“We can teach youth to read, but can we release their hearts?”
An artistic youth churns inside a chrysalis of adolescent confines. For the creative temperament, teen years fill with discontent. Yet, longings can inspire exploration and discovery. It is the glory of parents and teachers to direct yearning in youth by providing creative models. If we do not, imposters wait in the shadows to capture the souls of those who never find personal expression.
I believe creativity begets creativity and passion inspires passion. Not in a clone-like fashion, but our discoveries unfurl like butterfly wings, full of unique artistry. Evidence of this recently came my way. Ironically, I had just whispered the following prayer before checking my email:
“Lord, how much longer will I teach?”
I was so enjoying my long summer days of writing and web designing that the thought of returning to the classroom did not appeal to me. Then, I checked my email and found a message from Selena, one of my students from last year:
I wanted to say that I miss you alot and wanted to know how you were and next year can you please come to my Graduation when i walk across the stage. When i had a problem it brought me back to you from what you taught me. I listened to my heart whispering things in my head telling me what to write and this is what it told me to write.
I’m on NO! one’s side!!!!!!!!!
A true friend isn’t on any 1’s side
I’m a true friend
True friends are like Diamonds, fake 1’s are leaves scattering around on the ground!
I trust my heart 4 u 2 hold and take care of them and always there forever!
It’s like letting a balloon go and never getting it back!
Well……..hang onto those balloons very…very…TIGHTLY!!!!!!!
Cause we’re gonna get through this together
No matter what happens we’re on r way there!
“I listened to my heart whispering things in my head telling me what to write and this is what it told me to write… I just follow my dreams and listen to my heart! “
Now this is profound insight I cannot stop pondering. A youthful writer captured the essence of the craft.
Selena’s email helped me answer the question breathed in my prayer, “Lord, how much longer will I teach?” I hope I will always teach, whether inside or outside of the classroom. Witnessing the heart of a writer finding release is a gift I will never grow weary of watching.
*I have included a reflection below that I wrote at the end of the school year about Selena’s amazing journey:
Those Smiles from Selena
“Dad, do you want to see my ‘I Can Change my World Project?'” Selena quickly moved through the computer folders until finding her video. “Put these head phones on and listen. I chose child labor because we read about child slaves in the READ 180 book. I wrote an essay, made a PowerPoint, and then a Photo Story.”
“Interesting,” her father whispered.
Come over here and see the Computer Center where I learn to read. There are three different kinds of exercises we do.” Selena explained the program like a student version of a teacher.
I could see her father’s face beaming with pride in the reflection of the computer screen. His daughter’s obvious understanding and eloquence visibly moved him.
Selena continued, “This is the Reading Center and I’ll show you the books I read to get points.”
It was Open House at Endeavour Middle School and students milled around the room chatting excitedly to parents and guardians. I watched Selena and her father slowly wind their way around the classroom. They stopped at each center as the young tour guide summarized a year’s worth of learning. My throat constricted with emotion and I quickly dabbed the corners of my eyes.
The culmination of an ongoing miracle unfolded before me; this young Latino teen—who entered READ 180 last August reading at a second grade level—is now prepared for the rigors of eight grade curriculum and beyond. The contrast of her behavior today with how unmotivated and distracted she was at the beginning of the school year truly amazed me.
Selena’s academic success is a combination of reading acceleration due to READ 180, (Scholastic Inc.) and growth in writing competency due to Write for the Future (Thinking Maps Inc.). With the help of her science teacher, Jennifer Patterson, these outstanding research-based programs launched another accomplishment. Selena wrote an award-winning essay that secured her a place in the Northrop Grumman Outdoor Science Camp this summer. This science program motivates and prepares the “next generation of explorers, scientists, and engineers through classroom instruction and hands-on activities”*
I drove home thinking about all of the students who excelled this year in Endeavour Middle School’s three READ 180 classes. Lexile reading scores soared with 80% of 7th and 8th grade students surpassing the expected 75-100 point average. One student’s lexile went from BR (10) to 1027. In addition to literacy acceleration, students learned technology skills essential for future academic success. They created digital projects that extended the READ 180 workshops into real life applications. Results such as these do not surprise me for I have repeatedly witnessed them over the last three years I have facilitated this magnificent program.
However, Selena’s success story particularly affected me. Maybe it was watching a young woman’s character grow while her academic abilities matured; I suspect she is just one of many future leaders forming during this school year. Then again, perhaps what struck me was seeing first hand what could happen when education gives a struggling reader a chance. Her face radiated as she gave her father that Open House tour. I will never forget those smiles from Selena (All photos and content from Selena were posted with parental permission).