulnerable we are when young.

when he was younger,
he promised his family he’d be rich, but now

he made little -- crumbs -- and his pockets

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Insight Gained from Listening to the Inauguration

In twenty three yeas of traveling back and forth to Syracuse (actually, that's 27 years, counting my undergraduate days), I don't think I ever imagined the foresight for driving home today. Coming up beyond Lafayette and Tully, and seeing the city of Syracuse in the distance, I realized, "Wow. This isn't my return home, but Chitunga's beginning of a 2nd home."

He is arriving to LeMoyne College and move in is this morning from 9 a.m. to noon. He will be continuing his accounting degree and earn both his undergraduate and Masters degree.

This trip was not about me, but it's all about him. Big changes.

And I didn't watch any of the inauguration, but listened to it, instead. I think I was spared much from hearing and not viewing the transition. I love the fact that there's potential for a change in power ever four years and although it may seem agonizing that four years doesn't go fast enough, it's a guarantee that what is today will not be what is tomorrow. The checks and balance, coupled with elections, makes sure of this - it makes it different than any other government on earth and we must be proud of this, no matter what insanity results in a free election.

That is why I am thinking about what President Obama said in a departing speech, "It never is a period, it's always a comma."

I also was fond of another quote I heard today (although I don't remember who said it) where one president told the one coming in, "I hope you are feeling as happy about entering this position as I am about finally letting it go behind me. If you are feeling that happy, then I totally understand."

Driving into Syracuse today, I realized that the transitions in life are always everywhere. And Tunga's move to Syracuse is a big transition for both of us.

"It's not a period. It's a comma."

And with that, I will be moving him in and learning what comes next. Very proud of him. I know he is ready - perhaps more ready than I am. I realized this yesterday when he said "farewell," to Glamis, his dog.

No period. Just a comma.

Friday, January 20, 2017

And Then There's Next Week. Phew

Chitunga and I hit the road today in anticipation of his move-in tomorrow at LeMoyne. As promised, we went to Paradise Pizza one last time before heading up to Big Y for a batch of his favorite oatmeal raisin cookies.

In the meantime, I spent yesterday doing the following:

  • submitting a 2nd grant, after two others were completed this week,
  • creating websites for the spring semesters, 
  • setting up next weeks MLK celebrations: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday,
  • putting out the fires of graduate students needing to enroll in classes (including the history students now on my plate),
  • finishing my National Writing Project budget, 
  • giving out presents for youth leaders who worked for me last summer but spent the fall overseas,
  • arranging a possible collaboration with Lakota youth in summer 2017, 
  • getting groceries for Edem while he's at Mt. Pleasant alone this weekend, and
  • panicking that this weekend is spent in Syracuse, and all I have is next weekend for the dossier that is due....
  • oh, and time spent on the phone with EndNote because all my research files disappeared suddenly and they needed to guide me on how to get them back (which will be helpful for the dossier next weekend)
My downstairs is a warehouse of Chitunga's materials needing to be transported, and I guess the time has come for his leaving.

Phew. It's a lot.

It's definitely a lot, but this too shall pass. January always does (I just wish there was a way to multitask more on the 5 hours to Syracuse and the 5 hours back...but better safe than sorry)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Word Guy Has More Words. First Day Activities

I'm not sure I should be teaching Philosophy of Education, but I admit I sort of love it. It is a 15-week course asking students to develop their first philosophical statements about teaching and learning, while reading Freire, Dewey, Dubois, Greene, Noddings, and numerous others. Unique to the course, too, are opportunities to work one-on-one with a K-8 school in Bridgeport. It's a lot of reading, a lot of thinking, a lot of connection to Jesuit and social justice traditions, and even more reflection. In fact, I would say this course expects more reflection than any other I've ever taught.

I have to admit, too, that this cohort bonded much faster than other student groups I work with. I did a series of team-building activities and although they swear they've never done them before, they were quick to master the sense of community. I was impressed.

(I should also note that there's not a single male in the class. I might as well be teaching at an all-girl school)

Today, we did numerous activities including an initiation of formulating first beliefs about school. I love doing this as it helps me to plan future classes.

The Loves

  • Community, being challenged, teachers, learning something new every day, making connections to previous knowledge, learning more about yourself, the endless opportunities, the need for an open mind, learning more about what you love to do, being with like-minded friends, new perspectives, new interpretations, gaining a better understanding, retaining information, the call for perseverance, experiencing the passion of others, and accessing the power of language.
The Hates
  • The pervasiveness of bullying, too much memorization, homework, when an educator lacks classroom control, time commitments, standardized testing, the busy work, strictness of school policies, burnt out teachers, the same routine, Lunch! At 10:30 a.m.!, pressure, favoritism, apathy of administrators, teachers and students, cell phones, lack of appreciation, no patience, inflexibility, and talking down to others in a condescending way.
Okay, I can work with that. They also made a list:

First word you associated with school:
  • Discipline, formative, growing, encouraging, understanding, exciting, friends, maturing, standardized, challenging, adventurous, journey, community, rewarding, privilege, influential, and evolving
Now it is time to read, discuss and think about our own schooling experiences to envision and ask questions of whether or not our education prepared us for the learning we envision for our own students. I feel I taught in Utopia with my experiences in Kentucky, so I have a context of learning that my students can't even imagine. 

Ah, this is the challenge of being a teacher educator - to help others to imagine what is possible.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

BOOKED and Developmentally Reading @KwameAlexander

I quickly texted Kwame after I taught the first night of a graduate course on Teaching Developmental Reading in Secondary Schools, simply to state: "You're a genius." (Don't tell him that, it would be redundant. He knows).

I've worked with The Crossover in a wide-variety of settings, but I've wanted to play with Booked, especially since I've said to many, "This was a fun read, but I imagine it would be even more spectacular to teach."

And that is what I'm setting out to do. In a service-learning course, my graduate students are collaborating with an ESL class in Bridgeport sharing reading experiences together (while we write curriculum to coincide with Kwame Alexander's text to develop adolescent English language learners in a high needs school). I chose Booked as our mentor text simply because I wanted to pay closer attention to the nuances (and skills) in which Kwame writes.

Last night was our first course and, following effective practices for developing readers, I started the evening with a vocabulary exercise where students defined words and drew pictures to help others understand the meaning. I fronted several words I knew would be useful this semester: adolescent, theory, coach, booked, reading, pedagogy, development, communication, language, at-risk, poetry, critical, goal, self-esteem, fluidity, and literacy. Each defined their word and I collected the definitions on the board, before assigning them to choose four words and write how they are related to each other.

I was most impressed by the young woman who defined booked, however. In my first read of Alexander's YA novel, I thought the title was about being caught between words and family (like book ends). The novel showcases reading assignments and the protagonist is, as well, booked by school. Yet, the young woman defined booked as "over committed" and "highly regulated." One of the young men in the course said, "I cheated and read the book before this course. That's a good definition. The kid is overbooked by his parents."

Geez. They weren't even assigned the book yet. In fact, I handed them copies I bought for them - how did this kid read it already? How'd he know?

But the best part of the evening was when a Spanish teacher and father of two emailed me to say, "I've been thinking about the word, booked, and I knew I heard it before in another context. Driving home, I remembered it is a term used in soccer when one is given a yellow card. If you're booked twice, you get red-carded and thrown out of the game."

Boom .Language. The purpose of Kwame Alexander's text. I love that a simple activity to kick off a semester, initiated a large point I desire to make in this course --- every word counts. To be a critical reader, one has to pay attention to effective communication. Literacy requires fluidity and a love of language. To teach reading, however, once needs to pay attention to theory and pedagogy. Teaching is poetry, but it is also hard work, especially as we set out to mentor and coach young people (even those who are most at-risk for deficit constructions in schools). We are in the practice of development, and each adolescent deserves our greatest attention.


I was schooled and booked by my students (I'm always schooled and booked by Kwame). I knew I would love teaching this piece of work. As always, thank you, Rooster! This is going to be a fun semester.