Monday, June 30, 2014

And the World's Shortest Vacation Is Over, But I Enjoyed My Trip To Syracuse As Always #CNYBoy4Life

So this is Billy.

Billy met Mark when we were sent by Nikki to go to the grocery store (Prithe Thopper) to buy tampons. Mark was there and looked like an expert, so he helped us shop. Mark did not help Billy pick out his tank top, however. That Billy picked out himself from either the tapestry of a Tex Mex restaurant or from an old Atari video game. Mark, however, helped Billy realize it is totally natural for an 18 year old boy to be sent to the store to pick up his girlfriend's feminine hygiene products.

Poor Billy. In the line, 10 items or less and self check out, the ATM card failed to work. 

No Billy, No. That couldn't be. Yep. 

So Billy had to run to his car and guess what? He DID have an emergency Tampax fund in his Suburu Outback.


And Mark was proud. In fact, he said he was traveling to Santa Fe to purchase a shirt just like Billy's.
And Billy began  jumping up and down because he made Bryan's blog. And so jumps Casey.

Casey is getting the final family photo-op of my short weekend in Cicero - this from the the Photo Booth idea at Nikki's graduation. Casey looks good as a blonde and has a nice smile.

It was a hot day and I don't think I've ever been more thankful for a swimming pool in my life. I admit it, too - a jump in a pool takes 10 years off your life and makes you feel 180% better. There should be a law that says every home must have a pool.

Which is not true of my home. I have a hose, but I don't have Bella to chase the water, so it's not as much fun.

Bye Bye, Syracuse. Until the next time.

I will be a phone call or email away. Keep the summer refreshing and fun-filled.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

And It's Sunday - A Photo Booth Fun Day To Celebrate Nikki Isgar's Graduation (and CNY's Heat). #2014

24 years later, I attend a CNS graduation with my sister, mom, Mike, Laura and Billy. I only read 40 pages of a new book or so, but it was an enjoyable experience to see how my alma mater pushes so many students across the stage so quickly.

And today, it's all about Nikki's party, good friends, plenty of food, and a few beverages (not to mention to the dress up photo booth that has strategically been arranged to keep the guest entertained).

Yesterday, however, it was great to see Akech Malaul again - now a senior at LeMoyne College and a biology major - and Marino Mauro (who it turns out is dating a Ph.D student at Syracuse University at the Reading and Language Arts Center. She arrived after I graduated, but she's in the family now and I can't wait to meet her).

But back to Nikki - this is her day (and not Crispy Cremes who is still trying to find out if Akech's mother had him before or after he was born --- yes, very much like Crissy on Three's Company). The hard work over the last 13 years pays off for Nikki and this is her day to entertain friends, welcome family, receive gifts, and talk about future plans and goals. It's also a day to see a collage of her faces, a history of her path, and a walk down her own memory lane.

Funny, I remember my graduation party like it was yesterday and I'm sure both my sisters remember theirs just the same. From this point on it all zooms and all the memories blur together.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

It doesn't get better than 85 degree weather, a pool, and nothing on the agenda but relaxation.

Yesterday was the perfect day to be lazy. I awoke early, got my run in, ran around with Casey before finally getting new sneakers, then spent the rest of the day with Abdi, the sisters, my parents, and the kids by the pool.

The highlight was getting great snapshots of everyone jumping into the pool with great expressions. The water was a little cool, but still it was refreshing like it was supposed to be.

At night, Mike, Dylan, and I went to see the 4th Transformer movie. It was more outrageous than the other three, but the effects were great. The story line was rather pathetic. In fact, it was really dumb and hard to follow, but as Dylan said, "It was a guilty pleasure. Mind candy."

And so it is Saturday morning and time for Nikki's graduation, Class of 2014 of CNS. It occurred to me that she was in kindergarten when the class of 2001 graduated. I can't believe how fast it all flies.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Sometimes, You Just Can't Predict Anything In This World. When YouLeast Expect It You End Up Taking Your Parents Out For...

...Saki Bomb? Japanese hibachi? Really? Butch and Sue (and Butch's choice?).


To celebrate their 49th anniversary Butch and Sue wanted to try something new. Dad and I already found the way to Chubby's - fine eating and drinking right there - but he opted it would be good to try something new.

So, hibachi it was.

Butch even tried a Sopporo beer and Sue had an Orange Buddha. Nice to know the adventure is still in them, especially when they used to gag watching me eat Thai, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese.

And they loved it. 

They celebrated their 49th. The couple to our left from Central Square celebrated their 15th - it was a first for them, too, so the entertaining chef with the volcanic onion, peeing oil boy, and samurai knife skills kept all engaged.

Of course, when we left We learn they have fresh scallops still in their shell (only served on Thursdays). This, THIS, they tell us after we already ate. Hibachi made for a great night, however, as did my mother matching Kermit in her pink top completing the watermelon look for the evening. Her response, "Wait, I need to get my green raincoat and get another photo." She does look mighty happy here, though, and I now can say I know what it feels like to be a passenger in my new car.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

There's Too Much Going on Today, So Happy I LOVE MY FAMILY DAY (and I'm on my way home).

It's still all about Mike, today, but whereas it is also Nikki's birthday, it is also about her. Yet, if I think about it, this weekend is about her because she is graduating high school and both Saturday and Sunday are going to be spent in celebration of her accomplishments. Still, it is her birthday and she wants me to take her to get a tattoo. Nope. I will take her to get her nosed pierced, but am told she's not allowed. Instead, she gets this black and white photo of her and Bella (B E L L A! ! !). And Dave and I have our squirt guns ready for a gluten free weekend (right, Casey?).

Meanwhile it is Butch and Sue's 49th wedding anniversary today and from everything I hear they are at each other's throat more than ever before. It's good though, because I have a new mattress for the bedroom so if they begin arguing about their life after 49 years together, I can retreat to my room. Seriously, this is amazing. It is admiirable that they've been together this long - I've been with myself for 42 years and I'm already tired and exhausted with who I am. It takes a lot to share a life together for this long (and next year - Wola. The 50th!). 

So, today is about family and love and celebration and my drive back to Syracuse and the excitement for all the frantic times ahead the next few days. I can't wait for it all. C O N G R A T U L A T I O N S ! ! !

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

It's all about Mike Today. Yes, Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE Mikey Mike Mike, did I say Mike? Yep, Mike. It's about him.

Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
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Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike

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Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike

Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
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Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike 
Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike Mike MIKE MiKe mIkE mike.

Like I said. Mike. It's all about him today. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I will see you this weekend, Bro-In-Law. It seems like just yesterday you were letting my sister pluck your eyebrows. Now you have a daughter graduating high school. Our best years have yet to arrive!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Day of Re-Orienting Myself for a Summer of Making @CWPFairfield @FairfieldU @Writingproject #clmooc

Yesterday began with the 9 a.m. booming of Pharrell's Happy as I sat at my desk itemizing what needed to be done first: 15 teachers arrive next week for the Invitational Summer Institute at Fairfield University, 70+ 3rd-12th graders arrive for Young Adult Literacy Labs, and I needed to trade in my car. The music and freshness of freshmyn arriving for orientation got me pumped that another season of learning and making is upon my role at CWP-Fairfield.

I heard Father Von Arx welcoming the parents and kids and my administrative assistant, Ellen, and I decided it was a perfect time to unpack all the goods we ordered for the work ahead: scissors, crayons, markers, cloth, toys, notebooks, binders, glue sticks, colored pencils, press badges, stickers, pens, pencils, hole punchers, and bubblegum.

We are set to make - we just need our crews to arrive to begin making with them.

I will forever be a fan of the National Writing Project because unlike traditional models of professional development, we entrust teachers to share what they know and challenge them to make a difference in the schools where they teach. Rather than 'accept' - we encourage them to 'produce.' Unlike most workshops and afternoon PD that arrives, our task is to believe in the expertise of teachers and help them to imagine the impossible. This was written by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl yesterday on the first 40 for 40 blog:
What we did was simple. We endowed each other with sense and authority and the expectation that teaching had an authentic intellectual life that, of course, each of us as professionals would participate in. We pulled brilliance from each other by listening to each other with the expectation that brilliance was there. We became fascinated with teaching by approaching it with the assumption that it was, in fact, fascinating. What if we approached our classrooms, our colleagues, our students that way?
My experience as a fellow (and now a Director) has been much the same. What is possible when we allow others to see the fascinating possibilities within our profession? That depends, of course, on what we choose to make alone, and together, with our students.

We've made a lot of progress with what we envision for teachers, schools, and youth in southern Connecticut and it begins with this year's slogan, "Say What You Want to Say."

We are thrilled to partner with CT Mirror this summer and proud of the sponsorship we've received for Ubuntu Academy - a summer lab for relocated refugee youth and recent immigrants in Bridgeport.

Now all we can do is breathe in and breathe out and let the brilliance of those who attend shine with what they were brought to this earth to do.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Hey Diddle Diddle, The Higher Intelligence of the Doodle - as seen on CBS Sunday Morning

Yesterday, I had a throwback to my migraine days and was inhibited from being productive most of the day. I started out alright - saw this great piece on CBS Sunday Morning which is totally in line with how I construct my thinking and listening - and went for a run. When I returned, I was paralyzed. It's been several years since I've had head pain like I had. I am still unsure if it was a bug, stress, or sinus reacting to the blooming Cottonwoods. All I know is that I was hit over the head with a shovel.

Still, I knew I wanted to post this clip from the news because it is a story I want to share with teachers, students, and friends for some time. In fact, when the National Writing Project asked me to contribute a reflection for 40 for Forty - a shoutout of four decades of their work - my first attempt was a doodle. It's how my mind works and I encourage the creativity at every corner with my student writers.

Happy Monday, too. Great soccer last night, although Portugal's last goal came upsettingly late.
Here's to the week ahead.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

In 13 Years, I will be 55. That is When JC, My Godson and Nephew, Will Graduate High School. Unbelievable.

I missed a historic day.

On Friday, 'Most Likely to Become a Comedian', Jacob Charles Barnwell, earned his pre-school diploma and the right to enter his first year of kindergarten. Next weekend, my niece, Nicole Ann, crosses the stage at my alma mater. It kills me, however, knowing that I wasn't in CNY for JC's big day.

I remember the night that JC was born because I babysat Shaun and waited for Dave to come home. "He looks like a pug," Dave said, coming home at 2 in the morning. "He looks like he's already been in a boxing ring."

But now he has a rose for his mom and I love this picture most of all. There were several to choose from, but I like the sincerity in his eyes in this shot. This is the way he's always looked up to his mother and father and I love the face he's making (thank you Kaleigh for capturing so much of the event for Uncle Bryan in Connecticut).

Speaking of, this is another recent shot I totally adored, especially as I know it's too hysterical to be made up. The Ding Dong man came through the neighborhood and, alas, he hit Chip or Dale (the investigators are still trying to decipher which). Shaun-man's and JC's reactions, with popsicles, are way too perfect for this summer scene.

In less than a week, I will be able to visit for a short while and soak in all the chaos that is family, love, joy, laughter, arguments, frustration, and zest. It will be a short-lived weekend, but I look forward to every second.

Congratulations, J.C., on you wonderful accomplishment of becoming a K-12 student. The next 13 years are on you and I promise I will continue to gray and get more aches so that when you graduate high school, everyone can say, "Hey, remember when you used to blog? That's so funny. I can't believe people used to do that. It's so old-school and hilarious."

Abu and Lossine will be 34. Nikki will be 31. Dylan will be 26. Yikes.

Meanwhile, my 57 year old sister, Jake's 53 year old mom, and I can look at yearbooks and old photographs from boxes and say, "Look at how big the hair was. Did you ever think our photographs would look so ancient."

And one day this reality will be Nikki's, Dylan's, Shaun-man's, and Jake's.

Tis the cycle that goes on and on and on.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

'Pieling' Back Another Layer of the Connecticut Life - Melissa Does UNH. Class of 2018

A year ago, Melissa and Ginette Piel came to Connecticut on their tours of northeastern colleges and universities. Right before the holidays, too, they were pretty sure she would go to the University of New Haven near my home so she scold study Marine Biology. Earlier this year, they made up their minds. I traveled to the campus to get a sweatshirt as confirmation of her decision. And now it is official. Melissa will be a member of the class of 2018 at UNH and she just soared through orientation the last two days.

The out-of-town guests have been a pleasure to host. They kept me company and were delightful over a.m. coffee every morning. Last night, too, they took me out to dinner and we had the awesomeness of Paradise Pizza after walking the beach  in Milford (and attempting, albeit briefly, a radio party full of Metallica hookers). I also have a new bottle of Woodford Reserves - I can't beat that.

As most know when they have seniors in school, the roads are far from easy and they vary family to family. Yet, with an eye on the prize, self-confidence, a devotion, and the drive, everything is possible and attainable, no matter how windy and bumpy those roads get. These are how some chapters are page at a time.

I wish the Piels safe travel back to Syracuse tomorrow, and know I will see them at CNS's graduation next weekend. They will back in Connecticut in August.

And I think they both need to drive orange vehicles like the one that caught my attention today at the biker bar. Why?Because then they would be Orange Piels! Yucca yucca yucca.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Cherishing the Small Things In Life, Like Scoring Another Library Cart for Young Adult Literacy Labs

Yesterday was a day of lists and on this list, I inquired with the library to see if they had an extra book cart I could borrow to load young adult novels for the Young Adult Literacy Labs this summer. They said they did, so Ellen and I went down and scored!

Now, I already have one cart for the summer writing buckets, so now I can add my second cart for reading materials. I'm stoked. In a high school setting, one is given an entire classroom to hold items one needs. In college settings, one must visit classrooms on a spaceship. I used to laugh at the concept 'teacher on a cart,' but now I realize it is inevitable.

There's something to be said about creating a sustainable, classroom environment - this is not allowed at the university setting and might be, perhaps, one of the many misfortunes of college teaching.

Either way, this baby will be filled to the brim as Amazon continues to mail multiple copies of young adult novels to us - our goal: read an hour, write an hour, edit an hour, speak an hour, eat an hour, and play an hour. At the end, a publication.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Inspired by @RohanMurphy and @DanielTrust. Motivating Scholars By Recognizing Actions @FairfieldU

Last night I had the honor and privilege of attending the Daniel Trust Foundation, Inc. Student and Teacher Awards Dinner in Bridgeport, Connecticut. One of my students, Anmol Tabassum, was recognized with an award and joined Diamond Allen, Micheline Amisi, Henryiana Maxelix, Jocelyn Mendez, Natalie Ortiz, Keyana Vega, and Eric Zhevel as an honoree. Anmol was in the dual enrollment program between Bassick High School and Fairfield University during her senior year and I was thrilled to nominate her for the recognition. She is a student of Kathy Silver, as well, and is very well connected at a young age.

Daniel Trust is a visionary and in one year, his dream of honoring three students who make a difference in their community not only happened, but was raised by 5 more awards. A humble man (who loves the 'selfie' more than anyone I've ever met), Daniel 'trust'-ed his recipients and let them have the spotlight. This included chemistry teacher, Dr. John Casper, of Bassick High School who came to urban school teaching after a career with students at Brooklyn Polytech Institute and the University of Maryland, and work as a chemist at Shell Development. He is a stellar example of those who are dedicated to excellence for all public school youth - he counters all the rhetoric and mythology often placed on those in the profession.

The biggest star of the evening, however, was keynote, Rohan Murphy, who inspired all of us with his story of overcoming obstacles and making his dreams come true. He proved to the audience that in order to get to the prize ahead, one must run, walk, or even crawl there way there. Losing his legs at birth, Murphy spent formative years making his athletic ambitions come true. He wrestled on his high school team and at Penn State University (his new goal is to publicly speak in every state in the nation).

It is the end of the school and I'm revving up for summer programs. I wake up today, however, motivated and rejuvenated to do more for the world. It was an amazing evening with wonderful people. I can't imagine spending a Tuesday evening any better. For all involved, thank you!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Sometimes I'm Amazed That Anything Gets Done Anywhere by Anyone When We Have to Deal with Our Systems

This is a Wednesday morning rant. It comes following Tuesday, when I was filled to the brim with bureaucracy and I wanted to throw in the towel. I wasn't the only one, either. Migraines were caused, some went home sick, and the stress piled on.

Why? Let's just say that a funding source (a State) sent out emails to all those who were funded (like me) with a note that all budgets had to be finalized today. Granted (no pun intended), the funding end-date was June 30th. This, of course, was from an award given in August that wasn't sent until the end of March. We've spent two months doing charge revisions and figuring out what was left. The trick of all this is, though, that control of the numbers is not in my jurisdiction. The funders go to the top, and the top trickles it down, and each layer has its own accounting system and numbers, so that the simple task of buying a pen becomes a multi-digit, 19-layer approval that requires signatures.

Now, I keep all records on Excel and always know where I stand. This would be too easy, though. Instead, I need to purchase everything on credit card and submit receipts for reimbursement. This, of course, must go through the multi-digit, 19-layer process of paperwork and I never know where the money is. The accounting which could be simple from allowing me control, instead becomes complex because there are many in control.

That pen I order? It becomes 4234324 on the accounting system of Person A and 454536 on the accounting system of Person B. I get reports that say I spent $this amount on 4234324 and $this amount on 454536. That's what I get in paper form. Yet, no one tells me that these are the numbers they gave the pen.

I understand why strict records need to be kept and I recognize that the vast majority aren't as honest as I am - perhaps in one of my journeys on earth, I will come as a corrupt bastard who figures out how to screw the system without getting caught - and without a conscious for caring. But that's not me. I like to play by the rules.

And so, that is my a.m. rant. The paperwork is abundant, time consuming, unnecessary, but a function of how institutions run. The only thing worse than this is actually attending meetings where there never seems to be a purpose for why we gather. I'll save that for another day.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Arrrgh, Matey! Bringing a Close to Yearlong Professional Development with One Eye Focused on Next Year @writingproject

Yesterday, teachers, administrators, and literacy leaders brought a close to CWP-Fairfield's yearlong professional development funded by a NWP 2013-2014 SEED grant in support of High Needs schools. The year was spent building a writing community, organizing tools for life, exploring digital communication, and celebrating student work via digital modalities and spoken word. We had the extraordinary Kwame Alexander and Attallah Sheppard along for the ride, and they made the work memorable and special.

I channeled my friend Peggy Silva, too, who I met from Southegan High School when I was a first-year teacher. She shared that she and her colleagues often wrote end-of-the-year complaints and launched them out on a boat to be forgotten on water, so they could enter the summer worry free. We wrote of our 'Aaarrrghs' from the year and I burned them in my outdoor fire pit last night.

Each teacher received an eye-patch after they registered a complaint, and then we proceeded to create 600 writers' notebooks for the 2014-2015 school year. Coach, pictured here, has been a tremendous digital guru with his technology skills and willingness to always lend CWP-Fairfield a hand with the yearlong PD. Once finished, we entered a Mac lab and proceeded to explore IMovie and Photo Booth for next steps to bring visuals to our school-wide essays on teaching.

I tell everyone I meet that the faculty of Hill Central in New Haven is one-of-a-kind. They are ambitious, dedicated, witty, and alive with the skills needed to promote success with K-8 youth. Although the grant funds are spent, my willingness to collaborate with the school remains strong. We have solid drafts ready-to-go for the upcoming school year and the only thing left to do is to put icing on the cake.

With a new captain at the helm, Lillian Fontan, I'm sure things will kick-off another successful year.

With this burning, let bygones be bygones and teaching energy begin anew.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Thanks @balbert13! Lemon Andersen was a great way to spend a Sunday in New Haven. Great Suggestion.

My first graduating class in Louisville was the class of 1998, and I must admit, "That generation had great talent in music and art." Yesterday, Gordon Skinner's manager and filmmaker, Bob Albert, invited Chitunga and I to see a special performance of Lemon Andersen who was performing at the International Festival of Arts & Ideas at Yale University. After a morning of office work, a solid run on a beautiful day, we checked out Gordon Skinner's show space @PopUp55 on Church Street. After we closed up the studio, we headed over to see Lemon Andersen's one-man show.

From the website,
Performance artist, playwright, and Tony Award winning performer and poet Lemon Andersen’s one-man journey towards self discovery in County of Kings flows from hard-edged drama to street poetry: the show is a vivid portrait of his adverse yet often humorous coming-of-age experiences during 1980s and 90s Brooklyn. 
Andersen’s story taps a loving relationship between a mother and son, neighborhood mores, young romance, juvenile crime, addiction, and ultimately, redemption and personal triumph. Variety described the show as "electrifyingly fresh and unquestionably moving.”
Listening to his 90-minute spoken word montage was one way to relive 1993-2000 as Andersen passionately recited script from his childhood, first relationships, street life, imprisonment, and discovery of poetry as a way to communicate - a performance that was produced by Spike Lee and that was born out of Russell Simmon's Def Poetry Jam. For years I taught his work to kids in Louisville, and to see him do his thing live was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Leaving the theater, I realized we witnessed a true genius, an artist, who found voice in spoken word and stage performance. His best pieces, I felt, were those written from the perspectives of those he group up with who Lemon brought into character while describing his vision to speak his story. The afternoon made me feel fortunate to live so close to Yale and to the festival.
Afterwards, we grabbed some Thai Food and met up with artist Gordon Skinner who is busy reinventing his next series of paintings, collages, and drawings. Being around such talent simply makes me crave more creativity in my own world.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

In Celebration of Sam Bieler's Defeat of Cancer: No More Treatments! A Party in Weston

Last night, I attended my administrative assistant's party for her son, Sam Bieler, who successfully endured his final treatment to overcome leukemia after several years of medical therapy, sickness, perseverance, and strength. The evening was meant to bring good brick oven pizza, dancing, and total applause to his ability to overcome a long journey and to applaud all who stood by the family along the way.

Ellen Israel stepped in as my assistant three days after the loss of Lois and has been a phenomenal right hand everything for all that is CWP-Fairfield. She was enrolled in Fairfield University's English Education program when her son was diagnosed. As a result, she had to step aside for a while and completed her degree in the spring of 2013. One year later, she had a bigger accomplishment worthy of a party - her son's defeat of tragic sickness.

The Biehler's decorated their backyard with bright lights under a tent and once Kanye West was played by the DJ, the crowd hit the floor (I must note, however, that the teenagers reported that dancing was an old people pastime. Attallah and I, though, wouldn't settle for that and instigated them to join us.

Ellen's speech, too, spoken from the heart and with elegance and poise, made the evening. In her words she not only shouted out to Sam but to Adam, the younger son, for all he's done for his brother and the family throughout the fight they put forth together.

Every Saturday evening should be a dance party, especially in recognition of overcoming the greatest challenges that come our way.

It was a great way to highlight the weekend and I wish Sam and his family nothing but the best from this point on.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

21st Century Public Education. Has a Political Takeover of Curriculum Caused an American Crisis?

I've been reflecting on the term 'humanitarian crisis' ever since I began working with the Jesuit University Humanitarian Action Network. In several meetings, I've heard about civil interventions taking place in South America, Africa, Asia and the Middle East to rectify crimes, brutality, and genocides. Upon hearing the definition for a humanitarian crisis, however, I began to think more locally. Much of what I hear my colleagues describe from their international experiences parallels what I witness in communities of poverty across the United States every day.

The Humanitarian Coalition defines a crisis with the following headings:

  • Natural Disasters (earthquakes, floods, storms and volcanic eruptions).
  • Man-made Disasters (conflicts, plane and train crashes, fires and industrial accidents).
  • Complex Emergencies (when the effects of a series of events or factors prevent a community from accessing their basic needs, such as water, food, shelter, security or health care).
In the third bullet, I add the basic need for an equitable education. Many in the U.S. live in fear, stress, and within a constant crisis mode. This crisis mode is evident in many of our schools today, especially in urban settings. This is a MAN-MADE (read: political) disaster. Because of zip code apartheid, politics, inequities, and a neo-liberal movement to corporatize American schools, teachers  are constantly in fight or flight mode (as are their students). Resources have been taken from them (and continue to disappear), leadership is in flux, and curricular stability is non-existent. Schools are forced to exist in turmoil through the lack of investment our nation has made into the teaching profession. Instead, teachers are blamed for an inability to make change happen, even when they are given less and less to work with. It's big business. This crisis is caused by those who have and the pointing out the flaws of those who do not. Rather than work from within, they send their troops (read TFA and Charter Schools) who act like saviors and missionaries. The colonialism continues.

Yet, in the last two years suburban and affluent districts have also begun to report similar stress: the onset of teacher evaluations, the abundance of state testing, and the implementation of Common Core State Standards with zero professional development to work through them. Veteran professionals feel the nation's wrath against them. Some are leaving. Many are writing editorials. Some have taken to the streets.

Why aren't we calling this a humanitarian crisis? Aren't we endangering the well-being of school children as a result of ill-informed and massively ignorant decisions being made by makers set on unraveling the infrastructure of our schools? Weren't our schools once the envy of the world?

The same website depicts humanitarian complex emergencies by:
  • extensive violence and loss of life;
  • displacements of populations;
  • widespread damage to societies and economies;
  • the need for large-scale, multi-faceted humanitarian assistance ;
  • the hindrance or prevention of humanitarian assistance by political and military constraints;
  • significant security risks for humanitarian relief workers in some areas.
Since Sandy Hook there's been 74 school shootings. In urban centers, there are school closings announced weekly. Teacher unions are under fire. Communities are destabilized. The school to prison pipeline becomes more a 'matter of fact'. In an age of 'College' and 'Career' readiness, schools are forced to do little else except test and create paranoia. The hedge fund crowd, Bill Gates, David Coleman, etc. provide assistance, but it seems they are financially motivated through an allegiance to Pearson. Superintendents are reliant on Department of Education Commissioners who are hired by State Governors, who create infrastructures that declare, "Do it this way or we won't fund you." In short, we are putting everyone in the United States at risk. We are not meeting the needs of our children.

It's not just urban schools. Well-funded schools, too, are feeling the anarchy. 

I no longer recognize the joy I had as a classroom teacher. I don't see kids asking questions and being curious about their world. I see teachers acting robotically. There is a state of fear in most K-12 buildings. Perhaps this is over-the-top, but I think this is a humanitarian crisis that is occurring across the U.S. It has resulted from 20 years of federal policy. I am Cassandra and Chicken Little. I see the sky falling. I'm reading  and scanning national headlines voraciously for any signs of hope. 

For now, I'm comfortable talking to political leaders about the crisis they created. I have no problem sharing how my future vote will go to he or she who has a plan to fix this. I trusted Obama. But I was wrong. I voted the Democrat line in Connecticut. It resulted in Malloy. The choices made by these  leaders do no represent what I feel are best for America's education system. I continue to be disappointed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Orienting a Summer of Making #Connected Learning @CWPFairfield with Support from @writingproject

 Last night, CWP-Fairfield hosted its 29th Invitational Summer Institute and began a celebration of the National Writing Project's 40th year investment in educational leaders. This summer, we are hosting middle and high school counselors, English teachers, and educators. We are carrying forth the tradition of best practices in teaching writing and of pedagogical excellence.

We have Kelly Gallagher's Write Like This to guide our conversations and the CT Mirror to assist us in getting teacher voices into educational policy. We also have the expertise of Troy Hicks to assist our digital connectivity and foresight of writing in 21st century platforms.

Last night, however, we tapped into Ralph Fletcher's wisdom about writer's notebooks and began to plant seeds for our own writing. Interestingly, an opening prompt to kick-things off resulted in common ground. The 14 teachers who attended reported that this was a year where colleagues felt a loss of control in making sound decisions for what works with K-12 youth. The stories they shared discussed changing policies, unanswered questions, frustrated students and parents, frazzled teachers, and a need to be heard. In summary, there is a lack of respect for them as professionals. The Need To Be Heard seemed to be the anthology's title.

The teachers this summer represent several schools along southern Connecticut: urban and suburban, high success and low success, affluent and struggling, pro Young-Adult Literature and pro Canonical texts, with tracking and mixed classrooms, and an overall love for the power of writing. A teacher from Tanzania, Africa, will join our cohort in July. With support from Fairfield University and its mission for service learning and global awareness, our team will benefit from an overseas educator (with a shout out to Beauty Makinta, Pretoria, South Africa, who came to our ISI last year).

Already, orientation demonstrated passion, curiosity, interest, and drive. I am forever thankful to the National Writing Project for its continued invested in building teacher leaders and to Fairfield University and its community for helping us host a summer of connected learning - it is the work I've believed in ever since I became a Louisville fellow in 2002. The rest has been history.

Interestingly, an article appeared in a local paper yesterday that highlighted a lack of teacher-driven professional development. The reporter discussed that superintendents see a need to advocate for teachers and what they know works best with young readers and writers. I couldn't help but smile. Once again, this is what CWP-Fairfield is commissioned to do. The NWP model works and is one that deserves investment from local, state, and national organizations. The best way to build strong literacy communities is to invest in teachers. That is a sustainable model, indeed.

And this year, we welcome the advice and expertise of the CT Mirror. With their wisdom of politics and policies, we shall learn new ways in which writing can make a difference.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Mixing It Up and Staying Connected...Preparing for July Summer Institutes and Labs @writingproject

Tonight will be my 4th orientation for the Invitational Summer Institute at Fairfield University. This year we have 14 teachers attending for five weeks, three days a week. While they are tuning and exploring their pedagogy as teachers, CWP-Fairfield is also hosting 7 young adult literacy labs and 1 Ubuntu Academy (the funding was finalized yesterday when Bridgeport Public Schools kicked in transportation for 15 relocated refugee youth in the district). We hope to host over 100 guests on our campus this summer, increasing participation by 25.

Meanwhile, I realize, as the Director, I'm sort of the Dee Jay for making things happen. Actually, Ellen Israel has been my producer extraordinaire who works the presses, advertisements, recruiting, and organization and pulls all the paper work together. I'm good with the vision, but in order to see clearly I have needed my right-hand woman who grounds me and makes everything happen. She's been my telescope, binoculars, and magnifying glass. I've been her manic boss in need if her management skills. Our programs are about ready, however: materials ordered, guests scheduled, demonstrations on the horizon, rooms secured, teachers hired, teachers accepted, and research design complete.

The image (above) is how I felt last night, however, while juggling between emails, texts, calendars, technology, dates, times, bureaucracies, budgets, and dreams.  I feel like I'm chiseling away at a piece of clay, but then I realize it isn't musical enough. This work is much more lyrical and rhythmic. I am dj'ing a soundtrack for summer.

And so the countdown begins for our summer of staying connected and making together. It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Pack-Rat, Mad-Man, CWP-Director, Writer, Reader, or All The Above #ConnectedLearning

I have three weeks before July arrives and my life takes off in a summer of Making with the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield. We are hosting one teacher institute, 7 writing labs for youth, and an Ubuntu Academy - it feels as if I am the headmaster at a school (but I'm teaching, too).

A colleague poked fun of me for the way I keep my office (books, toys, writing paraphernalia, games, etc.) and I had to laugh, "She is right."

I did spend hours this week trying to organize all the materials (and there is a lot). My office looks like a combination of library, Kay Bee Toys and Hobby, and data closet. There's a lot going on and in my head it is all making sense.

Still, I need time to process all this work and what we're learning about working with K-12 students in Connecticut to fulfill a students feedback from last year, "CWP-Fairfield is what school wishes it could be, but can't." I took her words to mean that the testing empire (with its stress on students and teachers), has kept classrooms from becoming the creative environments they're meant to be.

That is why we do what we can during the summer, trying our best to counter the anti-imagination regime currently underscoring America's classrooms: novel writing, graphic novels, spoken word poetry, digital stories, journalism, college essays. We have something for everyone and we've spent the last few months recruiting the best presenters and facilitators for every workshop.

In the meantime, I'm preparing for the teachers who are at the heart of the work we do. 15 stellar educators from across Connecticut (and even Tanzania).

I need to rest up for all the excitement and potential. I'm excited for it.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Pass It On: A NY Times Story That Resonated with My Research and What I Was Told @Alando1423

It is very easy to get caught up in 1st world problems (and I continue to critique the definitions we offer 1st and 3rd world issues. They are all of our issues. One offers a chapter for making sense of the other).

Yesterday, however, the New York Times did a video essay called, "Pass It On," about a man crafting a soccer ball from the bags he finds lying around (you can watch it by clicking the link). Jerome Thelia, the videographer wrote,
As soon as I saw a photograph of an African soccer ball, stitched together from old rags in the geometric patterns so familiar to us, I wanted to tell its story.
The young men I worked with for my research in Syracuse reported similar stories of the soccer games played in refugee camps in Guinea, Kakuma, Egypt, and Dadaab. The sport, they stated, was a great past time for them and the young men gathered daily to show their prowess as athletes and game players. The story told by Thelia here, though, is from the Democratic Republic of Congo and shows the craft of the game maker who devoted his time to give the young people an opportunity to play. The universality of sport is ubiquitous in how he captures the young boys kicking the ball made just for them.

Reflecting on my workshop at the Louisiana Young Adult Literature conference an attendance in  Alan Brown's Sports Literacy seminar, I couldn't help but make a global connection about athleticism, literacy, dedication, refugees, and the drive to be athletic and on a team. The short documentary brings to life the images that were vividly described by the eight young men who participated in my research.

We in the United States take Little League, Pop Warner, and soccer clubs for granted. Young people around the world deserve similar opportunities to game and, for this reason, I'm reflecting proudly on my cousin's work in South Africa through Hoops4Hope. We live in a culture of excess that children around the world may never know. For this reason, today's post is important.

Give children space and they will find creative ways to play, even when they don't have the same advantages of young people who live in our nation. I will forever be in support of the underdog. Whenever a team or player monopolizes the game I lose interest. Sports provide dreams. They are a literacy, indeed.

The Middle-Aged Pinky Swear. You Read It Here First, But I Don't Believe It.

Yesterday at Pirate's Cove in Bridgeport, I met friends for a beer and for a celebration of the great weather our Sunday provided. I did a run, updated Facebook with my LSU trip, and mowed the lawn. I figured, "What the heck? When in Rome..."

I wasn't the only cockroach that crawled out of the woodwork to enjoy the day. In fact, multiple creatures left hibernation to walk the docks and to listen to live music. Some of them even wore clothes.

As natural, the group I was with began making observations of the specimens who were also in attendance to enjoy the day. It was way too easy to make comical observations and remarks, which happened rather quickly - it was hard not to be ethnographers at this site.

Yet, suddenly, four of the women at our table did something I've never seen before. They did a pinky swear for aging.

Promise we will never dress like that when we're in our sixties. Kill me if I ever wear Spanky shorts if I get over 300 pounds. Don't ever let me wear heals that high in my 70's. Keep me from tattoos. Please let me know that others won't talk about us in the way that we're talking about those we're seeing.

I asked if I could get their agreement on camera and they agreed.

I didn't have the heart to say, however, that it is more likely than not that we, too, will fall into the eccentric, whacky, and odd adult behavior of looking ridiculous when we're in our second 50 years.

I realized at that moment that it's impossible to be cool any longer. We've already crossed over and are no longer in the heyday of our twenties (or thirties)(or even forties). Alas, it happens to the best of us.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

#LSUYAL2014 as a Metaphor For the Writing Process @writingproject - The Stadium

"Running in Louisiana is like jogging in pea soup."

As soon as I arrived to Louisiana I set out on a 10K to acclimate myself to the south only to return to jot the above line in a journal. I came to Baton Rouge for the LSU Young Adult Literature conference and this was the first time Crandall visited cajun country. The hospitality everywhere was remarkable.

I'm writing today, however, to make a connection between the goliath LSU stadium, running, and the advice offered by remarkable people I was fortunate to meet on this trip. Everything at LSU is enormous, including the experience I had during my stay in Baton Rouge.

During the conference, I ran every morning (or afternoon) through the thick pea soup. I noticed at these times how everything was decorated in ubiquitous purple and gold. CVS, in fact, had a row of LSU paraphernalia besides its whisky aisle (a man has to appreciate that souvenirs and alcohol can be purchased together on a Sunday).

This campus is a waltz between Barney and Big Bird

The first night I looked at the stadium lights, I said to myself, "This campus is a waltz between Barney and Big Bird. How can a sports fan...well, PBS fan...not love it?" The pride Louisianians have for their football program, for their Shaq, for Mike the Tiger, and for education, oozes out of every crevice of the campus (and there are many of them caused by the high humidity and moisture).

When I ran one morning, however, I thought about a workshop I did with Margaret-Mary Sulentic Dowell at the LSU Invitational Summer Institute (it was a bonus event during the #LSUYAL2014 conference). After I presented on hosting student playwright festivals, I sprinted around the football stadium where I had a bit of an epiphany. The LSU Writing Project, coupled with Steven Bickmore's vision for the YA novel conference, partnered with the irreplaceable conversations I had with YA authors, helped me to ask questions about my work with the National Writing Project. As I drenched myself in the sprint of pea soup, I asked questions about what I personally mean by a finished product, a colosseum, or published text. They are end products and a culmination. Yes.

Yet, if I listened to Chris Crutcher, Teri Lesesne, Alan Brown, Chris Crowe, Kimberly Willis Holt, Steven BickmoreMatt de la Peña, and Sarah Guillory, I wondered if its the culmination we should be teaching or the acts of the watershed before the accomplishments arrive to the published confluence. The achievements of writers, thinkers, and academics are not a result of magic or wishful thinking. Instead, they are the result from multiple processes: routines, creating a blueprint, orientating ourselves to a task at hand, setting goals, constructing a product, and physical and mental labor.  

My point? When I entered LSU's campus, I  was sucked under the grandiose stature of the LSU football stadium. I became instantly intimidated because the structure was a vast mausoleum that left me with lilliputian insecurities. Whereas giants physically battle 'in there', the meek mentally lock horns 'here' in my head.

The dazzle of their success (and finished products) stood out as monumental 

The LSU arena is impressive. In fact, it is overbearing. This was somewhat how I felt when  meeting the incredible individuals who attended this week's conference. The dazzle of success (and finished products) stood out as monumental to me. Like the stadium, so are their accomplishments - HUGE.

When I ran, though, I came upon construction workers who were 'refurbishing' the backside of stadium - an expansive project that will allow more fans to attend  home games (shooting for seats for 100,000). This construction interested me. Rather than the awe of Tiger Pride, I am  more fascinated by the hard work behind the scenes (those who feed Mike the Tiger, those who work cranes, those who carry forth campus maintenance, those who pick up after crowds, those who sketch out designs for construction, etc. - pretty Walt Whitman-esque, I suppose). 

The hard work of these individuals became a metaphor to parallel what all the authors/academics shared with teachers, librarians, and students in attendance at the LSU Young Adult Literature conference. Yes, publications are a goal, but each and every one of the presenters disclosed that a published achievement results from how they 'construct' their lives behind the scenes: the lived experiences they've had, the discipline it takes to be productive, the vast number of books they read, the abundance of 'shitty first drafts', the incessant revisions, the power of perseverance, the lessons learned from being discouraged, the focus on what matters, and most importantly, the power of interacting with others (UBUNTU - I can be me because of who we are together). 

I think too often educators teach young people the finished product --- the LSU stadium --- without sharing the networks, labor, conflicts, snafus, contracts and frustrations that go into reaching an impressive product. There are multiple processes that must be considered, practiced, and implemented before the actual 'stadium' is built. The arena doesn't arrive from a genie bottle. It's labor and this is what schools need to highlight and encourage with young writers before they graduate and move out into the world. It isn't tests. It's isn't the measurement of bubble sheets. It is a process for living  life as committed readers, writers, and thinkers. This should be the purpose emphasized at every school.

The truth is there are multiple processes that must be considered, practiced, and implemented before a 'stadium' is built

We labored last week at #LSUYAL2014 and Steven Bickmore employed us with his vision. I am a better human being, I know, because of this vision, too. I  scribbled a lot on chalkboards and tapped a few tweets throughout the week, but the experience left my head swirled in multiple doodles of purple and gold, including this post.


It's time to leave Louisiana and think strategically about my summer work with the Connecticut Writing Project. My vacation is over and there's work to be done - work that will be easier now because I'm departing Baton Rouge as an inspired man.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

And This Man Is Looking For a Good Night's a comfortable bed with pillows

It's the little things in life. Last night, I checked into a hotel after a week of sleeping on a dormitory bed with a paper thin pillow. I do not know how anyone sleeps in a dorm any more and my back, head, legs, and entire body did what I could while at LSU.

Today, however, I can say that I awoke on an actual bed with a variety of pillows. I even had blankets to cover up with and carpet on the floor.

How I didn't wipe out on the linoleum after the shower in West Hall is beyond me.

Lucky for me, too, Sharon Kane from SUNY Oswego is in the same hotel so we were able to venture off for cajun food before we called it a night. My flight isn't until the afternoon and I have some time to do one more humid run in the Louisiana soup. My brain is totally fried and I will need every second of tomorrow to recuperate before heading into the office on Monday to initiate the beginnings of a rather intense and robust summer of writing programs.

Ah, but a bed. Real sleep. Comfort. This is a luxury that is worth every cent I paid.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Spoiler Alert - Faults In Our Stars #LSUYAL2014 (Actually a Confession)

I just did an absolute no no. I am embarrassed and I need to turn in my YA literature license and walk back to Connecticut in shame.

Unfortunately, shame didn't work in reverse. I tried to get others to take my ticket to the premiere of the movie, but I had no takers. I'm a terrible movie goer and HATE seeing a film when I haven't read the book first. Still, the looks of my colleagues shamed me into going anyways.

I have been told by everyone who knows me that I need to read this book. After Looking for Alaska, however, I wasn't eager to try another John Green novel for a while. I knew the story, heard of the emotions, and was prepared to be punched in the gut.

I was. But I was also humored by Steven Bickmore once again who revved the teenage audience (96.86% adolescent females) into a pep rally for young adult literature. I was out in the hallway charging my phone when I heard the applause and cheering. I thought the movie was starting, but nope. It was Steve. Steve - 'young at heart' and 'forever teaching' - Bickmore. He was surveying the students, cheerleading the conference, and connecting with adolescent readers in Louisiana.

Brilliant. I loved every second of it.

It was a sold out crowd, too, and I was lucky to have won a ticket during the conference this week. I now want to read The Fault In Our Stars and I have several people I want to send it to.

Some thought the movie was better than the book and the truest felt the opposite. I will have to judge for myself. There were classic lines in the movie and I hope they are also in Green's writing. I shall see. I did the faux pas of viewing before reading...tsk tsk!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Celebrating Steven Bickmore and the LSU Young Adult Writing Conference #LSUYAL2014

Earlier this year I read a call for presenters to attend the Young Adult Literature Conference in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I looked at the dates and thought, "Hmmm, Crandall, you've never been to that state and you've been looking for a location to pull together almost a decade of reading young adult novels featuring stories of relocated refugee youth. You should take a vacation in Baton Rouge and spend five days running a workshop."

Fortunate for me, Steven Bickmore, the conference coordinator gambled on the proposal. Today is day #4 of the conference and this experience has been one of a kind. My mind is spinning with thoughts about my own work and the happiness I feel for having this experience.

I've spent most of this year looking at creativity, kuumba/kreativitet, and pontificating about the 'out-of-the-box' potential of going beyond the normal to make colorful statements of the world. I met an accomplice with Steven Bickmore. I did not know Dr. Bickmore until this chance presented itself and I'm very thankful that I chose to attend.

Steven Bickmore is the 'Oz' behind the curtain. His passion for teenagers, coming of age novels, teaching and working with educators oozes out of every pore of his body. Yesterday morning, he offered a keynote where he offered history, need, and purpose for young adult literature in American Schools that was humorous, insightful, engaging, and motivating. As he covered the history of the field, I quickly realized there is no one like him. He is a true original who carries immense wisdom into everything he does. It was clear that he follows everything he loves and, because of this, this even was made possible.

This week I've had the fortunate of working with librarians, graduate students, academics and professional writers in an intimate forum to share the love of books written for adolescent readers. The pastiche of author insight with teacher practice has been absolutely amazing. Every second of the day: from 8 a.m. breakfast to 7 p.m. library readings has been memorable. I'm a better man because of it.

I am writing this morning to applaud Steven Bickmore's hard work, dedication, drive, and enthusiasm. Without his vision and perseverance, this opportunity most likely would never happen. It has been an absolute pleasure to work with so many amazing individuals and I am refueled for hosting the Invitational Summer Institutes in Connecticut and the Young Adult Literacy Labs.

Steven, Thank You.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Reflecting on Non-Fiction YAL Text: Inspired by Chris Crowe @crowechris #LSUYAL2014

I am not a historian. I fashion myself as an English teacher who turned researcher when questions in my own pedagogy began to perplex me and when I needed to read more to get answers that I was not finding in my everyday teaching practice. The demographics of my classroom were changing and Louisville, very much like what Mary Pipher wrote In the Middle of Everywhere, was enrolling youth cultures that were not traditionally represented by the scholarship I knew. The Western framework for reading and writing, I found, neglected to account for the lack of education many relocated youth brought with them to my urban classroom.

This brings me to Chris Crowe's presentation yesterday at the Young Adult Literature Conference at LSU. Dr. Crowe, a writer and scholar who also leads a National Writing Project site, articulate his interest in using history to put the puzzle together for the truths we tell ourselves. Whether it is biographic, historical fiction, or non-fiction, the writer must 'make a case' for the narrative they're putting forth, especially with the stories they compose that have been underwritten an unexplored.

His talk resonated with me, so much so that I had to revisit my dissertation last night. Kelly Chandler-Olcott said, "Crandall, I think you need to write a chapter detailing the history of the the young men you worked."  Dr. Alfred Tatum advised me during a Literacy Research Association, "Don't go a-historical." He recommended that in order to write and understand the experiences of relocated Black African refugee youth, I needed to explore colonial and imperial influences that caused the civil conflicts in their countries. In other words, I had to become historical.
I read through the interviews of each participant and, in the case of two participants, interviews with a member of their family, to offer detailed information about each young man. I also read field notes from visiting the homes of participants and from meetings with parents and siblings. Finally, I revisited articles a few participants sent me about life in their home countries, read books on the wars that caused their relocation, and viewed films they recommended. From these data sources, I began coding in categories of national conflict, a need for relocation, educational experiences, and hope for new life because they emerged as common amongst all participants. Cautious about creating one meta-narrative about Black African-born male youth, I emphasized the individuality of each participant through representing their experiences in their own words. As the biographical profiles were written, they were shared with each participant for their feedback. The young men helped me to edit these profiles by making parts of their history more clear and through guiding me to articulate particular points. Even within subcategories of Somalian, Sudan, and Liberian experiences, their stories and reports varied. They offered feedback on how I represented them in the profiles and guided how I wrote what they reported. (from Crandall, 2012)
I arrived at this week-long opportunity at LSU with a mission to write about the 8 young men who graciously offered their literate lives with me, especially as they relocated to the United States from several camps throughout Africa. I came to spend time looking at refugee stories in young adult literature. I didn't realize the power of Chandler-Olcott's and Tatum's advice, until I heard Chris Crowe speak of his writing processes when etching the books he writes. A historian is a writer who navigates through the pieces they can find in order to quilt together a story that can resonate with his or her readers.

I couldn't help but reflect on Crowe's wisdom as I transitioned to the next lesson for my workshop. History matters, and I have a responsibility to the young men I worked with. What they knew as childhood, war, transition, and resilience is at the confluence of world histories. With this comes a tremendous duty to promote their stories as honestly as I can.

If not, their tales are at risk for never being heard within research and K-12 communities. They are at risk for being lost.

I feel recharged.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Alan Brown, Wake Forest University, Connecting Sports and Literacy through YAL #LSUYAL2014

Professor Alan Brown of Wake Forest University is hosting one of the stellar weeklong workshops at the Louisiana State University Young Adult Literature Conference in Baton Rouge. As a fan of sports (and a teacher who saw the influence of sports on students), I instantly took interest with his seminar. In the first hour, he had us write poetically by doing an 'I am' poem in the persona of a struggling reader. I scribbled the following. YOU GOTTA WRITE! A'IGHT? It's the National Writing Project way:

I am reluctant, the reader
Alan Brown, Sports & Literacy
Wake Forest University

who listens to the mumbling of pedagogical rants,
where eyes begin to slant behind closed lids
    while I try to stay awake.
In the darkness, I wonder, I quake, at what I
will make tonight for dinner
    P   B   &   J?
      Triscuits and cheese?
This learner sitting at a desk, rubbing his knees,
   placed in another row
     of another school, jeez,
       simply to show how my thoughts are rather square.

I am reluctant, the reader
watching the slippery legs of the blonde girl
     sitting next to me,
thinking of the World Cup,
    and the way to find serenity,
while they ask me to write this poem.

My mind roams
     and I pretend that I care -
I refuse to fail English once again,
     but I have to pee
     (& scholastically I wish I was free)
but pleasing this teacher is a must,
      and I wish I could trust that what they offer matters,
I wish I could quit worrying,
       yet the the fear splatters,
       and none of this makes sense.
I understand nothing of school. Maybe I am dense,
a fool, putting faith in the Great Whatever,
wondering why I didn't bring a bag of Twizzlers
and just hoping this period will end.
I need more than they offer
   and I know I offend
their sense of intellectual superiority...
   this, my inferiority...
   this, the simple complexity and complex simplicity.

I am reluctant, a reader.

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Shout Out to @NikkiIsgar and her Weekend That Just Was. Only a Few More Weeks Until her True NorthStar-dom

And so she's a senior, and here she is with her grand-parental units on the night of her senior ball while I'm 1,000s of miles away in Baton Rouge. While I am thinking about young adult literature, she's living the adolescent life of CNY.

Here's to you, Nikki Isgar, and to her parents (not seen here), my parents (as viewed here) and everyone else who has helped guide her to this position in her life.

24 years ago, I too attended the senior ball. In fact, I had two dates: Kirsten Perra and Jen Jordan, and together we stepped into the next realm of what it means to be an adult. I have similar pictures with my parents (as does Casey and Cynde), and I have memories of what 18 year olds are about at this time in their life: excited about graduation, attending college,  leaving the high school hallways behind.

I remember the pretentious toddler, however, who had to be the center of attention and all the shenanigans that occurred when I returned home to Cicero from Louisville. Nikki was so small, loved Wizard of Oz, and pretended to have read the Harry Potter series so she could go to the movies with me. Her needs trumped everyone else's.

Now she's a working girl, a girlfriend, and a soon-to-be graduate - exactly where she needs to be as a young adult who is ready to step out into the world. She looks beautiful. Before she knows it, she too will think back on 24 years wondering where all her time went. It is a steppingstone - a ritual of the American phenomenon of growing up.

The adventure is only beginning. Congratulations.