Friday, July 31, 2015

Another Year of @cwpfairfield Bliss @FairfieldU. A Poetic Reflection with Teachers. @writingproject

For Us, Summer 2015: LEAPing Towards What's Possible
My Annual End of the Invitational Summer Institute Reflective Poem, an Acrostic

U s. I am me

b ecause of us, this cohort of
u niversal knowledge built from trust and
n estled amongst cattails. We are artists who
t each and trust new generations to leap and thrust,
u nder the sun and moon. We

M ake magic when we find our song
a nd learn to hum a tune whether right or wrong,
t eaching one another to remain strong,
t o nurture a music from living, to belong,
e ach of us better in a sing-a-long, and
r eflecting on practice and purpose where our
s olos create a cacophony of existence.

F irst, we need a model, a way to yodel
r eal loud about what a composer does,
a nd then we need another…a sister or brother… to
n estle next to the first where, as a teacher, we can burst our
n eophyte scribbler, make them ‘what if’ dibblers, who use
i magination as an explanation of their contemplation in an
e xhhibition and exploration of what has yet to be said.

B oston. Where’s the best place to kill someone in Bean Town?
i mean, after you find your heart at a restart with
t he man you’ll one day marry? Ghosts? An Apparition?
t he tooth fairy? And from there, how do we
m ove forward with dialogue to pace the crime at hand?
a h, the answers simple, really. Teach Story. Take a stand.
n arrate from memory. Dig your toes into the sand. And write.

P laying is writing, and writing is gaming,
a dvancing ahead, reflecting, eggs-plaining, each of
u s, leaping and waltzing from training to
l ive, laugh, and love.

J umping, ducking, running, bouncing,
u ltimate fighting, pouncing, biting,
r eaching, lapping, diving, driving,
a chieving, advising, coaching, striving,
s eeing whatever move we should make next…because
e ventually we improvise, contemplate, and even surmise, no
k ryptonite can make, surprise, Tyrannosaurus Rex have sex on the job.

M any miles are spent thinking, drinking from

o range and blue memories, sinking, in the
l aps that fly by, blinking, from the
l anes of where we once were – a CNY blur -
y anking us back into yesterday with curious for tomorrow.

Z en Masters would tell us to listen to the ideas of others, to borrow
a nswers that glisten along the proverbial paths…to
r emember a net always appears when  willing to take a chance.
o h, this dance,
o h, this dance, the
k aleidoscope prance of endless possibilities:
i deologies, philosophies, epiphanies and symphonies
a ll swirled in simple complexities of complex simplicities, 
n estled in the moments we have. We are all characters.

L eadership is action - the willingness to grow an
i nnovative mind, i find. It’s initiation and
s tanding one’s ground. Speaking truth to power,
a cting kind, and getting into one’s grind to fight for what is right.

K ing says, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent.”
i nstead, we should find the voice to speak about what matters to us,
v ocalize answers important to us, and articulate solutions
e ntrancing to us through the power of communication and art. A
l eader demonstrates the possible, takes on controversial, is seldom
l ackadaisical; instead she’s impeccable and improvisational
i n the linguistical and indistinguishable way she leads with words.

D issolve to: A classroom. 10 educators. Beach Pails.
o.c. / o.s. (panning of I-95 traffic, the Merritt, off camera,
n oise of school bells, horns honking, the chatter of children
n ear their lockers, a teacher hugging them good-bye)
a erial shot. scenes of southern Connecticut. The sound.

S hot. One image. A woman with a pen in her hand
e ntering with notebook. Tattooed & wearing a NYCFC Jersey. She
r eaches table and begins a personal narrative: This Was Yesterday.
p an. Words divorced on page: pictures of sons, a poetic verse.
a ction. Bite her bottom lip. V.O.: From a small seed, a mighty trunk may grow. 

R eally scary, isn’t it? When
y ou wake up every morning,
a dding some caffeine & start exploring the
n ewness that comes with the unknown. Boo!

P oltergeists. Monsters. Ghosts. Ghouls. You.
i deologies, apologies, theories….all of us fools
r ichocheting thoughts from wisdom’s greatest tools, following
r ules we must trust but are also written in dust.
o ut, out brief candle. Life, but a walking shadow. A story. Our only glory.

R ight now, I’m watching Good Will Hunting. The twins are
e ating (she knows something about food and writing) and I’m thinking
b ryan, you need a recipe, the right words (Chitunga), to capture
e veryone – humans make humans more human – in a few stanzas. But then I think,
c rap. fuck. I want to be a character played by Robin Williams…some
c lown, dull, Crandall…worthy of a story he’d sign his talent to…
a nd there’s that Bill guy & Charlie. Am I a wallflower?

D amn. There’s this poetry and the symmetry of a philosophy where
i can be me because of who we are together (birds of a feather)
m ining experience, books, relationships and memories, a purpose.
y ou accept the love you think you deserve.
a h, Will. If I ask you about love you’ll probably quote me a sonnet.
n o. What Will really needs is to hunt for meaning w/ the rest of us.

M y youth was spent searching, rehearsing for the
a dulthood gig while active with the adolescent jig of never
r eally knowing what I was doing, but proving to the
c haos that was always brewing that I always had control.

S oul. Part of the bro-code, you know? The purpose is to grow.

u nusual. this story. where we age there’s supposed to be glory from 
l ove we’ve lived and lives we’ve lost, the games we’ve won, & the
z illion times our expectations were crossed by disappointment.
y ou only got one shot, do not miss your opportunity to blow
c uz this opportunity comes once in a lifetime, yo! Whoa. The
k yclops, Polyphemus, Odysseus. Feeling like a hero when all
i feel is like I’m forever 15. Boulder. Hill. Same ol’ routine.

A nd there was a day in a library where a story began. he and his
b rother with scars. those wars. I went to the Liberian to check out a book…
u nusual look she gave with curiosity. Are you a big brother or something?

B ooks. Those looks make less sense now that I know more. No,
i am not their manager and they’re not in a boy band, either. I’m just here to
l end a hand with this American thing. What? What do they bring? An
nteresting thing. They bring absolutely everything.

t hey help me to sing and to cling to what matters most.
y outh. hope. laughter. And history. Love. Shadow. Ghost.


L aughter. In the end, isn’t it humor that we’re after?
o h, here’s one for you. What’s orange and
s ounds like a parrot? Um. Duh. A carrot.
s o, what kind of teacher passes gas? Oh,
i give up. A Toot-er. Knock knock, Who’s there?
n eedle. Needle who? Needle washcloth to wipe up your drool?
e very Captain Stick ‘em needs a sidekick, Splash, you fool.

B ut strawberry air-freshener is never cool.
i got another for you. What did the alien say to the book?
l a la la la la la la. Ready? Take me to your reader. Here’s an
I mportant one. Knock Knock. Whose There?
turnip. Turnip who? Turnip the volume. This is my favorite song and
y ou, me, him will always sing along, forever 15.

J uly does this to us every year. You. Me. Them.
u s. Scribbling in double-sided notebooks. Purpose.
l iving as writers, writing as believers,
i nvesting in teachers, teachers investing, art of inquiry is
e verlasting despite those policies continually sandblasting our

R esponsibility of keeping best interests in mind.
o nward we fight w/ pen, and sculpt, knowing bureaucratic
n onsense will make us erupt, reminding us to interrupt the
e gos of idiots who stand in our way with everything they
s ay (Yep, it’s doubtful they’ll be on NPR anyway)
o h, man. The cicadas. Little legs rubbing again. I have the
n eed for our summers to never end.

B ecause you were there and you were there and
e very year, they disappear, as soon as they arrive.
c aput inter nubilia condo, my head hidden in clouds
a b actu ad posse valet illatio, I infer the future from here.
u buntu. from now on we must keep one another near,
s earching our doubts with strength and not fear because
e verything evolves at exactly the right time.

W e are the warriors of words,
e valuating our place in the forest like a bird

M aking magic while finding his or her song
a nd learning to hum a tune, whether it’s right or wrong,
t eaching one another to fly and to remain strong,
t o nurture such music, and to belong,
e ach of creatures are better in this sing-a-long,

r eflecting on our practice and purpose together.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

And Because I Was Tyrannosaurus Rex with a Lisp, I'm Ready for the Last Day of a Summer Institute

I wish there was rhyme (well there is) or reason (there is not) for how my mind works.

Today is the last day for the five-week teaching institute on writing and we are culminating with two more demonstrations, another round of student workshops, and a final bout of reflection. In my whacky world of whateverness (Thank You Great Whatever) I always try to find the perfect way to say good bye.

And I think I will do this with a performance...a poem to read while I have an audience of dinosaurs ready to play a game with where we fling bugs at those who bug us where we have decor for our middle where we can sanitize the ugly rhetoric thrown at public school that reminds us that teaching is a treat...and one that keeps us young and playful. That's the goal for the goodbye I've prepared.

As this day arrived I began to think how wonderful it would have been to have an ethnographer to capture all the data that existed within the institute and all the Young Adult Literacy Labs. It's hard to be in charge and a collector of all that is happening -

so much much beautiful work happened...and that is the NWP tradition I love and live for. It is a religion I totally believe in.

But today will be sad. 8 phenomenal educators will get to enjoy the rest of the summer now that I won't be in there way...

And with that, there's nothing else I can say but I have always been a lucky Son of a Butch. A son of a Butch I am.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Year Two of #Literacy4Life, @CWPFairfield Thanks @StagsMensBball For Their Intellectual Support @LeapToLead

Earlier this month, Abu and Lossine Bility worked with Coach Sydney Johnson and me to host a conversation with the Fairfield University Men's Basketball team on the importance of their student-athlete leadership on and off campus and the value for them to give back to the community. Emphasizing Skills4Life as supported by Hoops4Hope, the athletes brainstormed and wrote about the importance of integrity, self-esteem, self-awareness, focus, integrity, responsibility and Ubuntu. They wrote (like those of us at CWP-Fairfield) so they would be better prepared for a special event/collaboration between their team and CWP's young adult literacy labs (It's writing Y'ALL). We seem to sponsor our partnerships on the hottest days of summer!

Even so, the experience was very cool once again. In groups (a little larger than anticipated) students discussed their school goals, their motivations, the teachers who have influenced them, the choices they've made to LEAP towards the future, what it takes to be a great leader, and the importance of education. Each group consisted of:

  • an immigrant or refugee youth attending Ubuntu Academy,
  • an American-born youth participating in Project Citizen, Journalism, or TedX Talks,
  • a teacher attending a summer invitational workshop on writing,
  • a member of the men's basketball team,
  • a participant in Fairfield University's Upward Bound program,
  • a coach, and
  • a graduate student taking a Young Adult Literature course.
This particular task was one of many events this summer asking young people and teachers to think of ways to LEAP together beyond their comfort zone into new experiences where they can celebrate who they are and learn from others who may or may not be like them. The primary purpose was to build community between individuals who, otherwise, would be unlikely to ever meet.

In response, the Men's basketball team made the teachers and non-athletes a little uncomfortable in their boxes by offering several drills in which they participated (everyone is extremely proud of Paul Jurasek, a teacher at St. Martin de Porres, who dunked - even the men's team had their cell phones out to record his achievement!). 

Other highlights were Sydney's LEAP across the gym floor (which surpassed Coach Koncz prediction), several individuals coming into the gym wondering how it was such diverse groups found each other in dialogue, the cheers and support from all the students in the stands, the reflection of teachers and kids when we returned to our own niches, and all the smiles...

all the smiles.

The Literacy4Life collaboration with Hoops4Hope and Fairfield University's Men's Basketball program is a phenomenal example of the philosophy of being strong together. Although an exhausting feat to pull off, it is worth every second. I am extremely awe-struck by the leadership demonstrated by the Men's team (one teacher said, "They were phenomenal communicators. I was impressed by how much they had to offer with what they had to say) and the investment their coaches continue to make for the team. I also appreciated the conversations with the coaches afterwards and what they learned from the kids! The dialogue was definitely a democratic experience.

And with that, I leave you with Coach Sydney Johnson's LEAP of support. His jump says it all!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Power of the Ubuntu Academy Teachers! Literacy Instruction at its Best! Lucky Kids. Lucky Me.

For the 2nd year in a row, I've secured funding from a variety of sources to invest in English language learners in southern Connecticut who have recently arrived and who may or may not have immigrated from refugee camps. This year, the kids are reading Warren St. John's Outcasts United and asking themselves what does community mean to their achievement as new Americans.

Again this year, I've hired graduate students who are completing their TESOL certification and who also teach in Bridgeport. These are teachers who lament the fact that the demands of state curriculum does not allow them to reach the kids in meaningful, purposeful ways. When I offer them a gig of designing their own instruction, they jump at it and report phenomenal gains in a very short time.

These are young people who are unlikely to reach proficiency on state or national examinations for another four or five years, but who are required by law to sit through state testing again and again, even though they gain nothing but frustration from the experience. Testing offers them nothing and the teachers, if you simply asked them for a report, would name the same skills lacking in beginners of the language. What is sad, however, is they can't teach the kids because of testing demands.

Ah, but we've covered this territory before. What I am witnessing on a daily basis is reading, writing, playfulness, laughter, athleticism, life skills, community, and a sense of purpose. The smiles and focus speak for success of the academy.

In addition, the presence of these young people with teachers and in collaboration with other labs is completely phenomenal. It is so wonderful to have the opportunity to paint the students for the assets they bring rather than the deficits placed on them in our assessment culture. For this I am proud.
This is what I believe in.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Not A Bad Day for a Book Sale - Another Year to Celebrate the Pequot Library Carnival For Nerds Like Me

After sending the imps off to Yankee Stadium for a soccer game (well, having them get picked up), and after Chitunga was dropped off at the train station, and after Emily and I met some of our intellectual Sunday goals, we headed out to the Annual Pequot Library Book Sale, where there exists under tents, 1,000s and 1,000s of books for nerds like me.

I did great, however, and only picked up a few items to replenish books I loaned out and never had returned. Emily, too, found a pop-up neuroscience book for kids that she said would be a 3-dimensional way to help her study.

Following, we drove Emily to Bethlehem where she will begin her second week interning with Pilobolus dance company and completing her study on movement.

Ah, but there's another week of CWP-Fairfield Young Adult Literacy Labs and there's a lot on the agenda, including the final week for teachers in the Invitational Summer Institute. I am taking a deep breath and....

I'm breathing. We're getting there.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Whoops! I Actually Just Rolled With A Saturday and Let Whatever Was to Be To Simply Be. Ahhhh

The morning began with a laptop and my bed, but it soon moved to a cleaning frenzy and the arrival of Emily (from Kentucky) who was coming back from Pilobolus. The weather was too gorgeous, however, so when Pam suggested we should walk on Sea Side Park, I couldn't resist - actually, we couldn't resist.

Although we had plenty of other things we probably should have been doing, it was too nice so we decided to rejoin at Short Beach for the Blue Festival, some sand, and the chaos of a large crowd. It was worth every second.

At 8, however, Chitunga texted and wondered what was for dinner, so we headed home, grilled a streak and shrimp, made the Crandall Beans and Rice special, and actually ate outside mosquito free.

The entire day made it seem like I actually was experiencing a summer and that the dog days were made for me, too (although I am thinking new thoughts about grocery shopping, feeding a posse, and what it costs for the simplest of items - ticket prices that I'm not used to investing in. Holy receipts Batman, each and every day).

Ah, but it is worth it. It's been nonstop laughter, smiles, good food, good company and bonding. That's what it is all about.
Today, Tunga works, the twins head to Yankee Stadium for a soccer match (thanks Donna), Emily works on her neuroscience projects from Berea, and I sit down to write (and plan for the week). Monday begins the craziness of a beautiful week.

And look mom - that's your tablecloth that you gave me and said you never use. It looks good with the dish ware you got me for Christmas and all the dishes we cooked on the stove and grill.

If every day could be this beautiful...

Well, I'd get nothing done.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

This Week, We LEAPed with Young Novelists, Graphic Artists, Ubuntu, and Budding Journalists @LEAPTOLEAD

I wake up on Saturday mornings thinking, "Whoa! That was a week." Just when I think we've piqued and the summer programming can't get better, it simply does! This week, the novelists and illustrators had their culminating proms and all in attendance (a full house) were extremely impressed. The kids wrote about alienation, red herrings, running away, adolescence, loneliness, and mountain climbing. They incorporated sports, fantasy, heroines, and teenage angsts. Their protagonists rose above childhood and adventured into territories of adulthood, maturity, and the ways young people see their worlds.

It was fantastic.

Meanwhile, the numbers in Ubuntu Academy keep climbing as word spreads and friend begin tagging along. The twins reported today that working with the kids has been amazing because they appreciate everything they're learning. Next week, the kids have been prepped to fold in with Project Citizen, Journalism, and TedX talks. They've been working gin their writing notebooks and are gaining ground with their ability to speak with American-born peers and teachers (through the excellent teaching of William King and Jessica Baldizon).

32 pizzas were eaten, 15 boxes of Capri Suns quenched thirst, and a room of 75 spectators experience the great writing of Connecticut youth. In addition, CWP-Fairfield hosted Assignments Matter, a day-long workshop for in-practice teachers (to addd to the Invitational Summer Institute). I always say that my fall and spring semester are slow and easy compared to summers. This summer has not defied that honesty - it's the truth. I simply hold my breath and move forward with optimism and spunk.
Hiring wonderful teachers and recruiting kids from school districts all over the region pays off.

Every second is worth it.

Friday, July 24, 2015

For The Love Of Literacy! For the Love Of YA Lit! For the Generosity of @LaurieStolarz! #Thankful

A few weeks ago, author Laurie Stolarz, author of,
  • Blue Is For Nightmares,
  • White is For Magic,
  • Silver is For Secrets,
  • Red is For Remembrance,
  • Black is for Beginnings,
  • Bleed, 
  • Project 17, 
  • Deadly Little Secret, 
  • Deadly Little Lies,
  • Deadly Little Games, 
  • Deadly Little Voices,
  • Deadly Little Lessons, 
  • Welcome to the Dark Horse, and
  • Return To the Dark House,
contacted me to learn more about the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University and to share her willingness to work with several of our young adult writers at CWP's Young Adult Literacy Labs. Yesterday morning (despite a busy schedule) she made time to talk to our 30 novelists and graphic artists about her creative processes, a lifetime of storytelling, and the quest for publications and communications. She was an enormous hit and the students talked about her cyber-visit all day. For those attending our laboratories, the accomplishments of Laurie Stolarz is the goal. Her achievements are many.

What a tremendous honor to have the author with us for a morning kick off and for her to offer inspiration to our young Connecticut writers.

As a result, I've ordered a few of her books for my Fall sabbatical (and to add to our CWP collection) and I have to admit, the Dark House series is the one I want to read towards... (especially because - this is W A Y  C O O L - in the gif of Welcome to the Dark House on her website there are actual horses moving behind the title. How'd they do this?).

So, I post today in appreciation of a new friendship and with hope we'll be able to meet face to face soon. It was a pleasure to bring our National Writing Project site's work before her on the screen.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

In the Spirit of #Ubuntu Academy @FairfieldU - @LeaptoLead and @cwpfairfield, 2015. Woot Woot!

After the teachers spent two hours collaborating on ways to LEAP with their Invitational Summer Institute demonstrations, after young artists began using their new ink tools for their graphic novels, after the adolescent novelists introduced their chapters to our educators, and after I had a 60-minute meeting with my state grant advisors, I walked across campus to catch my breath.

That's when I came across the young immigrant and refugee youth who are on campus for the 2nd year of Ubuntu Academy trying to recreate an image they found online to best explain what Ubuntu means: a human being is a human being because of other human beings. They created a community circle and I was lucky to be there to capture their creativity.

Wh'tsh. A cellphone. Sh'Zaam. Ubuntu.

Young people and teachers bonding together at Fairfield University in a one-of-a-kind lab funded through the collaboration of CWP-Fairfield, the kindness of the Office of Community Engagement, the vision of Bridgeport Public Schools, and the mission of LEAP! For a very low cost, these young people and teachers are getting an opportunity for a lifetime.

Also, when walking by the afternoon lesson, I overheard a young man explaining to the others that Chapter One of Outcasts United by Warren St. John is all about Ubuntu and the importance of working as a community. The word is not in the text, but the kid made a connection through his own analysis and deconstruction of his experience over the first three days.

Wusah! New to our nation of plenty and coming from from a place where the struggles were quite different, an African word finds its way into the interpretation of a text written in Western English.
Some of the students are learning their first words. Others, with more proficiency are helping those having a more difficult time. Abu and Lossine, our special guests throughout all of our programs, are uniting and threading collaboration between all of our labs and the teacher institute.

Dear Great Whatever! Help us to keep this magic alive!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

With Absolute Admiration of @senatorduff - @CWPFairfield Can Be What We Are Because of Who We Are Together (@LEAPToLead

Sometimes I like to think that Senator Bob Duff's advocacy for the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University is something I initiated. Ah, but it most definitely is something that arrived to Connecticut long before I came in 2011. In fact, I alluded to his support in an April Op-Ed piece published by the CT Mirror: Governor, Let's Invest In, Not Harm, an Education Project That Works. I quoted Senator Duff's thoughts on CWP-Fairfield from 2005 when he wrote, the program  “works not only for closing the large and unacceptable gap between urban/minority students and those who come from more affluent circumstances; it also supports our teachers and improves writing across all school districts.”

Yesterday, Senator Duff returned to Fairfield University to once again meet with teachers attending the summer invitational (yes, during their "summer vacation") and to listen to their thoughts about literacy instruction in Connecticut. He also welcomed young journalists from our Stop The Presses! lab and other leaders from the University. 

This year, too, I was able to highlight with him CWP-Fairfield's work with LEAP and a partnership with Lauren Callahan's vision for innovative, out-of-the-box programing to bring people together. This year, CWP-Fairfield is using her leadership model to think about ways to go beyond our classroom walls, locally and globally. It's been a wonderful confluence for summer programming, especially in how teachers interact with the Young Adult Literacy Labs and youth in the Labs interact with each other.

It is Ubuntu for us all.

I'm happy to say that Senator Bob Duff's advocacy helped CWP-Fairfield to stay in the CT budget for 2015-2016. As I work with over 150 young people on our campus, the new teachers attending our institute, and the CWP fellows who lead our labs, I can't help but think that we're on to something very special. In the words of a parent from last week's programming, "I wish my daughter could have this experience year-round in her school. Her participation has made her passionate about learning and writing again."

And with that, I send a round of finger snaps and applause for all Bob Duff has done for our work at Fairfield University. His fight for us helps us to fight for the yearlong programming we provide!