Sunday, May 31, 2015

Dreaming with @JackieWoodson in Preparation of #LSUYAL2015: A Thought, Some Lines, and Several Finger Snaps

wow. simply wow.
When brown girl dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (Jackie) arrived to my home in Stratford, Connecticut a month ago I took notice of its cover and placed it on a shelf to await the hustle and bustle of the semester to end. Of course, Attallah (the Diva) took it off my shelf and quickly asked, "Frog, did you know she wrote this memoir poetically?" I did not. Leave it to the Diva to find anything poetic in my house (she is, after all, a walking poem).

It may not be readily viewed here, but the young woman on the cover of brown girl dreaming (depicted as a silhouette with light behind her) is opening a book where butterflies are fluttering from within the pages. In the Woodson family, Odella Caroline was the reader. Hope Austine (I love to believe in hope - world's oldest trilogy) was the chemist. Jackie was the tomboy and writer.

And thankfully for those of us who work with teachers and adolescent readers, the writer she became.

I couldn't put the book down; it was wonderful company on my flight from Hartford to Baton much so that I had to jot a few of her lines into my own notebook (they resonated with my Grandpa Spence, a Camel-smoking Navy man whose life ended with, like the author's grandfather, a shortness of breath). Perhaps this is why Woodson's verse, "Tobacco," a theme carried throughout the memoir, hit home with me - the love for her grandfather was obvious, as was my own for Spence.
The old people used to say / a pinch of dirt in the mouth / can tell tobacco's story,
she wrote early on. Yet, later she  followed the thought with "how to listen #3,"
Middle of the night                                                                                                                    my grandfather is coughing                                                                                                   me upright. Startled.
The punch (power of her craft) made me bite my lip. It hit the humanity we all belong to, and 24 pages later in "what god knows," she continues,
At the end of the day                                                                                                             he lights a cigarette, unlaces                                                                                                        his dusty brogans. Stretches his legs                                                                                     God sees my good, he says.                                                                                                        Do all the preaching and praying you want                                                                                           but no need to do it for me.
Jackie Woodson, Jason Reynolds,
 Steven Bickmore, and Kwame Alexander - NCTE 2014
Wow. Just wow. Jackie Woodson. Add an 'o' to God and it is Good. The Great Whatever. A Story teller. Thinker. Questioner. She "could write anything." What a gift to read brown girl dreaming on my way to LSU  - dreaming, dreaming, dreaming.
And I know now                                                                                                                         words are my Tingalayo. Words are my brilliance.
And they are.

On Tuesday, I host an "As In" workshop that will highlight 20+ years of promoting poetry in K-12 schools. It is part of my five-day seminar on using young adult literature to inspire young writers. To know that Jacqueline Amanda Woodson will be nearby has me dreaming, too (and reflecting, didn't Kwame introduce me to her at NCTE last year? Um, I guess he did - see above - and look what's in her hand ---- her book!)

And so I'm thinking about Kermit and his banjo as I write this morning.

Someday, we'll find it. The human connection. The lovers, the dreamers, and me (all of us under its spell, we know that it's probably magic).

La dee dee la dee dee da. What a beautiful world.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Heading to Cajun Country for Some Baton Rouge Young Adult Literature, Year Number Two #LSUYAL2015

So, it is year number two for me and LSU. Time to get my purple and gold on again and to convene with young adult literature enthusiasts and the writers who like to write for adolescent readers.

I'm looking forward to meeting Jacqueline Woodson, Coe Booth, Sharon Draper and Sharon Flake, as well as spend quality time with other friends I've met who share a similar passion for the genre.

This year, my seminar focuses on using young adult literature to inspire real-world writing. Following a motto of reading like a writer, the goal is for my participants to have several seeds planted in writers notebooks that can be used for further development should they choose.

I'm carrying with me 20+ years of writing instruction experience (and the exhaustion of the 2014-2015 academic year). I'm also eyeing the CWP Summer Institute and Young Adult Literacy Labs that are just around the corner, too. Phew. I have to love what I'm doing, otherwise I'd fizzle out and melt away into the summer soils.

The LSU Young Adult Literature Conference spearheaded by Steven Bickmore is something I looked forward to last year and that I'm excited to attend again this year. It's time for walking and running in pea soup again and meeting new friends.

Bring it on.

Friday, May 29, 2015

In Those Rare Moments of Thunderstorms, Traffic, Unanswered Emails, And Agendas, A Day Worth Remembering

Yesterday, Attallah and I were asked to be on NWP Radio with Kwame Alexander, Donna Delbasso and Nicole Brown. We discussed our yearlong efforts with Hill Central Academy and basically had an auditory love fest for the work.

When we returned home, however, I realized that Attallah's head scarf matched a tie I own and that this color coordinated with the Writing Our Lives Hill Central stickers and WOL-Syracuse t-shirts. So, I had to lump them in one space...the CWP work, Attallah, and Chitunga who was also home when we returned from the recording.

Missing, of course, are Abu and Lossine (but they Facetimed in ...yes, that is a verb now), and they were here, too. It would have been nice to have Marcelle Haddix with us, as well as Kwame, just for the after party of chicken and corn-on-the-cob.

Seriously, I'm so proud of this little niche of the universe created in southern Connecticut and that the Great Whatever chiseled his or her power into this compacted network and family. It's Friday (TG) and I'm getting ready for a week-long initiative in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But, for now, I'm simply happy by the tight unit created at 332. Mt. Pleasant.

Words. Stories. Narratives. Histories. Culture. And Connections.

This is what unites the life we live and I'd have it no other way.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Throwback to 1982. A Time of Middle School. A Time of Innocence. A Time of Extra-Terrestials and Home Excavations

I walked by my favorite classroom at Fairfield University this afternoon and saw all this equipment surrounding its doorway. This is where we have the Invitational Summer Institute. I thought, "Oh, my. Has ET found its ways into Canisius Hall?"

But then I read, "Danger: Asbestos."

Uh oh.

The men entering the room were in full garb, too, having to undo their uniforms when they exited and totally confiscate materials piece by piece.

Now brown creatures with glowing fingers, though. Just a lot of white dust.

It brought me back to Penn Can Mall in Cicero and the 9 or 10 times my friends went to the theater to see the classic film. It was mesmerizing and all of us, it didn't matter how tough we were, secretly wanted an alien to call us Eliot.

I do hope, though, that the asbestos removal occurs quickly so room 10 will be open by July. It is our hub, after all, and a location for creating precious writing memories. More importantly, I hope the room is made safe from poisonous toxins.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The Joy of Home Ownership: An Opportunity To Re-Landscape With Perennials and Hope. House #3

During the Memorial Day Parade in Stratford, I followed the signs to a cul-de-sac that said, "Perennial Sale." I found myself at the home of an eighty-year old woman who has spent a lifetime gardening her lawn and who is 'downsizing' her flowers with inexpensive opportunities for would-be gardeners like me. I left with almost $200 worth of perennials for a mere $25 bucks and am hoping that even despite the Connecticut drought right now, some of the plants decide they are ready to take off.

I think it is telling to look at perennials as a metaphor for what I believe in. My goal is to invest in the beauty of the world - even if it costs me a little here and there - so that long after I'm gone, flowers will bloom and people will take notice of the way a lawn is designed.

I'm not an expert by any means, but I'm always willing to take the investment made by the Louisville Nature Center to condition me to the naturalist I always intend to be. The first year is seep. The second year is creep. And the the third year is leap.

I am hoping that Mt. Pleasant will leap in a few short years.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Tuesday Reflection on a Monday Memorial Day ... So Many Things To Be Appreciative For, Especially Freedom

Tunga learned last week that the deterioration in his cornea means that he would never be able to serve in any branch of the military - a blow to a young man who had service to the United States as his top priority. Conversations since the news broke have been additional ways a man (and woman) can give back to one's country if they are not allowed to be armed and defending freedom overseas.

Yesterday morning, I got up and noticed that most of Stratford was setting up chairs along Main Street in anticipation of a Memorial Day parade. I ran home to regroup and walk to join the festivities. Tunga was running at St. Mary's and dropping his Aunt off in Bridgeport, and unfortunately couldn't join me.

There's something about a parade to honor veterans and service men that makes me extremely appreciative and humbled. The men and women who marched yesterday, from WWII to Iraq, represent the boldest and most dedicated Americans our nation has. I grew someone cynical watching obese children screaming at their parents to buy them a $20 blow up toy while double fisted with ice cream cones and pretzels...somehow, though, I saw this as a sign of what happens to the children of a nation who are protected. They feel entitled and have no clue what was sacrificed so they could whine at a parade.

It was also great to see Jim Blumenthal and Rosa DeLauro marching in the parade. I've worked with them in DC, but sometimes forget that their political offices are in southern Connecticut. They are good people, stellar Democrats, and devoted minds for America's future.

After the parade, we packed up and spent the day at Short Beach playing volleyball with several home-from-college kids and high school students. The mouths on many of them were rather severe and the music they played from their duffle bags was ornery and inappropriate for a pubic beach. I kept my mouth shut, though. This comes with freedom and even if I wondered when America shifted so that there was no public boundary or respect for appropriate/inappropriate, I let it go. This is what results because of the service and sacrifice of others.

And, with this, we closed the day with watching Saving Private Ryan.

This, we should never forget.

Monday, May 25, 2015

One of the Things I Miss Most From Being Five Hours Away, Is Quality Weekend Time With My Family

Mike Isgar, aka "Make A Blog Post About Me"
This was sent from my brother-in-law Mike from a family gathering this weekend in celebration of Memorial Day. The four years I was in Syracuse doing the doctorate were special bonding times with the Isgars, Crandalls, and Barnwells, including the down time we had in this or that backyard simply being a crew of bonded folks - our bloodlines intermingled.

A three-day weekend means that at least one of the days can be spend putzing about the yard, fiddling with this or than project, and gathering for BBQ and summer salads.

I miss such occasions in my abode in Connecticut and wish that they were nearby so I, too, could make quality faces while sitting in lawn chairs catching up.

This face, however, is one for the record books and it simply cracks me up (and everyone should be proud that I didn't post the ones Mike sent me of mom, which also made me laugh and miss home).

I will be entertaining some of the crew in a few weeks when they travel south for Contemporary Colors and Nikki's performance in Brooklyn with the Brigadiers. I look forward to the experience and it cannot come soon enough.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Give Me Sticks. Me Make Fire. Me Cave Man And It Was A Saturday Night In May. Burn, Baby, Burn.

First fire of the season. Leo called me over for some beers, and his son Kai joined us. Soon after, Chitunga arrived and we kept the flames going until it was too cold to sit outside any longer (and it did get cold - we all wanted to curl up in the pit).

I don't know what it is about fire, but all I need is to smell the smoke and I'm ready to put my feet up and unwind.

It is different in Connecticut, though. The winds change direction quite often and so you have to move chairs to avoid having flames thrown your my face.

I think it is because it's a 3 day weekend...something needed to be childish about this Saturday night and so it was easy to make the excuse to take a night off: no reading, no writing, no planning, and barely any thinking.

Chitunga says, "We need one of these for our backyard," and I responded, "I'd never get anything done."

And of course I now want a wood burning stove for the winter months. It reminds me of living on Eastman in Cicero.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

And Last Night I Made a Ginger Beer Cocktail and Said, Bring On The Three Day Weekend. I Needed A Break

In February, when Megan Zabilansky and I did the LRNG event in NYC, they served an interesting Ginger Beer concoction with vodka. Since then, Pam has also mastered the drink and so last night, post the Writing Our Lives: Digital Ubuntu - We, Too, Are Connecticut conference, I came home to see if I, too, could make the cocktail.

I was successful. Cheers.

Now I am thinking about the next steps of my summer: Young Adult Literacy Labs, the Invitational Summer Institute, and LSU Young Adult Literature Conference. I am also hoping to make the second year of Ubuntu Academy possible. This, I believe, requires the occasional
moment away from the planning, organizing, collecting, and managing to enjoy a good drink.

But really, I just wanted to say, "Cheers," last night as I reflected upon the inspirational, wonderful, and total success of six high schools coming together to share their digital writing. They were definitely here and they were phenomenal. I will be riding cloud nine for some time.

This morning, however, my goal is that I will be able to sleep in. That's the intention anyway. I might even make it to 7 a.m.

Friday, May 22, 2015

#LRNG It's What It's All About Today, Culminating Innovative Projects In Connecticut and Celebrating Ubuntu All The Way

A year ago today, I was interviewing new teachers for the Invitational Summer Institute to participate in 2014. At the time, I didn't realize they would bond as they did or that they'd plan ideas for future projects that they desired to be carried out in their classrooms.

Summer occurred and excellence followed. Soon after the summer, the National Writing Project, John Legend Show Me Campaign, and MacArthur foundation hosted an RFP for innovative projects that required students to think outside the box and to challenge traditional classroom boundaries. I called the teachers and asked, "What do you think?" They loved the idea and we applied.

The rest is history.

Today, May 22, 2015, the 6 schools receiving the LRNG Innovation Challenge Award will congregate at Fairfield University to showcase their yearlong projects. It will be a day of learning (LRNG) because the conference design is based on the National Writing Project model (but this time, students teaching students about their Tedx work, digital stories, ethnographies, web designs, and blogs).

And it is an interesting concept, really - one that we've somewhat forgotten with 21st century technologies. Human beings need human beings in order to survive. Not a single one of us can go at this adventure alone. Rather, we can be who we are because of one another - the theme for this particular conference.

And so I send this post off into cyberspace knowing that 24 hours from right now, I will be reflecting on a collaboration that once was.

I'm so excited to celebrate with Darien, Staples, Central, Global Studies, Barlow, and Bassick today (but I also need to gloat a little...Chitunga got three A's and an A- during his first semester in college - very, very proud of him).

Thursday, May 21, 2015

You Can't Be Human All By Yourself ... Thinking Ahead to Friday's Writing Our Lives Conference - Digital Ubuntu, 2015

The 2015 WOL-Digital Ubuntu Stickers for
Participants' Notebooks

You can’t be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – UBUNTU – you are known for your generosity. We think of ourselves far too frequently as just individuals, separated from one another, whereas you are connected and what you do affects the whole world. ~Desmond Tutu

Dear Writers, Creators, Composers, Dreamers, Poets, Visionaries, and Mavericks,

I am, because we are. I can be me because of who we are together. You matter to the writing communities of Connecticut.

Welcome to Writing Our Lives – Digital Ubuntu: We, Too, Are Connecticut and be proud of yourself – who you are in relation to the person sitting next to you, the individual on the other side of the room, and those others who couldn’t be with you today to celebrate your accomplishments. In allusion to Matt de la Peña’s young adult novel, “We are here right now” and, together, we are stronger.

Today’s event occurred because several teachers participating in an Invitational Summer Institute through the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University wanted more for their classrooms – they believe students are more than test scores and deserve outlets to innovatively rethink traditional classroom boundaries. They designed writing workshops to promote ethnography, ten-minute plays, TedTalks, blogging, digital storytelling, and websites. They desired opportunity to build stronger writing communities in Connecticut and wrote to the John Legend Show Me Campaign, National Writing Project, and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, “We can be us, digitally, because of how we compose together with 21st century tools.”

Yes, this was a yearlong, inter-district collaboration that brought together more than 100 students from diverse backgrounds and perspectives to exchange knowledge about composing in digital spaces. Each one of you has contributed to this effort, and today we celebrate all of us as a community. We are here. We are Connecticut, too. As collaborators we deserve a standing ovation, a few finger snaps, and new seeds for Writing Our Lives in the future.

Today, I want you to get to know one another and ask questions about one another’s school. More importantly, however, I want you to recognize that you are the innovators of tomorrow and that “You gotta write! A’ight?”

And you have already written.

Thank you for your participation, contributions, and excellence. This couldn’t be possible without you.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

WRITING OUR LIVES - DIGITAL UBUNTU: We, Too, Are Connecticut @FairfieldU @prettywellness @innovates_ed @mattdelapena @robertgalinsky

This Friday, May 22nd, students from Darien, Joel Barlow, Global Studies Magnet, Central, Staples, and Bassick High Schools will congregate at Fairfield University for the Writing Our Lives - Digital Ubuntu conference. This year, students are presenting to students their digital writing to state, "We, Too, Are Connecticut."

Building off of CWP-Fairfield's collaboration with the CT Mirror, Special Report: Education, Change, and Diversity in Fairfield County, teachers partnered with CWP-Fairfield to apply for the LRNG Innovation Challenge Award funded by the John Legend Show Me Campaign, the National Writing Project, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. In December, we learned the grant was awarded, one of just 12 awardees nationwide.

Shaun Mitchell, Paula Fortuna, Kate Bedard, Megan Zabilansky, Jen von Wahlde, and Kim Herzog - motivated and passionate teachers - have promoted student voice  all year long in their classrooms by advocating for the stories they have to share.

In addition to the incredible projects from these six schools, students were given copies of We Were Here, a young adult novel written by Matt de la Peña. They were asked to think about who they are to the State of Connecticut and what they want Connecticut to be for them. In addition, Tedx Teen personality Robert Galinsky will offer expert advice on public speaking at the conference (and see the culmination of his investment with two schools earlier this year). 

The week has been an ironing board for CWP-Fairfield as we pressed hard to be sure buses were ready, food was cooked, supplies arrived, and six schools were ready to celebrate their hard work. A special shout out goes to Fairfield University Athletics, too, and their donated Stag Swag. 

CWP-Fairfield is very excited to welcome the high school composers, their teachers, and and our special guests to the Dolan School of Business. Writing Our Lives: Digital Ubuntu kicks off at 9:30 a.m. and presentations will be made all day long. Additionally, the sun rises Friday morning with motivational speaker, Caryn Sullivan, the creator of Pretty Wellness - an all-around magical human being.

 Here's to who we are together!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

I'm Missing The Greedy Gene. Somehow I Missed Out On the Need For Gluttony and Power. I Guess I Lose.

This is what an official website on Jabba the Hutt states,
Jabba the Hutt was one of the galaxy's most powerful gangsters, with far-reaching influence in both politics and the criminal underworld. There were no second chances with Jabba, something Han Solo would find out - though the slug-like alien would ultimately fall victim to his own hubris and vengeful ways.
This has been my year of stepping my leadership up and working with individuals who have more power than I ever desire to have. In my pro-student, pro-teacher stance, I simply want equity for K-12 public schools and now, in higher education, for faculty who work with college-age students. Educators don't make much, and the mythology that they have 'summer's off' and that they are overpaid, but protected because of unions, are false. I would say 1% of the teaching force live that life - taking full advantage of their occupation. The other 99% have bags under their eyes because they work tirelessly to support their schools, students, colleagues, and profession. They do this despite the fact that OSHA would shut most organizations down if the conditions were like this in other industries. Teachers currently experience PTSD,my he environments have grown that toxic.

And then they meet Jabba the Hutt. I have to revisit the Star Wars films because this is who I  picture lately whenever I think of the greedy, off-kilter, seedy individuals who fund (or defund) the underhandedness destroying education, both K-12 and in higher education.

The corporate model is about greed, is to make profit at all costs, and to swindle the worker to fatten those at the top. I think it is rather evident in the United States, and until the last decade or so, such hogs have left public education alone. Nope. Since 2008 when the housing market crashed, the new movement has been to find profits in public education. Poverty is the new wealthy. Actually, it's in private education, too, as the lines blur. Pay the workers less, pay the employer more, remove any and all bargaining rights, and make those who are doing what is right look like the enemy.

It's yucky out here in Education Land, and most of us who got into this profession thought we'd take less pay so we could live a fulfilling life with Ewoks and Wookies, the softer, fuzzier, more intellectual life. Nope. That's didn't happen because Jabba the Hutts are in control and, with greed, corruption, and ignorance, they undercut so much of what I believe in.

Ah, but the fight will go on. I believe in karma and that hubris takes down any and all who think they do well by the world when in actuality they suck the marrow from it.

I'm not sure if this post makes any sense; I'm just simply clearing my mind before I begin the day. I remember as a kid how my parents would discuss the politics of their employment and how their bosses, often paid more the higher they climbed, lost all sense of sanity when they achieved positions with more power. The same is true today. I remember thinking their adult conversations were so boring and wasteful, but now I see it's par for the course.  Money makes the world go around and I wish I could say it was healthy.  It traps us in a destructive system that exploits the worker and awards the master of ceremonies - they who control the purse strings.

It's just gross. It makes me hate people altogether.


And politicians? Don't even get me started....

Monday, May 18, 2015

I Have No Idea Who She Is, But She Graduated From Fairfield University on Sunday (and Asked for a Pic). She Got It.

Truth is, she was in my group of students so her last name must end with an A - F. That's what I was assigned. She also brought a bottle of champaign but, as per the rules, I told her to withstand until after the ceremony. She obliged.

Yesterday was the undergraduate and graduate graduations (gradual, I might be grading on you) at Fairfield University, so my Sunday began at 7:30 a.m. and ended at 5 p.m. For those not living along the Sound, the temperature in the sun was 85 degrees with about 80% humidity. We were all in black and wearing mushrooms on our heads, so basically we incubated and cooked from within. When I got to my office at 5 p.m. and took off my robe, I was drenched from head to toe. My face was burnt, too.

Still, it was all worth it. Why? To hear Rev. Greg Boyle, S.J., Doctor of Humanities speak. Although we were frying on Bellarmine lawn, his words cooled us and made us more humane. Rev. Boyle is the executive director of Homeboy Industries, an agency that provides job training, education, and mental health services to form gang members in California. The way he eased his way into stories of working with marginalized communities and the importance for being men and women for others is something that inspired me to no end. He was genuine and spoke from the top of his head and the deepest part of his heart. Each tale he told reminded me why I prefer to do the work as I do it. There's a deeper calling and, as he pointed out, students don't come for our institutions. They eventually come from our institutions and have to have a moral responsibility to others after they leave. I loved it.

As for the supermodel pictured with me above (she called for duck faces, not me), I have to offer a few snaps. I loved her energy as we waited in line to wait in another line before we could wait to enter Bellarmine Lawn. Did I mention that it was like standing in a grill being slowly sautéed?

It doesn't matter, however, because the event was beautiful and memorable. The graduates deserve the recognition in honor of their hard work and trust in higher education.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Learning About Sharks in 3rd Grade - The Genius Of Sean Spencer and the Education of a Very, Very Slow Uncle #WalkMyWorld

Earlier this spring, as Henry was tucked away and the Percocets were placed back in the medical cabinet, my nephew Sean sent me his 3rd Grade Information Writing Project - a report on Sharks assigned to him in Fayetteville-Manlius, New York. I'm embarrassed to say that the envelope with his stellar composition fell the bottom of my to-do list and, EEKs, I only got to read it yesterday when I found it with the pile of bills I've haven't attended to either.

This is the world of a crazy professor. He walks two roads diverged in the woods and chooses the one with good intentions. This, of course, results in the age-ol' H...E...Double Hockey Sticks. You know the rest.

I am so glad that I discovered the writing project yesterday morning, however, while sipping coffee and filling out checks. I now see why his teachers are extremely proud and chose his information writing to be showcased by the district as exemplar. He is showing Fayetteville Manlius how to do it WRITE.

Sean wrote with a researcher's eye and composed four chapters to engage his readers about Selachimorphas (the Latin name for sharks): (1) What are sharks? (2) Habitat, (3) Myths, and (4) Sense of Smell. He reminds his readers the difference between pectoral, dorsal and tail fins, as well as educates them on the nostril, mouth, eye and gills.
Sharks live in oceans all around the world. That is something you learn about in this book. You will also learn about shark habitat, myths and their sense of smell. Lets dive into this book.
Sharks eat fish, seals and other animals.
A shark is a creature that roams the seas and is the biggest fish so far. Sharks have been on Earth since the dinosaur age. A shark is not a mammal. Sharks have five gills instead of the original one gill.
Most sharks like it deep in the oceans but they have been found on shore. Scientists have found tiger sharks in lakes. They were eating catfish and they weighed about 600 pounds.
Great White sharks live near all continents except Antarctica. Many species of sharks live in warm water. If you go fishing for a shark in a pond, you won't find one! A Tiger shark spends its day in deep water, then goes to shallow to hunt at night.
People think sharks are really dangerous to us, but that is not true. Many sharks only attack people because they get confused with there original prey, or they are just really really hungry. You can ride some sharks...they won't care.
Before I continue sharing Sean's prose, I need to interject that this is good news. My little sister, Sean's mom, shared with me once on the beach of Long Island that she wasn't afraid of sharks. She said if they ever attacked her, she'd simply bop it on the head, grab its dorsal fin, and ride the shark (like a rancher rides a horse). It is good to know that sharks wouldn't care about my sister's underwater Bronco abilities as she rides them. Still, I remain perplexed at how long my sister would be able to hold her breath under water as she harnessed a shark.
The Barnwells on vacation at a beach where sharks live.
People are hunting sharks for their body parts! Shark attacks are very rare!
Sharks have incredible sense of smell. They can smell one drop of blood in 65 gallons of water. A Great White shark can smell a group of seals from two smiles away. A shark does not smell with its nose. Two thirds (2/3) of a shark's brain controls its sense of smell. The two nostrils on a sharks snout are filled with cells. I hope you now realize how a shark smells.
Sharks have been living on earth for 200,000,000 years before the first dinosaur. It would be a shame if they become extinct. Sharks are very important animals in Earth's habitat. Sharks keep the ocean food chain in balance because it eats its prey so the oceans don't overflow with fish. I hope you this book is fishy.
People go on vacation at beaches where sharks live. 
habitat - natural home for an animal or plant
prey - an animal's food that it naturally eats
extinct - when an animal dies out 
Works Cited:
Holmes, Kevin. Shark. Mankato, Minnesota, Bridgetone Books, 1998. Print
Sean's work also includes drawings (even from the movie Finding Nemo) and descriptions of their huge jaws. What I loved most about his work, however, is the reflective letter (BEST PRACTICE) that Sean wrote his teacher, describing the writing processes he used in his report.
Dear Ms. Nugent,
Sean (impersonating a shark?) in a hot tub.
I taught readers information about sharks. I hooked my reader. I wrote an ending that drew conclusions. I grouped my information into parts. I put punctuation at the end of every sentence.
I'm working on using expert words to teach readers a lot about the subject. I'm also working on writing in ways that helped readers read with expression.
In the materials, too, was self-evaluation (via a rubric) and peer feedback on post-it notes, including Mrs. Feulner's comment, "You did an excellent job elaborating on your facts and made you information very clear! I loved your connections to fractions! Bravo!"

Yes, I was late getting to Sean's excellent work, but now I see why his teachers and parents were so proud. Next year I will be working with elementary schools in Trumbull and I hope to find a way to celebrate this piece of writing as what is possible in 3rd grade.

Congratulations, Sean! You need to be sure to thank your teachers and principal for encouraging writing instruction in the classroom

You Gotta Write! A'ight?


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Another Man's Best Friend and A Day of Hiking and Even a Two Miler - #WalkMyWorld #Recovered #Joy

Pam and Patrick got May a few months back and somehow managed to find a way of fostering Jake, an identical twin to May and new resident of Monroe, Connecticut.

I began my day saying, "Okay, it's been six weeks," which it has, and I started the morning by hitting the trails for a two-mile run - the first romp since Henry the Hernia and February. Actually, it's the first run since the one that put me over the edge.

At night, I drove up to Monroe to meet the new pooch and to take him for a three-mile walk on the bug-infested, coyote-lined trails that surround a lake eleven miles from my home.

Jake is an attention-grabber. "Me," the dog says, "I'm important, too. What about me. I said Me. Me. Me. Me. Love me. You know you want me in your lap and to dig your nails into my ears so you can see me grimace."

He really is a fantastic dog, and once his barking subsides, he's a total cuddle and human-enthusiast. Definitely a canine that doesn't like to share the room with anyone else. "I'm here, too," he lets you know. "Let me lick your face, bite your shorts, and nudge you in the leg. I have my needs, too."

I managed to get some plants into Mt. Pleasant, as well, so I guess I can say I am entering the weekend with a sense of being ALIVE again. I'm not 100% recovered, but I have pep in my step, like Jake, all over again and that feels wonderful.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Mr. Bargain Man Lands a New Sport Coat For $6 and Debuts It At The GSEAP Awards Ceremony. Give Me Another Coupon

My mom will say I look like a nerd. Erica will say the jacket is four sizes too big. I will say that I am aiming for the look of a Kentucky Derby Dork. In the end, I think I win.

No. The bowtie does not match, but I didn't have anything close. I did, however, pick up this sport coat on a clearance rack at the end of last season and although it was marked at $195, I got it for $6 bucks. That's the way I roll. My shamrocks socks, I will admit, did not match.

We have entered award ceremonies at Fairfield University and I haven't done laundry in a month. Packing to leave this morning before dropping Attallah off at work, I remembered my bargain jacket and said to myself, "Well, this will work. I've wanted to wear this for a year...even if it is a little big."

and I wore it. I lost the hat and shades, but I was definitely ready to see Brynn Mandell receive the award for Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation. A Syracuse Grad, Brynn came to teaching from years as a journalist and is one of the most remarkable graduate students I've yet to work with.

I do feel, however, I am in need of a mint Julep and a Barnstable party. Another weekend of celebrations and then we can say that the 2014-2015 school year is over. I have to sigh a bit, though, because my first crew of freshmen at Fairfield University are crossing the stage this year. I am very much looking forward to seeing their proud moment.

They've worked hard (as have we all).

Thursday, May 14, 2015

And So Chitunga's Goddess Mother, The Diva Herself, Learns When On The Pond, Do As the Frog Does. #WalkMyWorld

Attallah and I ran errands last night, which included a visit to Costco to see if I could, indeed, get into their liquor store without being a member. Yup. Success. "No, I don't have my membership card because my kid at home has it."


It worked (wipe sweat from brow) and I exited with a $17 bottle of whiskey that is delicious.

Of course, on the way in I had to share with Attallah my neuroticism of bringing stray grocery carts back to the front of the store. I've written about this before, but it is true - I think it is immoral and wrong for customers to take their goods, load them in their car, and simply leave their cart at the side. Those carts scratch cars. They dent cars. They make acne face teenagers have to stand in frigid temperatures and rain to retrieve them. I don't get on my moral high horse too often, but when it comes to lazy customers leaving carts at Krogers, Wegmans, Big Y, Price Chopper, Shop Right, Stop and Shop, etc. I get irate.

And the Diva joined me on my rant. "Before we scam Costco, I need to tell you about my fetish for doing the right thing with shopping carts."

Then Attallah helped me bring some to the front of the store. We got my whiskey and proceeded to go to Michaels so I could swap an old picture frame for a new. Then I made Hoffman hotdogs and watched this video over and over again.

I am glad I'm not the only one. I need to start dressing differently when I shop.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Because Yellow Really Knows Me, Stripe Welcomes More Toys To His Home @_silvergal

I'm not there yet, but I'm almost there.

Cleaning, that is. Chasing the dust bunnies from the semester. Putting away a month or two of laundry. Thinking about my lawn.

When I surveyed my house last night, I snapped this photograph of my housewarming gift from Yellow, herself. Kathy Silver has quickly become VIP in my Connecticut world and, with Hopes For the Flowers, we find energy in similar nectar. Namely, we look for optimism in students, in their stories, within communities that too often get overlooked, and from the small things in life.

If you look close enough, you can see that Ooga, the caveman, is hunting Wallop, the Gorgon Beast Kathy positioned the toys perfectly in the cactus plants she brought me (and didn't even know I have a vast toy collection myself). Does she know me or does she know me?

I haven't had a chance to officially thank her for this special gift and so I thought I'd take this morning to do so. Those of us who work in public schools know the importance of nurturing one another's souls - the work is always difficult, but it is made easier with critical friendships, positive energy, a person to kvetch with, and dreamers - this is who she has been for me in my small, small world.
She's been the huge presence of everything Yellow and I am very thankful for this.

And with that, I wish her and all my readers a fantastic middle of the week. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

And Just Like That It Is Tuesday, and I'm Getting Ready for CWP Summer Mode...But For Now

Well, CNY is leaving southern CT (New Haven) to return to CNY for the rest of the summer. That is, Melissa Piehl is departing for Syracuse and her mother came to get her for the final time after a successful first year.

Hotel Crandall will stay closed until the fall, should Melissa return.

In the meantime, Chitunga and I were treated for a great dinner in Milford by our visiting friends.

Funny, a snap of fingers and suddenly grades are in, a semester is over, I have some flexibility for a random dinner on a Monday night, and I can catch up watching The Last Man On Earth and Empire with out-of-town guests without feeling guilty that there's a million other things to do.

Okay, there are 999,999 things to be done, but for last night I took one evening off and simply relaxed with a few Newcastles and visiting with friends.

Next up, a long day at the university catching up for CWP-Farfield's literacy labs and teacher's institute. But we got this. All I need to do is head to campus and focus.

Ah, but it's hard with such great weather! Yet they're calling for rain and falling temperatures.

Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Hard To Believe It's Been Two Years, Lois. Byron Pigley Krudell Misses You. #WalkMyWorld

It was during this season in 2013, when I had to say goodbye to a dear friend, a colleague, a neighbor, a sister, and so much of the joy I accrued in my first two years in Connecticut. When I took the position at CWP-Fairfield's Director, it came with the assistance of Lois Minto, sister to Pam Kelly and bringer of joy to both of our worlds.

Last week was Pam's birthday and, coupled with Mother's Day, the two of us have been missing the humor, devotion, and all-around happiness of Lois. On Saturday, we went out to honor Pam's birthday (Shirley brought clown noses) and when I drove home, my mind was on the fact that time flies by too fast.

Yesterday, I reread what I wrote for Lois's services, in reflection of her influence on my Christmases, the memorial walk we did for dogs in Stratford (influenced by Lois), the community tree we planted, the ILY story, and her sense of humor that continues to arrive to me at the strangest times.

Whenever I laugh from the stresses life throws at me I am thinking of Lois. But, I am also thinking of Pam, my twin sister separated at birth but six years older, who keeps the humor and wit alive in my life.

In two weeks I will be hosting Writing Our Lives-Digital Ubuntu, a conference for Connecticut youth and I am thinking about two years ago when Lois passed and the Writing Our Lives- Bridgeport event followed. At the time, all I could do was hold my breath to get through it -- it is what Lois would want me to do.

Still, I can't do anything in Stratford without thinking of ice-cream, Paradise Pizza, a walk at Short Beach, or a stroll in my neighborhood (less than a mile from her house) without her crossing my mind. I had get my hand in soil without thinking about her impeccable lawn. I hope Lois has some sort of vodka drink and is surrounded by licks and cuddles of the dogs she advocated for. Most of all, however, I hope she has found serenity and peace, the calm she longed for while holding her world together; everything she did was for love and family.

I miss you, Lois. So much of what I do is because of (and dedicated) to you. Keep an eye on all of us down here. We're waiting for you to send us that winning lottery ticket and/or a boatload of money. That was the deal, wasn't it? You're taking a little longer than we anticipated.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Happy Day of Motherhood, Mimi. Love You to the Moon and Back. Hope Today is Spectacular.

It's Mother's Day!

And I'm thinking of Momma Sue in upstate New York and reflecting on all 43 years she's been the backbone of my life and the foundation for all I've achieved. Yes, I usually joke about growing up in her True-Blue, Wise Potato Chips, Days of Our Lives lifestyle, but she was a woman who kept my sisters and I fed, made sure we had clothes (even Huskies pants from Sears), attended all our school events, made sure we had cakes and cherry cupcakes for birthdays, allowed us to make fun of her toes (Aqua-man is a classic), tried to harmonize with us on the piano, offered patience while teaching us to drive, placed oranges in the toes of our Christmas stockings, allowed us to take dollar bills from her purse for school lunches, and kept us entertained as she walked into walls (thud), spilled food on her shirts, and sipped White Russians at the Clam Bar.

Next month, my mom will be joining me as we go to see Nikki and the Brigadiers perform in Brooklyn with David Byrnes and company. Behind us will be her temper tantrums of slamming cupboards and cussing out Butch, the disaster of my 9th grade snowbank incident, and all her patience and frustration that arrived from raising her only son.

Today is a shout-out, too, to my sister, Cynderballz, who raised both Nikki and Dylan, and to my sister, K. Dot. C. Dot, who is raising Sean Spencer and Jacob Charles. 

Mom's really do rock. They are strength. They are dedication. They are focus. They are emotional support. They are a shoulder to lean on. They are a bowl of ice-cream with chocolate syrup. And they are the epitome of unconditional love. 

I am so thankful for all that my mommy has done for me and I wouldn't be the man I am today without her.

I love you Sudy Rip. I'm sending you wishes of Bridge Mix, an episode of Scandal, a summer of So You Think You Can Dance, and memories of Eugene and Calliope. Here's to you and all that you've done for everyone in our immediate family. You are appreciated.

PS: Henry, the Hernia, is a direct result of our umbilical connection. Having you in CT to help out in my recovery, albeit briefly, was truly appreciated. 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

And Amidst End of the Semester Assessment, I Give A Lesson On How To Lick an Envelope #WalkMyWorld

Last Fall, Chitunga needed to mail a letter and didn't know how. I took him to the post office and realized he was serious. He never addressed an envelope, placed a stamp, or sealed it to be sent.

It was comical to see the care he took in licking the flap, but then this week, while I was on my chair grading, Chitunga brought a friend over to the house so he could teach him what I taught him last year. Vochan, also age 19, never sent a letter and didn't know how to do it (actually, another kid I work with, Glody, called me recently to ask me where one purchases stamps). It seems to be a generational thing.

And I'm recalling how mailing a letter was part of my teaching in Louisville as I required students to compose to get things done: to request a college application, to register a complaint, or to offer a compliment. I bought a book of stamps and handed them to kids with the instruction, "You won't get a grade until you actually get a response."

It is true that this generation of youth are not used to the postal hugs that just a decade ago were much more familiar. Vochan was applying for a summer job and had no clue where he was to write the address for the potential employer or in what corner to place a stamp. The reality is that such skills don't matter until they do and I am reflecting that there may be something wrong with school if we, as educators, don't offer real-life lessons like sending a piece of mail. Yes, email is another genre that requires action (and so is texting), but there comes a time in every man and woman's life when snail mail will be required.

Vochan, like Chitunga, meticulously licked the envelope like it was poisonous or he might cut his tongue. But I have to say he learned something new this week - a lesson that came at the end of his first semester at Southern Connecticut State University. 

Yup. Once a teacher, always a teacher.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Open Mic. Back To Back Classes. Diva & The Frog. In Need Sleep. #WalkMyWorld

Kim Herzog, of Staples High School, invited Attallah Sheppard to be part of a poetry/jazz celebration in Westport, Connecticut. We've taken this show to New Haven and Bridgeport, but have yet to head west towards NYC. Well, today, we traveled 13 miles west and it took us 90 minutes to get there. Ah, Connecticut traffic.

It's amazing to me to think that a poetry workshop I began in Louisville, Kentucky, has evolved to what it is today (especially with Attallah's memorized poetic talents to accompany me). Each and every time we present we get better at syncopating and building off one another. We now have a fluid performance and the kids don't stand a chance - they all leave with a poetic seed they're excited to work on more.

I laughed as we were leaving, though. "Yo, Frog. You think they would mind if I took one of these posters on my way out?" (they decorated the school with them). "Um, take it. They won't notice," I reply (as a librarian comes out and asks, "Hey. You can't take that down. Oh, wait. That's you on the poster, isn't it?"

We finished the day with a  BBQ at my place (but only after she had another performance in Bridgeport). I graded (just get it over with Crandall. It's awful and you know it), but enjoyed the company in my home all week.

I've forgotten what it is like to teach 5 classes in a row without a break (and we also hosted three slams during the 3 lunch periods with the Jazz band).

I am officially cooked. And it's Friday. Guess where I'll be? Yup, grading. 

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Heroes Are Born Out of Actions That Speak Louder Than Words, Civility Comes From Standing For Equity and Fairness

This post will be short, because it is the end of the semester, and I have so much to say, but so little time to say it. Like colleagues across the nation who have put in 14 hour work days with research, teaching, and service, it is the time of the year for total exhaustion. For those of us who are also in negotiations with administrators to compromise on memos of understanding and a foundation for an upcoming school year, it is also a time of tension, frustration, and the ongoing dialogue of doing what is right for workers.

In this exhaustion, I'm recognizing the power and strength of Irene Mulvey who has mentored me this entire semester as the chair of the Faculty Salary Committee. Her intelligence, institutional history, advocacy for faculty, and outright commitment to her colleagues are truly outstanding.

Yesterday, at a faculty meeting, we had the privilege of giving her a standing ovation to thank her for her leadership and to remind administration that we, as faculty, matter, too. She has been recognized by our Fairfield community as a remarkable woman and viewed by other members of AAUP across the nation as a devoted fighter for the rights of workers and employees who do the labor that too often gets unrecognized. In short, she stands for the work that we do and I am truly thankful for having time with her this year at the helm of service I've done at Fairfield University.

When I arrived several years ago, I watched Irene Mulvey give annual reports and was amazed by her perseverance and patience while working out fair plans with those who control purse strings at our institutions and who fail to act efficiently. It is humorous to me that this year I've worked side-by-side with Dr. Mulvey and witnessed how truly phenomenal she really is. There are no red carpets or ticker tape parades for many who live an impassioned life, but she deserves both.

Today, our faculty had the opportunity to applaud her and I know my clapping came from the core of my being. Irene Mulvey has paved the way for the rest of us to fight on as we do.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

One Week and One Day Before I Might Be Able to Run Again (Maybe)...In the Meantime, I'm Walking (#WalkMyWorld)

Shhhh. I looked at the piles to be graded (okay, a carload of portfolios to be graded) and I went into panic mode. Normally this means I go into a 10K run mode, but I'm just this week moving at a semi-walking clip. When I returned from class, Chitunga was lying on the couch watching t.v. (which he never does) and when I asked him what he was doing he said, "Procrastinating."

His finals are next week.

I told him, "Well, I need to go for a walk to clear my mind. You're welcome to join me."

He passed and noted, "I don't feel like talking."

So I left, I got about three blocks when I turned around to see no other but Chitunga. "I tried calling you to wait, but you didn't pick up the phone."

I responded, "Sometimes when I walk, I simply go to clear my brain. No music. No technology. Just the world as it is."

And so we walked for about 45-minutes...the furthest romp I've had since early February. I can tell from the pinching that I'm still not ready to run and, to be honest, I'm not sure I will be ready next week either.

But I am seeing hope in the fact that today I went further than I've gone in a while and that Chitunga chose to join me to clear his mind. It really is healthy simply to move and get fresh air. In fact, it is what I live for.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Celebrating Teachers and What They Do, Everyday, But Especially Today. Congratulations, Dr. Wendy Kohli.

Dr. Wendy Kohli, Professor
Last night, I hosted Fairfield University's Celebration of Teaching for student teachers, cooperating teachers, and supervisors. Recognizing a career in education as a profession, events like ours are extremely important. Too often teachers are blamed, shunned, and misrepresented in the public vernacular in totally incorrect ways. Teachers are knowledgeable, they are hard working, they labor intensely, and they are rarely applauded.

Dr. Wendy Kohli, a well-published philosopher of education and colleague in Educational Studies and Teacher Preparation at Fairfield University, was invited to welcome guests at our event and to share wisdom from 30 years of working with K-12 education and higher education. This spring, she will also be retiring, so the words she shared with our audience were extremely welcome and needed.

Without a doubt, she was the sage given the stage to provide insight and inspiration for the soon-to-be-graduates of our program. In 1956, Maxine Greene, Dr. Kohli's mentor, friend, and collaborator, penned,
We also have our social imagination: the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society, on the streets where we live, on our schools. As I write of social imagination, I am reminded of Jean-Paul Sartre’s declaration that “it is on the day that we can conceive of a different state of affairs that a new light falls on our troubles and our suffering and that we decide that these are unbearable” (1956, pp. 434-435) (p. 5).
The social imagination is what Dr. Wendy Kohli has provided her students for three decades and what she has instilled in me over the last four years. Dr. Kohli is a visionary, an activist with the intent to address the social ills of a 'deficient society,' and a dreamer. It has been a pleasure to dream with her at Fairfield.

I cannot think of a better person than Dr. Wendy Kohli to bring insight to educators at this time in educational history. In my remarks, I discussed the importance for professionals to stand their ground, to take action, and to talk back to the mythology being created for them by the media, policy makers, and so-called reformers. Teachers are truly amazing and on this day, The National Day for Celebrating Teachers, we need to remind ourselves of the incredible work we do. Hearing Dr. Kohli's remarks, however, I feel it is important to applaud all she has given to our campus and the field of educational research.

The 2014-2015 Hamden Teacher of the Year, Mary Nelson, articulated it, as well - the impact teachers make in the lives of students sometimes get unnoticed, but the students in our classroom are paying attention. Building relationships with them: through hard work, creativity, modeling, and encouragement, is the most important labor we do.

Monday, May 4, 2015

She Referred To Me As The $#%#$% From the University. She Harassed Me and Cussed Me Out. And I Loved Her For It

Over the last two years while doing work at Hill Central K-8 in New Haven, Connecticut, I had the opportunity to work with stellar faculty and staff. Every second in the building was family time, as their tight-knit building was focused on achievement. Excellence for their students dripped from every room,  --- including the library where Charisse Townsend worked as an assistant.

The first time I met her shee greeted me with, "Who the #$@% are you and why are you in my library?"

It was an instant bond. Her sarcasm was brilliant.

Over the two years, I sought Charisse out to "make my day" with a snide remark and/or malicious insults. She was distinguished at them, but always followed them with sincere interest in why I was in "her school" and what I was "able to do for her kids." She was  an investigative reporter, wanting to piece together more answers for the universe and we bonded. On days I visited the school, I woke up with a smile knowing it was going to be a Charisse day.

Sadly, earlier this year I learned Charisse was sick and then, last night, news came that she had passed. Hearing this was worse than any slam she ever spat at me. It is a terrible loss.

And this morning I am feeling for the Hill Central family and sending positive energy towards New Haven. I am also imagining the line at the pearly gates right now with everything Charisse is saying to those in line to meet the Great Whatever. "What the @$#$ is with this #@$%@# line? Seriously. Whose this #$@# guy think he is? I wonder if they have chocolate we can eat while we're waiting. They'd better have a $%#@% gift bag."

And I also know there will be thunderstorms this summer and, when they are harsh and refreshing (wonderfully refreshing), I will instantly think of my friend who has passed. She had an energy about her that will never be replaced. Rest in peace, Charisse. I will miss you.