Saturday, May 31, 2014

Has 7 Days Really Gone By? Am I Really Leaving for a Week to Louisiana? And So It Goes...So It Goes...

I am convinced that this dynamic duo are nothing but good luck. They are horseshoes and rabbit's feet, four-leaf clovers, and golden dice. When they arrive, the magic simply happens. It's like opportunities announce themselves everywhere - year two, and the adventure continues. We have eaten well, played well, visited well, traveled well, and experienced the world well.

But, well, the departure day has come.

Last night, 7 days culminated with an event in Bridgeport that was co-sponsored by CWP-Fairfield, the National Writing Project, and Bassick High School - a student writing/photography publication hosted out of Kathy Silver's 'Team Silver' classroom. Her room is a miraculous generator of making meaning of the world.

Yet, now the bags are packed...I'm heading to Baton Rouge and they return to Rochester for summer work. We broke bread one more time last night (with chicken, sweet peppers, corn on the cob, etc) and set forth a game plan to transition to what comes next - today.

The silence they leave behind will be an ultimate sadness, but the likelihood of another return is very high. It's been six years since Local Literacies, Global Histories and when Mike Isgar and I took them to a lacrosse game at Syracuse University.

The world has definitely changed since then...for the better.

Safe travels to the imps of Syracuse: #DSL #DOILF #OPV #Continue #Colorado #Aliens #TABB and all that other jazz. It's time for them to return #Oopstate to Brockport.  #Hasa Diga Eebowai.

It's integrity in the end and determination. These two have both.

And we're off in different directions.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Great Whatever Works In Mysterious Ways: Twins, Friends, and Nikki Giovanni in Harlem. What an Experience!

When Kwame Alexander invited Abu, Lossine, and I to his event with Nikki Giovanni, I couldn't believe I was going to have the opportunity to meet the poetry Goddess in person. Since teaching in Louisville, I've known her power and taught her voice to students. Last night I got to hear her voice and to be at a dinner with her following the occasion.

Having a photo taken with her is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and being provided the chance to be with a legend was something I never imagined for myself.

This was from the book signing after the event and before the dinner. She read her poem, "Ego Tripping - There May Be A Reason Why."

I was born in the congo
I walked to the fertile crescent and built
   the sphinx
I designed a pyramid so tough that a star
   that only glows every one hundred years falls
   into the center giving divine perfect light
I am bad

I sat on the throne
   drinking nectar with allah
I got hot and sent an ice age to europe
   to cool my thirst
My oldest daughter is nefertiti
   the tears from my birth pains
   created the nile
I am a beautiful woman

I gazed on the forest and burned
   out the sahara desert
   with a packet of goat's meat
   and a change of clothes
I crossed it in two hours
I am a gazelle so swift
   so swift you can't catch me

   For a birthday present when he was three
I gave my son hannibal an elephant
   He gave me rome for mother's day
My strength flows ever on

My son noah built new/ark and
I stood proudly at the helm
   as we sailed on a soft summer day
I turned myself into myself and was
   men intone my loving name
   All praises All praises
I am the one who would save

I sowed diamonds in my back yard
My bowels deliver uranium
   the filings from my fingernails are
   semi-precious jewels
   On a trip north
I caught a cold and blew
My nose giving oil to the arab world
I am so hip even my errors are correct
I sailed west to reach east and had to round off
   the earth as I went
   The hair from my head thinned and gold was laid
   across three continents

I am so perfect so divine so ethereal so surreal
I cannot be comprehended except by my permission

I mean...I...can fly
   like a bird in the sky... 

Last evening will go down in my repertoire of life as truly miraculous. Although a late evening - and we're all exhausted - I will process this experience for many years to come.

I am so thankful that the Great Whatever introduced me to Kwame Alexander (via Rhiannon Berry) and, in return, he introduced me (and the twins from Syracuse, New York) to this icon. Wow. Amazing in all sorts of ways.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Scene From Last Night - A Game Show To Celebrate A More PermanentPosition at Fairfield University

As the marathon week continues, I was invited to my chair's home, Dr. Emily Smith, for an evening of celebrating the arrival of Dr. Ryan Colwell and my decision to sign up for a more permanent position in southern Connecticut. The boys played basketball with her boy, Christian, and then we had dinner.

To follow, Emily pulled everyone into a room and had Ryan and I sit on two chairs. She had all the guests send two pieces of trivia (weird and unknown) that others wouldn't know. Then, she read the statements of each guest and Ryan and I had to guess which trivia belonged to whom. If we guessed it straight out, it was 3 points. If we had to phone someone in the room for help it was 2 points. If we had to resort to multiple choice it was only 1 point.

Well, I won. I also learned that I have a colleague who walked across the prom floor with her dress stuck in her underwear and toilet paper attached to her heals. A few attended Jimi Hendrix concerts, and another has her motorcycle license. I guessed a majority the first time, but Guessed Abu when it should have been Lossine. Chelsea. Soccer. I messed that up. Lossine will also be getting a watch next Christmas, and we already knew that Abu was from Mars.

It was a great evening that made me feel wonderful about where I am and the colleagues I have on my side. Good food, good company, good friendship, and a great game. We laughed hysterically and learned a lot about one another. It was a very clever soirée that kept us all entertained.

Now, we're off to NYC for the Kwame Alexander event in Harlem. Of course, I just learned Metro North isn't running in Norwalk because of a fauly bridge. Ugh.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Message from my Television Set for Abu and Lossine Bility - I am thankful you arrived again in 2014 so I could work.

Dear Abu and Lossine,

Family Guy. ESPN. Soccer. NBA basketball. Lil Wayne. Tosh-O. The Big Bang Theory. They all wish to thank you.

And so do I...for giving me exercise again and teaching Bryan that there are more channels than than just the first three: NBC, CBS, and ABC. There's more that I can do besides the morning news. It's nice to know that there are programs  beyond the 7:00 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. timeframe each day and that my volume can be set loud enough that I can stretch my lungs above a whisper (he keeps me really quiet when Weijing is sleeping in the morning and that is the only time he usually turns me on).

And thank you for making the living room an actual living space with technology, sunglasses, eye glasses, M&Ms, peanut shells, books, cell phones, socks, sneakers, flip flops, plates, laundry, water bottles, and other evidence that someone in the house is actually alive. The clown you're here to visit only has books and papers lying around. It gets rather dull.

Oh, but you might want to grab air freshener from the bathroom when Lossine goes on his gaseous rampages. That boy can stank worse than Baby used to do.

Finally, I just want to let you know that I appreciate the ways you yell at me. It's good to know that someone is capable at getting upset by what I'm showing you: cartoons, sports, music, and commercials really inspire you to shout, react, scream, and joke. Bryan doesn't pay much attention to me except for during the basketball season when Syracuse and Louisville is playing.

Trust me, I know. I look at the couch and chair 365 days a year and it is a dull site. When you arrive, though, everything changes and it is all for the better.


Bryan's Vizio Television.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Memorializing Memorial Day at the Beach and then calling it a day before heading into Monday, Today.

And my forever 14 continues with the Liberian twins on deck in Connecticut. The temperature was a bit to seasonal not to take advantage of a day at Short Beach in Stratford.

We packed a six pack of water and headed to the shoreline for three hours of beach volleyball before making another evening of corn hole of it in Monroe. I managed to get a 5K run in during the morning before everyone got up and then we set to the sand to get seashells wedged in our knees and shins.

Later in the evening, I got African schooling of how to eat a coconut with only a slight knife cut and a lot of ingenuity.

On deck today? A breakfast in Black Rock then I'm putting the clowns to work by organizing CWP's storage room for the summer. I think Ellen will be impressed by the work ethic and ingenuity of these two.

I didn't realize it at the time, but Abu and Lossine later showed it to me - each of them were captured in the lens of the green glasses - a twin for each frame keeping me directed on what it is I'm trying to do with my work in Stratford and what still needs to be written.

The good news of a beach day is sunshine and a bit of tan to kick off the summer. Given the fact that I rarely got into daylight last year, I guess I can say I'm way ahead of schedule. As the boys would say, OPV remained moist in southern Connecticut.

Abu sucks at Bocce ball, too. Alright. I admit it. The kid has sniper accuracy and it sucks that he kicks butt each and every time.

Monday, May 26, 2014

I'm 42 years old but I played volleyball, Wiffleball, Corn Hole and Spud for 7 hours yesterday. I will regret this.

The fun part of Pammy's 50th birthday is the sons, daughters, nieces, and nephews are all in their 20s and they come with truckloads of games, including Polish horse shoes - a game with a two tall poles, beer bottles, and a frisbee. The goal is to knock down the bottle with the frisbee, but for the defensive team to catch the flying bottle when it gets knocked down AND the frisbee. Dangerous, Polish. Dumb Fun. But Derrick and I were champions. No one could beat us - I guess I get that from my mother.

Then Marlee got the idea that we should play Spud with cutthroat rules and this became a dangerous ending to the evening.

And I never got around to eating. I made the famous birthday cake for Pam and Janine, but the guests devoured it.

The other highlight of yesterday was the New Haven Flea Market. It's a definite must see for anyone who visits me in Connecticut - sort of NYC's Chinatown, but much closer. Everything you could possibly want for dirt cheap was at the market: it was State Fair tacky and then some - a different experience for my Connecticut life of technology, writing, grading, books, and meetings.

Today is Memorial Day and nothing is on the agenda except to wake up and perhaps get shoes and maybe sport jackets for Thursday's event. It was a play day and I played hard. i will regret it all when I can't move tomorrow.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Guess Whose Back? Back Again? The Imps Return to Connecticut, RoundThree - Continue...

Day one. Check. Arrived at 6 p.m. and instantly stocked up on groceries. Came home and grilled out, and had the Diva over for dinner.

Of course, the Diva had a performance early for Artsy Girls Global, with visionary Alisha Smith, but she was stoked by the arrival, too.

And I had an excuse to clean the house and organize the home front. A good excuse to do spring cleaning when I can.

Next up, Pam's 50th birthday bash, then Memorial Day.

He had her with the glass of wine and the flowers, but then she saw his shoes.

Epic fail, Liberian style (or Abu style), but she still "thinks he's cute." Pimp man extraordinaire 2014 who is stepping up his game in Stratford, Connecticut

It's finally stopped raining, the refrigerator is stocked, and I'm up to make my Kentucky cake. We're off to a flea market and the Kelly front in Monroe - partying with the birthday girl.


Saturday, May 24, 2014

Quirky, Driven, Collected, Well-Meaning and Overbooked: Anything to Make Me Laugh as the Intensity Begins

After a suit and jacket kind of morning - always campaigning for financial support to conduct strong literacy programs - I hunkered in my office for a day of planning and writing. My goal was to feel accomplished so I could do a farewell dinner for Anisa Libuya to celebrate his graduation and to wish him the best before he returns to Zambia on Sunday.

While writing, however, I knew I needed to find an article that I discussed while presenting at the USN conference in Chicago. I found my bag in my office which was unpacked from the Illinois trip and pillaged through the materials. Lo and behold, I found more than the article I was looking for. Packed in my conference materials were two pairs of underwear that I never did find while I was at the National Writing Project meeting. It was a humorous (bonus) kind of afternoon that made me stop and think - but I also laughed.

Alice and I always said that we act unconventionally because if we tried to put on an air of professionality and authority, our whacky inner self would sure find its way out where we least intended it. This proved itself in the 'business' materials I unraveled from my April trip. I'm so glad I didn't make this discovery while at a convention or in a room full of teachers (it's much more fun to air my 'dirty laundry' in cyberspace!).

Seriously, the next week is a mental challenge to get on top of the Louisiana week to come while attending several fortunate events in southern Connecticut and NYC. POW! Writing Our Lives! and Literacy!

It all goes hand and hand in the odd world that has always been my life. I'd have it no other way.

Friday, May 23, 2014

It Must Be May Because I am Thinking of Brown School, Harold and Maude, and Alice

Alice sent me this yesterday to let me know the Brown School junior year tradition of HAROLD & MAUDE continues. She filmed this for me today and when I received it, all the emotions came back. It was our theme move for several years together and, silly me, I chose to announce my departure at the end of the film in 2007 to the class of 2008. I suck. It sucked. But this movie doesn't suck. It's a motto for life.

Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by.
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there.
Just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead.
And don't be shy, just let your feeling roll on by.

On by, on by, on by, on by, on by, on by, on by, on by.

You know love is better than a song.
Love is where all of us belong.
So don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by.
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there.

You're there, you're there, you're there, you're there, 

Don't be shy, just let your feelings roll on by.
Don't wear fear or nobody will know you're there.
Just life you head, and let your feelings out instead.
And don't be shy, just let your feeling roll on by.

On by, on by, on by, on by, on by, on by, on by.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The moment when you find a poem etched in 2002 and know it was painted across your school

In 2002, Jessica Stauble turned a room in our school - the tea room - into a space to showcase student art and creativity. The room at the Brown School was often used by district officials to host meetings, mini-conferences, and celebrations. It was also a location to showcase student work. Jessica asked me to write a poem for the room and painted the words along all four walls - language that created a border for the artwork that hung on all four walls (and changed with each incoming class of high school students). I came across the poem last night and post it this morning to say hello - where did the last 12 years go?
2002 - tea room

tea room poem for j.s. 

we, learners, sojourners
of sunsets and dreams,
in a countryside city,
sing, and feel no pity from books,
brains and how the everyday
explains our love of poetry and
laughter from Martha Ellison’s Song.

We, believers, stand strong
in comfy jeans and well-worn sweats,
singing how we belong to diversity,
and dancing to the complexity of being different.

In the clouds, both rainbows and raindrops are born into a hammock of
tattooed colors --
a sun brings us
the comfort of pillows,
a moon reminds us to walk barefoot in wet grass.

From class to class, a human pyramid
of students and teachers share
deep breaths and laughter,
and grow from memories of love and respect.

Everything swirled, whirled and twirled
makes Brown...
and it is the sound of our music,
a first and muhammed ali
cacophony of

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

SBAC Vignettes - Ethnographic Slices from a Day of Testing in Connecticut Schools 2014

It's May.

Graduation was Sunday, so I scheduled this week to be in schools. I am greeted in a parking lot by a teacher I've worked with all year. "Why are you here?  Everything is crazy here. We're still testing."

Nothing is working and the kids have had it. The teachers are calling in sick. The kids are not themselves. They've had it, too. We have endured so much the last few years, but this year is extreme. It's dysfunctional.

(EF: I love this school. I love these teachers. I love these kids. What is going on?)

"I fuc#$#@ can't stand her, Ms. I'm going to kill her," says the middle school student to her administrator. "I've had it with all her #$@#."

"Calm down. I'm sure we can settle this. Did you have breakfast this morning?"

"#$@$@ no."

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America
And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God,
indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Yo prometo lealtad a la bandera de los estados Unidos de America,
 y a la Republica que representa, una Nacion bajo Dios, entera,
 con libertad y justicia para todos.

I'm glad you're here, Bryan. The teachers will be excited to see you. 

(EF: I was to meet them in the library but only 2 of 52 showed). 

There might be a slight glitch, though. The teachers are not their usual selves. Everything that gets them excited about teaching has been destroyed . About 3 months. We've lost about 3 months of instruction due to these tests. There are so many glitches in them but we're trying to remain positive. Everyone is telling us, "They're here to stay. This is the way we do school now - we're preparing our kids for the 21st century." My husband and I have discussed opting our son and daughter out, but we decided it's best to support teachers at other schools. Tests are a part of life, but this has been outrageous. We want our kids to be strong - to be a part of something larger. We're not sure, though, if this is what we want them a part of. 

Ms., Ms., Ms., Ms., 
The computer logged me out again. 
Ms. I just lost everything I wrote for the last 30-minutes. 
Ms. This is the 3rd time, I've had it. 
Ms. I'm not doing it again. This is all we do now. 
Ms. I'm trying. 
Ms. I'm really trying. I know you're trying, too, Ms. 
Can't you write a letter? 
Seriously, Ms. I'm about to have a nervous breakdown, Ms.

(proctor in room walks over to the failed computer and types)

 To Whom This May Concern: This student has worked diligently for the last two weeks. She is a good student. She continues to get logged out of the program. This is not fair. This is not a measurement of this student. She is amazing. This is a systemic problem. I might lose my job for typing this, but this is the truth. The kids are aggravated. They're tired. They want to learn. They come to school to learn. They are being bullied by this system. We are being bullied by this system).

"How's it going?" I ask a principal I've worked with for two years. 

I admire him. He is dedicated to his school and every time I visit, I leave with tremendous optimism about education and what is possible. 

The principal smiles with gritted teeth and says through his clenched face with sarcasm, "Can you tell how it's going? This is the greatest thing that has ever happened to education. I am the happiest man alive." 

He maintains the grin as if I am wearing a surveillance camera on my forehead and have been sent as a spy to his school. "25 years in the profession. I'm used to this frantic time of the year.  How am I doing? Look at the kids. Look at the teachers. Look at my smile. (OC: it's usually a beautiful smile full of hope and positive energy). I'm trying to keep this ship going. The captain will go down with his ship. It's sinking and I don't know how to stop this from happening. None of us do."


Banner given to me as a gift in 1998: My child is so much more than a test score. 

I hung it proudly in my Kentucky classroom. 

Kids asked me why I had it in room 301 and I said, "It was a gift from a parent to remind me that she wanted more from my classes than just a test result."

(OC: stopping to see the ESL teacher). They come to me asking, "When can we learn again? Why are they doing this to us? We've never seen half of this stuff in our lives." I tell them, "Shh. This is a trial year." 

There's sure to be a few glitches, right?  Our English language learners are staring at the screens in complete fear. They need vocabulary instruction. They need guidance. They need to learn how to type. Many of them have had very little experience with keyboards and screens. Some don't read in any language. Some arrived to our school a few weeks ago. If a politician came an interviewed us, any of us, we could tell them how the students are doing and what we want to do to make them better. Instead, the tests measure what we already know. The truth is we need more instructional time, more support, more teachers, and better environments. Instead, this machination has been delivered upon us. It's like a science fiction film, but it is not an American film. This does not have a happy ending.

I will stop here at 9 vignettes. 6 hours in three Connecticut schools where I stopped by to meet with administrators, teachers and students. As I wandered from room to room, lab to lab, library to library, I began to take notes. 

I like to think that 9 is a gestation # for giving birth. So this will be my last stanza.

This is my perspective. As a human being, my subjectivities influence the views I have of the world. I arrive to schools as a student, an urban educator, a director of a National Writing Project site, a White, Western educated male, and a lifelong learner. I returned to my office to type my notes. The computers in the schools were off limits to everyone: teachers and students, UNLESS they were  used for SBAC testing. 

I was told its been this way for weeks and it will be this way for more to come. In the office, there is a giant laminated calendar for the months of April, May, and June. Giant red X's cover the days where testing will occur - needless to say, it is a bloodbath of scarlet ink. 4th grader, 8th graders, 11th graders have it really bad. I see a music teacher. I see an art teacher. They tell me, "That calendar isn't for us. We never know when we're going to see our students. Sometimes we have them, sometimes we don't."

It's the end of the year and I remember a time when computers were in high demand for producing papers, final projects, Powerpoints, and portfolios. They were tools that helped students to demonstrate  knowledge and growth from yearlong learning. Now? Not at all. Students are kept away from them at a time when they should be creating, culminating, and demonstrating their growth with reflection and research. Instead, the machines glow with an eerie login screen to take the daily tests - each has brand new earphones plugged in them. 

The rooms are extremely quiet, except for the sighs, groans, moans, and ubiquitous, "Ms., Ms., Ms."

Teacher: I thought the four hours of testing would give me a place to grade today. I spent all four hours putting out fires. It was like playing whack-a-mole. As soon as we got one student logged on, another student was logged off.

(rumor: there is an embargo on discussing the tests).

Another teacher:  Bryan, we're blessed. We have technology - state of the art technology - but the system keeps crashing. We have no idea what will become of this. We know neighboring schools do not have such technology. When they asked about this at a district meeting they were told, "The tests are not going away. This is the new normal."

9 vignettes. 


I am giving birth to the reality of national standards, measuring a child's worth through high stakes testing, and the PTSD that results. I'm not sure who knocked me up, or who is knocking them up, or if this is an immaculate conception, but I have my suspicions.

Cry The Beloved Country.

Our paved roads have intentions, indeed, but whether or not they are good remains unseen. They do not lead to Johannesburg; progress leads to those places where a dollar can be made.

For now, my water is bursting and I'm pushing the only way I know how....with words.

I am remembering happier days in education.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Surprise! The Mail Lady Was Good To Me and Delivered TIME AND SPACE IN LITERACY RESEARCH

When I got out of my tiny, gas-efficient car yesterday afternoon (I drove a giant, gas-guzzling SUV for years and loved it, but it died when I moved to Connecticut and I didn't have money post doctorate, so had to lease the cheapest car I could find), I noticed there was a pile of cardboard boxes on my doorstep.

I felt a bit bad, however,  because I live atop a hill and the poor mail lady had to put her car in park to bring the loot up the stairs. A week ago, I went on an Amazon rant ordering every young adult novel I could find with African refugee protagonists and stories. There aren't many, granted, but there have been several publications worldwide over the last year that I haven't read, so the delivery was enough for two arms. I knew the books that awaited me.

That is why I was totally shocked that Time and Space in Literacy Research was also in the pile of delivered books. In 2011, I presented at NCTEAR and had no one, NOBODY, in the audience. Feeling sorry for myself, I went out into the lobby and announced, "I would love one person to talk to," and this fellow volunteered (I have no idea who he was, but he sat and listened to me etch out my thinking on time, space, and the literacy of three Sudanese young men).

The paper for the conference was written several months before I officially sent a dissertation draft to my committee for the first time. Although I was chiseling away, I was in full throttle of finding an academic job and interviewing all over the country. I was trapped at the NCTEAR conference, too, because a blizzard arrived and no once could get out. I had to take a Greyhound to Chicago to get a flight to NYC so I could get a taxi sent from the department chair to her home so she could do my laundry so that I could interview at Fairfield University.

On the bus and then the plane I edited this paper in hopes of one day finding a publication. In 2012, Catherine Compton-Lily and Erica Halverson selected it for a book idea they had. It's been a wild, little ride as the original publishers for the book retracted with a note that academic texts are risky. I learned last Fall, though, that Routledge picked up the book.

And that book was delivered to me yesterday afternoon.

"Lost Voices in an American High School: Sudanese Male English-Language Learners' Perspectives on Writing" is Chapter 7 and I had to laugh when I read what Jennifer Roswell wrote on the back cover,
What could have been lost is a phrase that is fitting for what [this] book does for the literacy community: it saves memories and perseveres agency in elegant and eloquent ways.
I almost didn't make it to a job interview (where I now currently work). I almost didn't have an audience participant (who listened to what I had to say). I almost didn't move back to Syracuse to do a doctorate (I loved high school teaching too much). I almost didn't finish my research because the entire process made me feel, well, lost (it was the most difficult thing I've ever done).

But the trajectory continued and I maintained my volunteerism with relocated refugee communities and continued to feel a 'responsibility to speak out.' The editors could have given up, too, and the work of Johny Saldaña, Juan C. Guerra, Kate Pahl, Margaret Grigorenko, Marlene Beirle, David Bloome, Lorraine Falchi, Marjorie Siegel, Mollie V. Blackburn, Caroline T.Clark, sj Miller, Michelle Bass, James S. Chisholm, Kevin M. Leander, Beth Aplin, Lisa Schwartz, Silvia Noguerón-Liu, and Norma González could have been lost without the perseverance of two amazing editors.

Reading Chapter 7, my chapter, brought me great satisfaction, yes, but also a flood of emotions I wasn't expecting. The young men in my research participated over four years ago in this project and all of them are now post-high school (six in college and two still searching for their voices). They continue as part of my life.  Who knew that research could save memories and persevere agency? I guess I have learned my lesson and I am pretty proud of this achievement.

And now there's more work to be done.

Sporting My Robot Socks @FairfieldU Graduation - What a gorgeous day! Congratulations Fairfield graduates.

After the torrential downpour in 2013, yesterday's gorgeous sunshine, blue sky, and cool May breeze made for a fantastic Sunday on the great lawn of Bellarmine Hall. The graduate students looked superb earning their diplomas and I was proud of my front row seat watching each and every graduate receive their degree in front of faculty, family, and friends who were there to support them. The ceremony couldn't have been any more perfect.

I felt fortunate, too, to get the opportunity to meet Anisa Libuya's family who flew all the way from Zambia to see him receive his bachelor's degree (although I wasn't in attendance for the commencement). Even if I never had Anisa in class, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him as a mentor and through loaning several books to him from my personal library as he worked on his memoir in Sonya Huber's honors course. He truly is one of the most remarkable individuals I've ever met.

The graduation ceremony at Fairfield University - when the weather cooperates - is truly a memorable event. The view of the Long Island Sound, the gorgeous structure of Bellarmine Hall, and the great green lawn are simply stunning. It is a piece of Eden.

I was also thrilled to see Anisa put on his traditional celebration attire at his graduation party after his host mother insisted it was perfect for the occasion. Even better was to continue to make the Zambian connection with Chitunga Chisenga from Bassick High School. Anisa remains a great role model for the possibilities that come through hard work, dedication, perseverance and an intrinsic curiosity about the world.

It is days like this that I feel blessed to have traveled the roads that I have and to have the fortune to meet such interesting individuals along the way.

And it's Monday. Time to get back to work!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

And the end of the semester invite season begins - including my first ever bubble party

Since I was hired at Fairfield in 2011, Dr. Diana Hulse has invited me to her end-of-the-semester bubble party in celebration of spring, new beginnings, and a hopeful tomorrow. Sadly, I've been unable to attend because I had my own graduation, then Writing Our Lives, and last year's loss of Lois. This year, however, I attended the soiree and got to drink wine with colleagues as Diana's bubble machine threw bubbles into the air. They landed on our shoulders, wine glasses, and crackers.

One of the hits, however, was the chocolates she sent for from the Blue Frog Chocolate company in New Orleans, Louisiana. The first I tried was a maple treat and I gave myself a stomach ache trying to find another one. The blue frog, however, I kept for Diana and asked her to kiss it to turn it into a prince. I then gave the blue guy to Peter, her partner, and said look, Diana, your frog became this guy.

Yesterday was one of those perfect spring days of 65 degree temps, wide, puffy clouds, and lots of blue skies - a superb day for a party. Today, we have another one on deck for Fairfield's graduation. I will spend this morning writing recommendations and plotting out best use of time to get prepared for my own trip to Louisiana for the Young Adult Literacy Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. But then it is all about commencement.

I might have to make a field trip to New Orleans, however, to get some more of the chocolates. They really were out of this world delicious.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

With Love for a Generation of Ripleys - Memories of Hamilton, New York and a Time That Once Was

My condolences are sent to Barb, Jerry, and Darrick Fuller and their loss of Nancy Ripley in Hamilton, New York.

My mother called me yesterday to share the news that Nancy Ripley passed yesterday, leaving wonderful memories to her family and a a generation of excellence for all who knew the pulse and pace of Hamilton, New York.

I had to stop in my place and reminisce of my weekends as a school boy, visits to my grandparents on Milford Street, and the times we spent getting ice cream cones at the Nautilus from my great Uncle Hobie, his wife Nancy, and their daughter Barb. For me, their small sub-shop was a a treat to my weekend visits to Hamilton and I always loved, as a kid, that there was a soft serve cone waiting for me.

I said to my mom, "Wow, Nancy was the last of an incredible generation who took care of the Ripley clan in upstate, New York. I have memories of get togethers at her home, walking to their shop outside Colgate University, and the cherished stories that came whenever family had the rare opportunity to get together."

Barb and Jerry are the last of our family still residing in the beautiful enclave in upstate New York.

I'm saddened by the loss, but feel much calm knowing that Nancy will rest in peace as a matriarch who did so much for her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson. It's been so many years since the others passed and I can only imagine the heaviness she carried with her for the time that once was and the inevitable changes that arrive through time, history, and life.

I am thinking about family, blood relations, connections, and aging this morning (and I know I must have a vanilla ice cream cone to salute my great Aunt some time today).

My thoughts and prayers are with her immediately family, my mom and her cousins on this day. For me, Hamilton was a weekend and summer affair --- for them, it held legacy of their childhoods and formative years. I imagine this loss is tremendous to them, as Nancy was an icon for some of the greatest history Hamilton has ever known. R.I.P. Ripley style. The memories are full of laughter, kindness, family, and comfort.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Alisha Smith Named to 40 Under 40 Women to Watch in Connecticut @fairfieldu @writingproject

Ms. Alisha Smith, Artsy Girls Global, Inc.
The following is excerpted from the nomination letter sent to the Connecticut Women's Education and Legal Fund 2014 Awards. I am proud to say that Ms. Alisha Smith was chosen as an educator to look out for. The 40 Under 40 awards were given last night.

It is an honor to introduce Ms. Alisha Smith to your committee to be one of 40 Women for the Next 40 Years who is destined to continue the advocacy for the rights and opportunities of women in Connecticut. Colleagues at Fairfield University spoke highly of Alisha Smith’s intellectual and academic promise, a Tillinger Scholarship Award recipient, and introduced me to her when I first arrived in 2012. At the time, she earned a Masters degree in Teaching and Foundations and specialized in Curriculum and Instruction. With this knowledge, I contacted Alisha to possibly collaborate with the Connecticut Writing Project@Fairfield to compete for a National Writing Project 2012-2013 Supporting Effective Educator Development grant. She introduced me to school leaders, we met to establish a plan, and the rest is history. We received the grant to support literacy excellence for all teachers and provided workshops and program to align 9th-12th grade skills across all content areas. Everyone at Bassick High School: the students, teachers and administrators, make it known that Alisha Smith is an all-star. They see her as an advocate for women, youth, and teachers in the state of Connecticut. She’s definitely a woman to watch! At 34 years young, she’s only just begun her incredible impact.

Alisha Smith’s official title for the last 10+ years has been Cluster Liaison and Site Coordinator for the Yale and Bridgeport’s Gear Up Partnership. In the position, she plans, strategizes, reflects, and carries forth youth programs that build leadership, achievement, and academic success. She accomplishes this through passionately collaborating with teachers, young people, agencies, and political figures to create programs that exude integrity and poise.

Although Ms. Smith’s willingness to stand before others as a director and mover are plentiful, I highlight those of which I am most familiar. In addition to successfully attaining the grant for working with Bassick teachers under the expertise and guidance of Alisha, I offered an idea to host a citywide writing conference to celebrated the ideas, creativity, voice, and intelligence of young people throughout Bridgeport. I trusted Alisha’s relationships with many schools across Bridgeport and, as others before me have learned, Alisha was a woman of commitment. Together, we brainstormed the action it would take and, specifically, Alisha recruited 115+ middle and high school students for the conference. The Writing Our Lives-Bridgeport event was possible only because Alisha Smith is dedicated to excellence in Bridgeport. She is more than willing to move mountains that stubbornly stand still to make a difference in this world. The event, in fact, received positive press that included Aspiring Bridgeport Teen Writers Find Day of Inspiration and Full Day Writing Workshop for Bridgeport Students to Write Their Lives. She coordinated buses, surveyed students for literacy interests, followed-up with student reflections, helped recruit partners and presenters, and coached her staff to engage young writers for the day. Alisha’s hard work sealed the deal for me; she is the amazing professional others promised she’d be.

Alisha Smith is dedicated to the advocacy of urban, often marginalized, youth. She addresses school boards, confers with over 100 teachers who work with young people under her care, presents at conferences (with titles such as “Moving From STEM to STEAM: Integrating Arts into the STEM Curriculum”), maintains community partnerships with Upward Bound, Build On, United Ways and CWP@Fairfield, and also creates leadership institutes and programs. She is a powerhouse who unites people from many organizations so dreams are accomplished and work gets done. With such activism, Alisha stands with confidence and assuredness and I have come to think of her as the behind-the-scenes warrior who works tirelessly to close Connecticut’s inexcusable achievement gaps. She promotes the voices of those too often unheard in the state.

Alisha Smith is a mother, educator, and community leader who chooses to be a miraculous mentor and life-coach to the young people she serves. I wish to highlight, however, two examples. The first comes from a young man who arrived from Congo when he was a boy, and was sent to live with an aunt so he could flee turmoil of the region. The streets of Bridgeport, however, proved tough and by 9th grade he made poor choices: drugs, violence, and crime. Alisha Smith stepped in. Because she saw the potential, she began working with him until he stopped skipping school. She mentored him to see the importance of a work ethic. In his words,

Ms. Smith knew about my potential and the problems I faced in school, home, and outside of school. She sprinted into action by scaring away the older guys I hung out with, got me involved with academic tutors and mentors, and connected me to positive people who went out of their way to make sure my needs were met.

Similarly, a young woman from Pakistan, has benefited from Alisha Smith’s commitment to youth. Alisha Smith has encouraged her leadership in the United States. Anmol explains,

I know I can do anything I set my mind to in America and that being a leader is a matter of me getting involved with my community. I learned this from Ms. Smith. She encouraged me to work harder, state my opinion, and to fight for what I believe in. It is difficult at times for a young Muslim woman to step into such a role, but Ms. Smith gave me confidence to do so.

These insights offer two glimpses of what hundreds have to say about this stellar human being. Smith. Her investment in youth deserves the recognition of CWEALF.

Relationship to CWEALF
Alisha Smith is an activist, locally and globally, who passionately dedicates her vision of seeing young girls, and boys, with opportunities for leadership and empowerment. The advocacy word she does is not only important to Connecticut, but has made a difference in eight other countries, as well, including Malawi and Panama. Through global outreach, Alisha has mentored young people to fight for issues that matter to them. More specifically, she has developed a research-based organization called Artsy Girls Global, Inc. that blends social justice for ethnic-minority girls in all cultures through the power impact of the arts. Her strong background with performance and voice is at the heart of this work. She promotes artistry and creativity with young women are stepping into adulthood and assists them to live with a purpose and a cause.

In everything Alisha Smith accomplishes, communities stand at the forefront. She recognizes that for each and every child to be successful, networks of support must be established. She unifies local, state, and international communities with the power to incite change.

Alisha Smith is definitely a Woman for the Next 40 Years in Connecticut. She makes a difference at the same time she maintains professional excellence for herself. Clearly, she is a distinguished woman to know.  Please contact me if I can be of further assistance.


Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall
Direcotr, CWP-Fairfield, Fairfield University

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I am a Squid...or at least this is how I saw myself to kick of Young Adult Literacy Labs @FairfieldU @writingproject

Last night, thanks to the stellar organization and commitment of Ellen Israel, my assistant, we hosted a workshop for partnering teachers who will be leading one-week genre labs for young writers. The redesign of our program pairs writers with teachers (and the other way around) so that young people get a weeklong experience composing on a genre they love.

Why a squid? Well, I see my role this summer as somewhere between teacher and youth institutes - a multi-phalanged monster with tentacles that are involved in best practices for teaching writing and with a genuine interest for the written outcomes that result from stellar instruction in the young adult literacy labs (You Gotta Write, Y'All). The goal is to publish the work of students and teachers in the second edition of POW!

We asked the instructors to reflect on what they were thinking how we could best assist them. I did my reflection as a doodle on the chalkboard: me as an eight-armed sea creature asking questions about how we might should think like researchers, teachers, and writers simultaneously. I wondered if the lead teachers might see the summer work as a catalyst for conducting future workshops at their school, for local communities, and with national conferences (perhaps the only parts of the drawing that are accurate are the tremendous bags under my eyes).

The write-up for the summer labs can be found on our CWP website and I encourage everyone to spread the word to friends and neighbors. I know each lab will be a tremendous success because, after the orientation was finished, teachers stayed another 45 minutes to share ideas and to think creatively about all the possibilities. Our goal is to have greater insight on what works for young people and how they can teach us to be better teachers of writing during the school year.
  • Little Lab for Big Imaginations: a Young(er) Writers’ Workshop July 7 – 11, grades 3 – 6
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: Writing Your Novel (Or At Least the First Chapter) July 7 – 11, grades 6 – 8 and 9 – 12
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Exploring Poetry, Rap & Spoken Word July 14 – 18, grades 6 – 8 and 9 – 12
  • What’s a Picture Worth? The Graphic Novel Lab July 21 – 25, grades 6 – 8 and 9 – 12
  • Stop the Presses! Writing for Print, Online & Broadcast July 28 – August 1, grades 6 – 8 and 9 – 12
  • eStories: Digital Composition & Podcasting July 28 – August 1, grades 7 – 12
  • Who Do You Think You Are? The College Essay & Other Personal Narratives August 4 – 8, grades 9 – 12 (esp. rising juniors)