Monday, July 31, 2017

Trading Places, Returning Places, Relearning Places, and Home Again, Once Again

And on the 1st day off in a long time, I drove to Syracuse, to return boys to Syracuse and to see family in Syracuse. I don't think my car could have been any more packed, as Glamis had to sit on Ali's lap and there was not space enough for a piece of rice. They road well together, but I felt horrible for both. He starts a new camp in Albany this week and Kanye is staying with a friend. Challenging, indeed.

It's crazy now to visit Syracuse when Chitunga has his own place and routine, so it feels like I'm a guest in his world. It's also tricky because he has a full agenda: work, school, and studies, so my time off doesn't coincide with time to play and catch up. I guess this is the way we all transition. I had to check where there is space in the week so we can actually catch up. It will happen.

Without Ali and Kanye in the house, however, I'll miss the modeling and posing (here, I jumped in to make fun of the kid who doesn't take a bad picture. I had to ruin it for him).

And I'm thinking about this morning. Will it really be a Monday where I'm not up getting things ready to go at 6 a.m.? Can I just sit staring out my parent's window, being nosy observing neighbors as I sip my coffee?

Why, yes I can! And I will.

The only problem is I don't have my fan that I love to have when sleeping. I'm laughing, because I'm wondering how we would have fit that into the car.

Okay, Monday. Let's try to chill Bryan out (he laughs, knowing that at 7 pm he as contacted by the State to say a report is due tomorrow. Really? 24 hour notice. I can't catch a break.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Road Trip, But First An Important Poem Written With Our Lakota Friends This Summer

Somehow, yesterday, the agenda was met. In fact, I said I was going to clean my house, too, and at midnight I finished the task. Why? Because I like to return to a clean house so it feels like I'm moving into a hotel. It was a mess, too.

The morning was spent in my office chiseling away at the items needing to be done by Monday (but I missed several)...I just can't keep up.

Meanwhile, as I was typing away, our Lakota friends had a 4 a.m. pick up for their flight back to South Dakota. This was their first time away from home, on an airplane, and in a new state. They were scared to death, shy, and apprehensive, but they came around. They were incredible and I applauded their every move in Connecticut, especially their trip to New York City where they "Stood Up To the Bull" with the Little Girl. That's what inspired the poem.
I was most pleased when they reported, "We'll be next year for sure. We can't wait." I was excited to hear the news.

So, today as I drive to my homelands I wish them the best in theirs. Ashanti, Juanita, Sunni, Erika, and Autumn - Here's to you! You should be extremely proud for your accomplishments and success. Go and achieve the world!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

I Thought About Posting Me Spread Out With X's In My Eyes, but...

There's only one more, two-day teacher institute scheduled for later in August. Yesterday, however, we culminated two weeks of Ubuntu Academy, the literacy lab for immigrant and refugee youth. Attendance was up this year with 23-27 kids attending daily, but the success of the program was amplified by 100. The karma of the kids was stupendous and the friendliness was out of this world.

Ubuntu, coupled with the teacher institute for College Ready Writers Program, was much of the focus, but so was Project Citizen: Flying lessons from the Prose.

We've run the program as a weeklong session in year's past, but National Writing Project support, we extended an additional week, doubled enrollment, and hired an even more dynamic teacher force (if that was possible). In total, 26 kids from a wide variety of backgrounds cowrote, wrote independently. and proactively discovered their voices. The teachers, upon leaving yesterday afternoon, said "this was was amazing. The work of the last two weeks will be on my mind for many years to come." Kids agreed. I've already received emails from several stating, "Dr. Crandall, this was the best experience in my life. How can I keep doing work with CWP-Fairfield? I don't want to lose touch with these amazing teachers and kids?"

I feel, however, like I'm under a pile of rocks, just seeing that there's oxygen out there and room to think. All of us are overwhelmed by the amount of greatness that resulted these past two weeks.

I will be posting a collaborative piece produced by Ubuntu youth and Project Citizen that summarizes everything magical about our programs, butI will not do this for a while (stay tuned). During presentations yesterday I got overwhelmed with emotion not once, not twice, but at least 12 times. It was truly amazing to see what the teachers and kids accomplished in such a short period of time. The rest of 2017-2018 is to analyze this.

My desk is covered. There is no room in my office. Paper is everywhere and digital spaces are loaded with the work they created. I have food, gym equipment, books, bags, and copies of readings everywhere. It's too much to process, so I'm going to let it go for a week or so (when I drive the boys back to Cuse).

I am, though, 100% happy with the success of the programs. We receive so few complaints, and although they are substantial, they do not represent the other feedback we get. Yes, I was on campus until 7 p.m. in search of a book bag lost by an Ubuntu kid that morning, working with security to see where it might, but I have to say it was all worth it. Two hours sleep due to John Legend? Well, that was my fault.

And we found the book bag after quite the collaborative search.

I feel somewhat buried alive, but the photos above and all the greatness that isn't captured here just yt makes it all worthwhile.

"Dr. Crandall," one writes. "How do you make this experience last forever?"

Ah, it looks like I have a new challenge to tackle ahead!

Friday, July 28, 2017

John Legend, Ubuntu, LRNG, CWP-Fairfield, Friday Morning, Scratching My Head, Well

 I am writing this post a couple days ahead. Why? I know that five weeks of summer programming ends today and that, well, the John Legend concert scheduled in late June was altered to late July because the singer had a headache.

Long story short, because of LRNG work a few years ago, John Legend's people remembered the CT work and wanted me to coordinate teachers to attend his concert at Foxwoods Casino. We did an all call for a June date and only a few could attend. So, we booked tickets, but Abu and Lossine decided they were in Syracuse all summer, so we pulled in Kanye and Ali. Then the concert was cancelled.

Now, it's back on and it was last night. Legend sent us tickets. I knew that I was likely to get home super late and, being today is the last day of CWP-Fairfield events for now, I wouldn't have time to I pulled together photos to be place holders and promise more to come.

Seriously, 5 weeks of authors, writers, teachers, and kids culminating with John Legend. Um...
Who would have ever thought this for a dork from CNY?

So, take this post as my Friday placeholder. I am feeling like a Lucky Son of a Butch, indeed.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

There Are 1,000 Posts I Could Write Today, But I Am Going With This One (Because)

I'm going to begin with Kelly and then I will end with Kelly.

This summer, CWP-Fairfield collaborated with Simply Smiles and a NWP SEED Camp grant to bring Lakota youth and one teacher to Connecticut for a two-week literacy lab we re-imagined (from one week of argumentative/political writing, to two). The program is called Project Citizen and we built off Shaun Mitchell's vision to encourage CT youth to write for social action. This year, however, we have 25 youth in attendance with 15 kids on scholarship, including 5 Lakota Sioux from S. Dakota and their teacher, Kelly.

I will get back to Kelly. I'm in awe. Phenomenal.

Right now, Ali (Somalia) is in my house trying to finish the last two pages of Matt de La Pena's We Were Here. Kanye, having just finished Kwame Alexander's Solo (frustrated by the ending) is filling out applications to continue to support relocated refugee families in Connecticut. (NOTE: Bryan is balancing between Ali's reading of We Were Here and Kanye's application process while trying to process his world right now in a blog).

Today, 26 relocated refugee youth worked with stellar educators on reading, writing, and understanding their place in the United States. Today, 15 educators through a College Ready Writers Program grant met with 26 students in a Project Citizen Lab (some funded through a Supporting Effective Educator Development  Summer Camp grant) to discuss writing, citizenry, and the politics of storytelling. Today was hard/is hard to capture in words.

Back to Kelly.

As part of the funding, the Lakota youth were brought to Fairfield to participate in our summer work. Teachers and youth, separately, ready Tim Tingle's story in Flying Lessons & Other Stories about the storytelling-Uncle who shares knowledge/wit/embellishment of a big-foot creature. The goal for me, however, was ARGUMENT, and to unite several communities through the Project Citizen/CRWP framework we designed.

Boom. Back to Kelly.

As part of our challenge to the danger of the Single Story, we chose Ellen Oh's collection, which included Tim Tingle's story. Fairfield University will have an exhibit later this year on the art of Lakota Sioux and other Plains, as well (of which we have previews). Out of nowhere (Great Whatever?), though, Kelly mentions that her art-teacher background is totally aware of the art pieces, and she shares with teachers and students the history of the ledger drawings. The notebooks come out and everyone is learning...taking notes...enthralled and most importantly, educated.

My point was to discuss the Big Foot narrative from an argumentative stand point. I wanted to discuss how such a creature is universal, but storytelling (written, nor oral) has often been routed in a Western European traditions.  Ah, but then Kelly outdid my expectations by offering her wisdom of the drawings we had on display, and making a larger case about the history of writing (which worked wonderfully with the wisdom of Henry Louis Gates - a quote I had in the presentation).

Who owns the story? It shouldn't be me. It should be the kids - and these are the kids united in our programs who represent many angles of the U.S. experience .... these are the kids working with our CRWP teachers to share their own flying lessons!

I am forever thankful to the knowledge Kelly delivered. I could write more, but I know this will cover the territory of my intentions for now. I'm happy to sit back and let history of this moment right many of the wrongs of our past.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trying Something New In A Collaborative Workshop Today (Big Feet & All)

It's hard to believe that much is at the summit of CWP-Fairfield and things are coming to a close as quickly as they began. Today, teachers in Argument Academy (College Ready Writers Program) and youth in Project Citizen: Flying Lessons from the Prose) are getting together for a workshop on argumentation and to offer feedback on student writing composed over the last couple of weeks. Tying in Native American art on exhibit this fall at the University and a short story from Flying Lessons & Other Stories by Tim Tingle seemed to be a good way to go.

Tingle's story is fun and I'm not sure I understand it with 100% of my being, but that's the way I read everything. "Chocktaw Big Foot, Midnight in the Mountains" is one of many stories in Ellen Oh's edited collection from the We Need Diverse Books movement. My argument this summer has been we need diverse classrooms and experiences, as well.

Project Citizen set out to pluralistically blend youth cultures as they spent time discussing voice, writing for empowerment, and action.

Tingle tells the story of uncle Kenneth the storyteller. He gathers children to embellish his own tail of Naloosha Chitto, a big-foot creature with origins to the narrative. It is also a story of the Chukmas, elf-like creatures who pester humans with their mischievous smallness. I love the universality of the tale, but also the positioning of who tells a story, whose version is told, and how storytelling is multicultural.

As I put together a slide about Big Foot in my life, I remembered how my father and our Utica, New York neighbors used to share a story about a hairy beast who lived behind our houses. I forgot the name so texted my sister and just as I wanted to time it into the slide she responded, HARRY POOCUS! And I remembered. The creature used to keep us up and night and we always worried he'd take us away if we were too naughty.

In truth, Tingle's story parallels the larger point we are trying to make with kids: Tell your story, before someone tells it for you. For teachers, we're trying to make the argument that everything is an argument. Thinking intelligently is a mindset of questioning everything and positioning one's opinions in believe systems, facts, and truths (that may or not be told in our schools).

It's mid-week and I'm exhausted (especially after the magic of the last few weeks), but I'm really excited about this workshop. There's nothing better than united student and teachers on equal playing grounds during the summer!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Unboxing The Way We Do Things Each Summer @CWPFairfield

It's hard to believe there is only 4 more days left of CWP-Fairfield summer programming (well, and another two-day institute in August), but that's where we are this Tuesday. I spent last night talking with others hosting summer camps for youth and reflecting on what is working with our individual programs). When I got off the conference call, I realized that so much of the work cannot be measured.

When I came into my office on Monday morning, I saw the stacks of art pieces created from the writing youth did last week. As I was pondering it all, several more students brought me their art work because they wanted to take it home to work on it more and to finish it (including this piece by a 9th grader named Poppy who expressed, "Inside the box is a safe, comfortable place. Please let me stay here. Outside the box is rough around the edges, but it is beautiful" In both, the balloon is trying to fly away (that is here flying lesson).

It made me think about how 'out-of-the-box' ways of knowing has become a cultural norm for us. It's typical for refugee youth to interact with Native American youth and urban youth and suburban youth and teachers and professors and undergraduates and graduate students in a two-week program, no? It's typical for authors to SKYPE to the kids to discuss what they wrote and to encourage them to express themselves creatively and politically? Kids are used to buffet style lunches, snacks, and buckets full of writing supplies as every visitor wants to know what they're thinking and writing.

And art is infused. That's normal, right?

Actually, it's all beautiful and I wish there was a way I could capture the heart of it all in a post. Instead, I offer glimpses into the work of our summer. This piece by Poppy is what caught my eye for the day...of course, there's fireworks in my eyes and a lot is sparkling these days.

Time to make the donuts!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Celebrating a Birthday With A Spectacular Woman At Walnut Beach

I tell myself every Sunday that I'm going to sleep in, but for some reason, my body always wakes me up an hour earlier than usual, so I was up at 5. The good news is the boys don't have this problem and they slept until l0 giving me plenty of time to read and write, so when they got up, I simply went for a run. We then set an agenda for the day which included the New Haven Flea Market (boy, that is people watching to the billionth degree), followed by a tour of Yale University, then a visit to Walnut Beach for an impromptu Beverly Robinson birthday celebration. We met Pam, Kaitlyn, Leo, Patrick, Jake, and Pam there for the Sunday ban, light food, and a final weekend gathering.

It's hard to believe that the CWP-Fairfield summer programs are in the last week after 5 weeks of crazy. We have two labs and a teacher institute. There's only one more teacher institute to go this summer.

I'm excited about Wednesday, when we bring teachers and Project Citizen together for a lesson on arguments, but also as we workshop the pieces they're working on for their own publications.

Finally, we went from 90 degrees and sweat buckets to needing sweatshirt and feeling like football season. How did that happen?

It just did. Can't complain, though - I'm warm-blooded and prefer the cooler temps.

Happy Birthday, Bev!

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Then, The Next Day, You Discover You Never Titled the Post

I am hoping to extend barbecue season into November, but for now, I simply will do steaks for summer guests who stop by on a Saturday night for cocktails and corn hole. Lucky for us, we had enough steak (as this was what was left when we finished).

Okay, so leftovers are gone, but it' all good.

It's Sunday. The temperature today is a high that is 20 degrees cooler than yesterday. The front coming through, too, will bring no storms. I'm curious how this will happen.

The day is supposed to be dreary and low key, too. I'm simply hoping to finish couple books and to get ahead for the last week of Young Adult Literacy labs.

I did one last trip to BJs for the week and I hope I got enough materials to finish off dining on Mt. Pleasant for the summer (meat, meat and more meat).

Lawn's mowed. Car's washed. Laundry's done. Now, perhaps a day of rest before Big Brother begins tonight. Might even head to the movies.

We shall see.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

It's Saturday, It Was a Phenomenal Week, I'm Happy, But I Need to Big Time Veg!

Yesterday, I began the day watching Dave Wooley lead a hip hop lyrics workshop with Project Citizen, seeing Colin and Michael offer advice for final college essay drafts, and witnessed Jessica, and her smile, playing a beach ball game with Ubuntu Academy, with prompts getting them to have dialogue with one another and to practice their English.

This is CWP-Fairfield. This is summer. This is a love and you for investing in young writers and stellar teachers.

We also welcomed Aimee Jette and Art in Common, Inc., to do really awesome collage work with drafts of their writing and their thinking. The end project will be Project Citizen - the book, and Ubuntu Academy - the book: collections of artwork crafted with their words to inspire what they created. It was a fun (and as Shaun said, "therapeutic" day).

When we got home, Kanye and Ali immediately hit their beds and I just sat in the heat numb. On Fridays, I can't put together a coherent sentence and all I can do is recollect the week that just was and hope the two days will re-energize me for the work that is still to come.

In the end, though, I am thinking about photographs like this and totally loving the work we're doing. Tim Huminski of Joel Barlow High School came by to see what was occurring and seemed to be a bit awestruck. It is rather awesome, I must admit.

Happy Saturday.

Friday, July 21, 2017

YA Lit Trifecta for @CWPFairfield: @kwamealexander @crowechris @MaryRandHess

Kwame Alexander
There is magic during the summer months, but then there is MAGIC. It's not "Look at my magic wand, Dumbledore" or "If I wiggle my nose, I can clean my house" magic, but something more special. It's the magic of brilliant minds willing to share wisdom, expertise, writing processes, creativity and poetic storytelling with high school youth, graduate students, and teachers who are part of the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield family.

Because of a tremendous heart and vast generosity, CWP ordered early copies of SOLO to use with a special National Writing Project camp this summer called Project Citizen - Flying Lessons from the Prose. We are also using Ellen Oh's Flying Lessons & Other Stories, too, and asking the participants to 'go solo' with 'flying lessons' they have for their own imagined readers.
The goal, too, is to discuss how language is always political and writing one's life is a great way to counter what Adichie called the 'single story.' My love for diversity was behind the program, too, and I used National writing Support to hire exceptional teachers from a variety of schools and
Mary Rand Hess
purposefully mixed urban, suburban, and rural youth. We have 24 students, including a team of 5 young women who flew from S. Dakota and are members of the Lakota Sioux tribe. They brought with them an extremely supportive teacher, as well, and a desire to bring their world to Connecticut.

Music, and dance, have united with poetry and Op-Ed to unite kids on a mission to right what they see are local, national, and global issues. The writing will be published in POW! Power of Words, and included in a special website being creation by NWP.

The joy of yesterday, however, was the coincidence and luck that three authors offered their time to speak with young writers about their craft, their stories, their work with youth communities, and what they hope for next.
Chris Crowe
Kwame Alexander offered his usual wit and although he jokes about his genius, we all agreed after reading SOLO - the guy is a genius. We've all committed to a writing life in Panera Bread, too.

Mary Rand Hess added even more flavor to the day, sharing her humor, her dedication to rock & roll, poetry, and collaboration, a commitment to Blade, and a tremendous talent of not being a 'spoiler' for those still finishing the book (Man, oh, Man. Kemoy really wanted to discuss the ending - cough cough cough....and it was pretty unanimous that sequels are desired). For me, I simply thanked her for being the missing ling in young adult literature - providing narrative prose and language play to the game of reading with kids!

Finally, Chris Crowe, a fellow National Writing Project director, SKYPED from Utah to share his love of historical fiction and the choice of writing DEATH COMING UP THE HILL in haiku form (everyone left the conversation with new desires to write zombie poetry and, after a challenge to write a 5/7/5 poem with one word per each line: 5 syllables/7syllables/5 syllables, to think outside-the-box about the stories we share ... and the genres we use to share them). "I think I can do a book about the Congo," said a young woman attending Ubuntu Academy. "Tell my story of coming to America" (and when she does, I'll send it to all 3 writers).


Phew! Wipes sweat from brow. I did it, Chris! This is a summary of CWP-Fairfield's summer objectives: We are pushing curiosity with young writers as they explore autobiographical interests in making the world a better place. Boom (maybe a stretch).

Seriously, though...I am forever grateful to three stupendous writers, awesome presenters, kind human beings, and tremendous champions of kids and teachers.

Ubuntu! Ubuntu! Ubuntu!

It's time to order pizzas! Friday proms at CWP!

Thursday, July 20, 2017

And On Day Three: Haiku, Ubuntu, and Dance Dance Dance

It was another day where I experienced, experienced, experienced, and I experienced and couldn't absorb it all. I simply kept thinking, "I wish educators all across the United States could experience all of this."

We united Project Citizen with Ubuntu Academy for an afternoon of dialogue, dance, and relocation stories. On Tuesday, Kanye and I watched the opening of So You Think You Can Dance where I was inspired by so many genres of dance being performed by such talented movers. I made the case that dance, like song, is universal (and we sank happy birthday to one of the kids). We made the case that storytelling is also universal, but language barriers keep some from communicating. Adichie helped us with this, "Be careful of the single story."

From there, Ali and Kanye shared their stories of how we met, how they've achieved, and where they are heading (inspiration for the kids just arriving and educational for everyone else born in America).

We ended with asking Lambert to teach us some African dance moves, which he did (followed by Jessica and William, which struggled from the audio difficulties). Still, it was miraculous to see kids from all walks of life enhancing language with one another and become part of a united front.

Earlier, I worked with Project Citizen to prepare for Chris Crowe's talk later this afternoon. We discussed haiku and I modeled an epic one about my own passion - using Ubuntu to bring communities together to write.  And with that, I will let my wonderful older sister present the poem (click it enlarge it)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

We Are Citizens! We Project Voice @WritingProject @CWP-Fairfield @FairfieldU

When several teachers and I united to dream up a two-week collaboration with NWP support, we weren't quite sure where it would take us. What happens when you hire a digital, Ted-Talk Diva, a playwright and Op-Ed enthusiast, and a hip hop artist (all who teach) to collaborate in a special program called Project Citizen: Flying Lessons from the Prose?

Truth is, no one knows! But we are finding out.

In room 009 of Canisius Hall, the three teachers, one undergraduate assistant, and a special guest teacher, are leading a super diverse community off learners from urban schools, suburban schools, high-powered wealthy schools, and impoverished schools. Included, too, are special guests from a Lakota Sioux tribe reservation in S. Dakota. We are uniting the kids to discuss democracy, language, books, and the power of writing. We are seeing what we will get.

Yesterday, we united Project Citizen with several seniors in a College Essay lab to see what would happen if we discussed language and the power of sentences together. Out of nowhere, to prove a point, I simply listed the alphabet on a white board, A - Z. As the kids responded to a different prompt, I drafted a quick poem using all the letters of the alphabet to prove a point.

"To have a voice in the United States," I discussed, "one simply needs to remember the alphabet...and then with letters come words. If you know who you are, who your people are, and what you believe in, you can find language - using the alphabet - to write your world."

I challenged the kids to see what they could do in a few minutes and the room went quiet. This was not a chosen exercise, but spur of the moment to show the diversity of language. BOOM. 35 minutes later they were all writing, inspired to tell their own story in poetic, alphabet style (in the afternoon, I learned that the kids really loved the activity...shoot. I didn't get to what I planned. Such is the teaching life).

I honestly wish I had someone to record everything that is amazing about CWP in the summer. I can't be everywhere at once, but this is the scene (photo above) of every room. KIDS WANT TO WRITE. WE SIMPLY NEED TO WRITE THEM.

Super Diversity, 2017.

My "Alphabet Poem"

A merica is
B odacious shenanigans,
C alifornia to Maine,
D eleware to Washington, a
E volutionary, revolutionary hodgepodge,
F rick-frack, knick-kack, tally
G agging crick-crack of 
H eaven and hell on Earth.
I am, because we are…
J ust us, this surplus of diversity &
K nowledge swirled at a college
L earning to laugh and laughing at what we learn. 
M y desire? What I yearn? To earn more
N incompoop status,
O nomatopoeia fat a@@! who is writing
P oetry in symmetry, a cacophony of 
Q uixotic serenity, this 
R idiculous complex simplicity, 
S imple complexity
T ying us all together…
U nited fates of America—
V arying states of America —
W hacked chums & mates of America,
X-tracting hate from America…
Y es, you is, America. We are! We is…with a 
Z illion and one possibilities of fulfilling funky joy. Oh Boy.
I am heading into Wednesday loving everything about everything I do. Lucky. Full of hope. And appreciative of what the Writing Project has made me.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Mesmerized by Youth, Phenomenal Teachers, Humbled Togetherness, and CWP-Fairfield Work

I didn't sleep much Sunday night. Why? It is when all the monkeys started tap-dancing and squirrels began racing around my brain. Did the kids from the Lakota Sioux tribe make it Connecticut okay? Will the bus pick up the kids at Bassick and Harding? How many will arrive for Ubuntu this year? What if kids complain on the first day? Will technology work?

I worry for a reason. So much can, and usually does, go wrong.

We made it through Monday, however, with only a few incidences: the bus forgetting to pick up the kids (and then getting lost) and one lost cell phone.

Otherwise, Ubuntu Academy , College Essay, and Project Citizen went by on day one with awesome magic, few complaints, and a whole lot of collaboration, cooperation, and learning. I love when I hop from room to room to room, and kids quickly inform me of what they are doing. I caught this during Project Citizen- they were creating community definitions of shared terminology. All the kids (from diverse, heterogeneous backgrounds) worked together and established a core for the week. One even texted me afterwards to say, "This is really great. I'm loving it."

Here's my one gripe. Rather than have all my classes and programs on the same floor, they have me on three different floors...the ground, the 2nd, and the 3rd. Of course my office and supplies are on the 1st. Beginning at 7:30 a.m. and ending at 4, I am up and down stairs 40 to 50 times a day. I chalk it up to exercise, but boy oh boy, does it tire me out.

It's impossible for me to capture all the greatness that is occurring every second in every room, but I know that the smiles in Ubuntu Academy says it all.

Once again, I am feeling very blessed to have the job that I do.

Monday, July 17, 2017

And So It Begins...Project Citizen: Flying Lessons From the Prose (Two Weeks)

Yesterday was National Ice Cream Day and I am glad I remembered at 9 pm. last night after Big Brother, that I actually bought ice cream to celebrate the holiday. It as a day of beaches, lawns, workouts, Corn Hole, badminton, spaghetti and biting my nails.

Today, 30 young people come to campus for Ubuntu Academy, another 27 join Project Citizen, and a 3rd crew unite for college essay...a total of 73 high school readers and writers.

Although we've run Project Citizen for the last two years, it is new this year with National Writing Project support with the intent to mix up communities and to invest in knowledge gained form the experience. Shaun Mitchell, original designer of the program, will pair with Dave Wooley and Kim Herzog to bring kids from all over Connecticut and the United States to have a conversation about what it means to be political as a teenager in the 21st century. I'm excited, too, that we will be united Simply Smiles kids from S. Dakota Sioux Lakota nation to be part of our work.

Also, I'm looking forward to uniting another cohort of Ubuntu Academy and to welcome the College essay writers. I am looking for a way to unite them all for a workshop to bring all of our voices together. If the buses arrive, and lunches go as planned, I will be able to offer a HUGE sigh of relief. We had so many kids this summer than I actually ran out of Writer's Notebooks and had to get more!

Ah, but my carts will be emptied because a lot of materials will be handed out to the teachers and students. I might even see my office floor.

Phew! A year's worth of grant writing, networking, professional development, fundraising, and passion has led to the work of this summer, especially the next two weeks. I love that I've been able to invest in phenomenal educators who are passionate about writing and totally enthusiastic about kids!

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Burgers, Gardens, Elm City Soccer, Bourbon, and a Championship Game

Was invited to my friend Kathy's house last night for burgers, salad, bourbon, and soccer. She and Mike, her husband, as well as Sal (Bassick High School soccer team coach) and his son, invited Ali, Kanye and I to the Elm City Soccer Club game (which was a championship game for their bracket).

We were there to cheer on Tavoy "Bull" Morgan, who played for them one year as a senior in high school, after he arrived to Bridgeport, Connecticut from Jamaica. Most recently, however, he was the MITRE National Player of the Week.

After they let him in the 2nd half we could see why...he scored within seconds.

Kathy, who is now a vice principal and was once an art teacher who taught Tavoy - hence, her garden (where everything is positioned creatively) - provided a wonderful space to kick off the event. All I had to bring were chips, hummus and brownies, and Michael handled the grill (perfect cheeseburgers by Mike). Kathy made a great salad, too, before the game (which was a lot of fun because they played on Yale's field and the seating was up close and personal. It made the competition that much more interesting).

As the game began, Kathy said, "The start off is always my favorite part. The huddle. It is where everything comes together for teamwork and community."

I said, "Yep, it's Ubuntu."

And it's Sunday. Think I will get some rest? I hope so...I can use it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I'm Not Embarrassed, But I'm Admitting I Suck (But I Love It). Friday. Done.

75 kids, 8 teachers, 7 youth literacy leaders, and another week of CWP-Fairfield summer work. I came home, Ali and I went to get our hairs cut, and Kanye insisted on doing his own. When Ali and I returned, I sat down to write and (phew) submitted a piece 24 hours before it was due.

(wipes sweat from brow here and prays).

It was 9:10 p.m. and Kanye and Ali wanted to know, "Are you cooking?"

Um. Are They?


I looked in my fridge and asked, "Who ate all the Chinese food leftover?"

They pointed to one another.

"There's no meat left in the house. It's all cooked and you've eaten it all," I say. "Have you ever had grilled peanut butter sandwiches?"


Bread. Peanut butter. butter. A stove. A pan. Pretzels. Apples. Dinner.

They hated it. They were disappointed. I did have ice-cream so I gave that to them, too.

It's Friday. Dudes, do you not know what it took to get to this night? And Kanye, do you not know that pizza is the saving grace of American households? Why do you not eat it, dude? You're killing me.

I did take out hamburger for tomorrow. I'm also proud of the food they've received for the last 3 weeks, but at some point, one has to throw in the towel. It's called exhaustion. I'm D to the O to the N to the E.

(Cheese and crackers. Cheese and crackers. Cheese and crackers).

And sleep.

Friday, July 14, 2017

It's Friday, Prom-Day, For @CWPFairfield - Another Awesome Weeks Of Writing

It is awesome to be a frog and to hop from room to room to witness all the excellence of our teachers and young writers. It isn't only awesome: it is a total privilege. I simply shake my head in awe that we have 75 writers this week who are so focused on their master pieces that you can hear pins drop. They simply want to write.

Yesterday, a special guest showed up on our doorstep - Mr. Lambert Wangu of last year's Ubuntu Academy who said, "I couldn't wait another week. I needed to come early." So, we put him to work with From Page To Stage, the poetry workshop that has united kids from extremely diverse backgrounds (next year: Word Up: Diversity University - a lab on language, poetry, and word play).

When I stopped by to see the poets, Lambert was dancing and Charlotte shared some of their community poems, where each of the kids wrote a line (kids from Sudan, Congo, Syria, Greenwich, Hartford, Wilton, Fairfield, and Stratford).

Here's the one she said was her favorite.

From here, I see a father playing ball with his son.
I am making a collage, but it looks like it is going to rain.
(Me, always driving in the insane lane)
I bought rice, cookies, and pizza...
I smell fish,
(the rainy days are always the best).
Ali is helping Ryad to write a story.
I see a flag waving in the sky,
and I begin thinking of pink colors.
One day, I will visit Eritrea and Sudan once more.

Some of the kids in the lab are poetic geniuses with a love of language and they are working with kids who have been in the country less than a month. It's a word-fest and I couldn't be more proud.

10 poets, 30 little labbers, and 35 novelists. And here ends the work with the littlest writers. Next week, the big dogs come. Woof Woof Woof Woof.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Just So The World Knows, I'm Not All That Is Ridiculous In It. Okay?

On Wednesdays, another student student group on campus comes dressed in all sorts of costuming. Usually, the outfits are manga, superheroes, and goblin-esque, but today we had our first Tyrannosaurus Rex. When Kanye and I were getting ready for the morning, the T-Rex came out and attacked us. I had to get a photograph, because (well) that is summer at Fairfield University.

Geez. Is it Thursday already? I don't know because I did a 14 hour day on campus yesterday and don't know if I'm asleep, awake, somewhere in-between or totally a piece of the past!

Yesterday, we had several special guests to campus (besides the T-Rex) and I'm very excited that Alisha Jean Denis and Matthew P. Winkler graced us with their expertise.

We also are a little more prepared for Ubuntu Academy, Project Citizen, and College Essay next week. There is a big group heading our way and we're excited that they will join the excellence that has already occurred this summer.

Meanwhile, this guy knows that he has deadlines ahead of them that are very important and that need to be met. There's no room in his office to accomplish these goals (or to sleep there), but he's optimistic he'll find the right space and mindset to meet these goals.

Today, we have another day of writing, plus a lot to do for our Friday prom (including pizza orders -which are imperative to the work). I must say, though - our Ubuntu Youth Leaders have been a tremendous asset to our summer programming and I don't know how I did the work without them. It's amazing!

Stay cool.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I Learned to Improvise From My Grandma. It Serves Me Well With No Windows

Because of all the construction, space at Fairfield University has been really tight this year. As a result, one of our classrooms ended up being one without windows. I remembered all the times my grandmother spilled wine on her shirts and would improvise by coloring the stain to look like something more impressive.

Knowing my teachers would likely complain about a windowless room, I told them they should make an activity out of it, then create windows around the room for them to look out.

If the characters in there story looked out the window, what might they see. I modeled by having an octopus outside of my own. I didn't quite get to the story, but I did enjoy drawing my first ever octopus.

Now, anyone who gets room 002 and has to look at walls like they are in a psychiatric ward  can now be entertained by the drawings of kids so looking out the windows will be an experience anyone who's had the room before has never had.

It's Wednesday, everyone! Hump Day. Here we go! We got this!

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Sick Puppy Dog, Puts a Monkey Wrench Into American Economics. Phew

Glam Bam came back from her shots on Friday (and a pedicure) feeling a little dopey, but in good spirits for the weekend. The vet called on Saturday and asked how she was and I reported she was fine.

Then the vomit began. She couldn't keep anything down. Although here spirits were up, she walked, and she loved like she always does, every time she ate (and she had an appetite) she got sick. Of course the vet office wasn't open until Monday, so I let it ride out. She, however, vomited Sunday night and I awoke to it Monday morning.

That was it. I had to call her vet, Steph, to see if there is a possible reaction to slight tranquilizers, as this was abnormal behavior for her. The vet said no, and said she recommended X-rays to see what was going on. I began to channel my sister, KC, and her dog whose intestines and stomach twisted and I got really nervous. A few hours later, I heard this wasn't the case - they also said she had a perfect examination.

So what could it be, I wondered. Steph thought, "Well, dogs react to a lot of change in their lives and drama. Maybe you had new people move in and then move out. Maybe there was a lot of action at your house that she wasn't used to, and new stimulation on a daily basis for a while, and then perhaps that all changed quickly. That might make a dog nervous and vomit for a while."

And I wondered, "Couldn't you tell me that before medical procedures that cost $$$$. I would have a melodramatic, hypochondriac dog that costs a fortune because she's anxious about change in her life. As I paid, I kept thinking about the expense of dogs and the reality of the work I do, and I was thinking, "How can such a medical bill for a dog be justified?" I know we love our creatures but when I think about the extreme poverty I work with and the how far I can make a dollar go, it seems somewhat troublesome that so many dollars go to maintaining a nervous dog. My eyes bug out of my head, because she has no idea how much she cost me just to make a statement, "Enough with all the changes at Mt. Pleasant."

Um. You're a dog. Deal with it.

I am, however, thankful she is okay, and I'm hopeful she'll be able to keep the food she at down for a while. It's been a rather gross few days. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

It's Hard For Me To Chill, but After A Day of Writing, I Allowed Myself Beach Time

The weatherman said, 'No humidity. Sunny skies. Low 80s."

It's July. I knew I needed to take advantage of abnormal weather without humidity, so I got up early yesterday and wrote, wrote, wrote, so that I could head to the beach in the afternoon during high tide.

We succeeded.

And we play da few hours of volleyball and got our a##es handed to us by two 40 year olds who really knew what they were doing. Howard and Alisha joined us with their kids and, in summary, we simply soaked in the rays until I told everyone I was becoming a lobster and needed cover.

We returned and I grilled out (which is another summer luxury): steak, corn, wieners, tater tots, salad, and bread. I said it last year and I will repeat here: I am cheap when it is just me. You add eaters like these two and I'm in absolute awe: how can you eat two steaks and three beef hotdogs a piece while downing half a loaf of bread and then say, "Is there any more?'

I told them it will catch up to them. It has to.

So, today, we kick of another week of Young Adult Literacy Labs, this time another round of Little Labs and Novels, with the addition of Poetry & Plays to replace Sports Writing. We have a full crowd coming in and are experimenting with scholarships for relocated youth who are too young to do Ubuntu - we are enrolling them in other literacy labs to continue countering literacy loss during the summer months.

All weekend, I've been getting reports from my teachers sharing their excitement for the work we're doing - It's all love!

Now, fingers crossed - let's hope the paper work this week is not as extreme as the last three!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Had One of These Last Week and Was Thrown Back to 1994

Some 23 years, my housemates and I made it a pact that we would drink a Genesee Cream Ale every night of our senior year. Why? Because we lived down he street from The Pine Lounge and Hack, the owner, had pitchers of Genesee Cream Ale for $4. It was the cheapest beer we could find and that became our thing.

Fast forward. I'm 45 and a beer snob, when my buddy Dave comes out with a six pack of Genesee Cream Ale he said he found at Big Y. "I've never had it," he says. "Have you?"

Um, yes.

And I have to admit something. As I drank it, I  became all sorts of nostalgic and realized right away, "That beer isn't that bad." Actually, it's pretty good.

Okay. Okay. I know I was walking down memory lane with it, but I had to reach out to Matt, and say, "Duuuuddddeee." All it took was a photo and he texted back, "nice."

I honestly didn't know it was still made and there it my I just turned 21 and I had a budget of $100 a month for groceries (and it was all spent on beer).

Oh, the undergraduate years. I can afford better beer now, but I think I may be returning to my past and simply giving into the Cream.

I guy can dream, can't he?

Happy Sunday.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

NEH Hip Hop Institute With Dave Wooley (CWP-Fairfield)...Proud of This Guy

Two years ago, Dave Wooley and Dr. Laura Nash attempted an NEH Hip Hop Institute promoting hip hop literacies with teachers across the United States. The NEH rejected it, so Dr. Nash went back to the drawing board and applied again. CWP-Fairfield provided a two-day workshop as part of the proposal. Lucky for many, Dr. Nash received the grant for the 2017 academic cycle.

For the last two days, the boys and I have presented at the institute, but last night we congregated at Two Roads Brewery where Dave Wooley, a teacher at Westhill High School offers hip hop literacy as part of his curriculum. The show he coordinated, organized, promoted and performed at was off the hook. It was fantastic to hear performers from across southern Connecticut do their thing.

It's been a long time since I've sweat that much...we danced and danced and danced. Of course, old farts retire at 10 p.m., but Dave represented our generation (with some newer generations) of the genre. It was awesome musicianship. Now I wish I was part of the institute so I could learn more about the history and context for the performances.

It was a great way to end a workweek and I'm super-duper proud to know and to be part of Dave Wooley's vision. He will be teaching for Project Citizen later this summer and I've already challenged him to make a music video called "Ubuntu." We shall see if he makes this happen.

Kudos to all involved with the NEH institute. It's awesome what they're doing. Such a great experience.

Friday, July 7, 2017

And On This Friday, The Breath Begins To Be Held (We Got This)

I'm thankful to Ali Adan for his pre-NEH Hip Hop Institute photo shoot with me around the Fairfield University Stag. We were running around with our heads cut off getting ready for the Writing In The Limelight workshop, when it occurred to me that he might be able to get decent photos for CWP-Fairfield to get some good PR.

I love that a kid on his phone can accomplish more than I've been able to do in 45 years....semi-decent photos.

The NEH institute was a hit and it was wonderful working with 30 teachers from around the nation for a second day. It also is awesome to receive emails and messages from teachers wanting to know more and to gain additional resources. It was an honor to present on both days.

Today, though, I'm dropping the dog off at the vet and heading into alone time to get writing and organization done. As much as I hate it, I have to live in my office to be sure i's are crossed and t's are dotted (pun intended). Next Monday, we bring another 100 kids to campus, followed by two more weeks with 100s of kids and teachers. The paperwork is proof that this is all happening - there are no words for the behind the scenes action that make all the teaching and writing possible.

They say, "If you build it, they will come," and they have. It's been fantastic to build everything I loved about teaching in a diverse K-12 school to Fairfield University during the summer months. It's my nature to create the environments I appreciate and respect the most.

It's Friday everyone. Here's to another week of work in the books! 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Wednesday Is Over. Now Bring On Thursday. We Got This Cuz We Rock This

I was thrilled to bring Akbar, Kanye, Will, Ali, and Dave with me to the National Endowment of the Humanities Institute at Fairfield University studying Hip Hop. I'm not a hip hop guy, but they brought me in to discuss instruction, and I was able to highlight the Refugee Trilogy project from last summer, while showcasing the amazing work of teachers and students. All three of my boys: Ali, Kanye, and Akbar, were phenomenal with the teachers.

Dave was a mastermind with his hip hop verse.

William was a king with his intellect and ability to bring everyone together onto the same page. He has a way with words that has everyone sitting on the edge of their seats wanting more. He gets the relocated refugee youth and adds so much to the conversation.

As the 33 teachers from across the United States learned about Ubuntu Academy, CWP, and relocation stories, I realized that the word "mesmerized" is an understatement. People want to know more about these stories and how to teach them.

We got home around 6:30 p.m. and were invited to a barbecue at the marina down thread. Sad as it is, I didn't know it was there. It was beautiful, though, to see the sun set, to have chicken and strawberries, and to break the day with a beautiful summer night on the water. I was impressed. I hope the kids were, too.

There's something about being on water that totally centers me and makes me feel human. I guess it is the Aquarian nature within me.

Bottom line, though. Ubuntu!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

And Thus Ends the Long Holiday Weekend. I'm Sure Fireworks Will Continue Though

Yesterday, I got up at six and, coffee injected, I finally made it out back to finish painting the porch. Actually, when Ali and Kanye woke up we finished the porch together. It felt good to get so much done (extra hands make lighter work).

Ali mowed the lawn, too, before we headed to Kohl's to get swim trunks and stopped by Big Y for chicken. Bev and Leo had us over for a pool day, which for Leo and me means volleyball tournaments. For Ali and Kanye, however, it turned into model sessions as Ali's IPhone 7Plus has a portrait lens which takes phenomenal shots.

In the first volleyball game, though, Ali whacked my head and I have an abrasion on my brow and swelling. It could have been worse, but it knocked me out for a while...ball and fist to glasses and forehead. Ouch.

Today, we're doing the first of two presentation for the National Endowment for the Humanities Hip Hop Institute. We get to celebrate and showcase our 2016 teacher institute in collaboration with Ubuntu Academy. I'm looking forward to seeing how the presentation comes together, especially as we will do it again in St. Louis next November.

You know it is summer when all I want to do is call in sick and head to the beach for games. I am, though, excited to the work of today.

Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

4th Is Great and All, But There's So Many Cheeseburgers a Man Can Eat

When I was a kid, it seemed like the 4th of a July was a one-day experience. Maybe it is because it fell on a Tuesday, and this created an extended weekend, that this year's celebration seemed to last five days. Picnics, barbecues, events, gatherings, and opportunities. I'm a little fried.

Last night, however, we went to the Bridgeport Blue Fish game (off my bucket list forever) which followed with fireworks (a version that seemed to replicate those by Bob Ryan on Bamm Hollow - not very impressive).

Still, it was great to bring four young men to a game they've never seen and to celebrate the holiday American style (with Kris and Dave Wooley, our neighbors and friends). The Ish loved every second of it.

I'm heading out to the porch to get one more layer of touches done before heading to the last and final picnic of this weekend. It feels like Christmas with all this food. Too much. Ah, but today's event features a pool, so this could be interesting (plus the humidity is breaking...phew).

Happy 4th of July everyone. I still believe in this great social experiment, hoping it gets closer and closer to the democratic dream of our ancestors.

Of Thee I Sing.

Monday, July 3, 2017

It's July. The Humidity Is Here, but I Persevered. Days I Wish I Had a Pool

I thought I would be productive, but the humidity crept up way too fast. The boys were still sleeping, so I hit the deck for touch up jobs -phew! too hot!

So, as they made pancakes, I made arrangements to bring materials to Pam's new condo and to see the new location which will welcome her this week. We made it there by noon, and it's perfect for her - a hop, skip, and jump to the beach, a nice pool, and awesome walking territories.

She stayed and I came home to work on downstairs plumbing. The boys who eventually woke up, when back upstairs for a nap and I took advantage of the quiet. I did laundry, cleaned up the house and prepared dinner for Bev, Leo, Kaitlyn, Pam, Ali, Kanyea, Pat, and Stephanie, who I knew would come her after the concert at the beach. I was too hot - I knew I wouldn't enjoy myself, especially since I'm exhausted.

I'm happy for Pam and her new location. It is great space and an awesome location. I am thinking it will be perfect for dog walks with Glamis. 7 minutes is a lot closer than 30 minutes to Monroe.

The humidity is suppose to break today, so I look forward to getting back to the painting outside (and the lawn). It's too much, though, with the heat so high!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

I'm From Siracusa, New York (I Think). Italian for Syracuse

For a few years, I've seen the Siracusa trucks and I had to laugh when Kanye and Werdi saw it and asked, "Did they spell Syracuse wrong?"

Actually, it's an Italian spelling of a food company in CT.

Every time I see the trucks, though, I  do my best Pete Caroli impersonation and say, "Siracusa, New York. Thatza where I'm from."

We, by luck of many coincidences, ended up in Hartford, CT, for the USA vs. Ghana soccer match (a friendly one on an American tour). It was great to see all the Ghanaians in the northeast coming out with their colorful flags and clothes to cheer on their national team. The USA won, though, 2-1. The game was great and it was worth the adventure.

Better yet, it was great to be able to bring the summer crew to a big-time event (although it wasn't as big time as it could have been).

Okay, it's Sunday. Time to make a list of what's to be done. I'm exhausted, but that's no excuse.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Long Weekend, Short Break, And A Lot of Office Time Ahead. I Am Breathing

We packed up the office and simply left. There was nothing else that could fit, and I need to fit next week, but was too tired to try to make sense of the chaos on a Friday afternoon - especially as our day ended at 4 pm, the university was shut down and no one but us was there, and the I-95 corridor was lined with holiday traffic.

I will be back in, but not until Monday and Tuesday.

For now, I simply need to star into space. That's what exhaustion does to you.

With that noted, the first week was extremely successful. Few incidences and a lot of joy. We came home to do a quick dinner and a couple games of Corn Hole, knowing that this weekend will likely look like moving Pam into her new condo.

I'm just wondering what it will be like for me when I enter my office this weekend or early next week to begin making sense of the other work I need to get done.

With all this said, I'm thrilled we fit everything back into the puzzled space of my office as we did.

Here's to a holiday weekend and, hopefully, phenomenal weather!