Thursday, May 23, 2013

Notes from the field: A Shout Out to Two Schools Who ARE DOING IT RIGHT!!!

So much of the time we hear about how badly schools are doing - how they are overcrowded, filled with violence and dysfunction, how learning is a joke, and teachers are frustrated and heart broken. And, yes, these conditions do exist, and, yes, we need, all of us, whether we have kids or not, need to address these issues, and ask that our public officials do the same - but this past week, I had the AMAZING, AWESOME experience of, in just one day, being in two schools that are not are not broken. Two PUBLIC schools where two committed, hard working, big hearted librarians are making a difference in the lives of the children they serve. I know it is almost antiquated to even say,"Librarian" these days - most schools have Media Centers, and Media Specialists run them - and believe me - I am all for it, but there is something special about LIBRARIES - the place where physical books, with their heft in your hand, and the smell of those pages still reign supreme. And the keepers of these jewels where the wonders of stories both real and completely fictitious live, are some of my favorite people - librarians!! This past week at PS122 in Queens, I told stories for the fourth year in a row to students who were well read, full of thought, and great listeners as part of their annual Read to Me Festival. Through the hard work of their school librarian Virginia Hood, the whole school is awash in stories - some through the reading of books, and some through the type of storytelling I do. This is a school where the math teacher is a former student, and hopes one day his young children attend, this is a place where eight graders, who at this time of the year have every right to be "squirrely" and ready to jump out the window on a beautiful spring day - gave me their full attention, and asked mature, thoughtful questions. It was heaven, and what really made it even better to me, is that it is a public school - a place anyone can go. Virginia's library is a place where there are clearly books for all ages, it is organized, and, though it sounds cheesey - it is filled with love. A subway, PATH Train, and frustratingly slow car ride later, I was in Glen Rock, New Jersey at the Central School's Storytelling Festival. I had told stories over three days to the ENTIRE school as part of the kick off to their storytelling festival back in January (literally right before I left for India!) Every year for a very long time, Marcia Kaiser - the second heroine of a librarian in this tale - has a storyteller come in to tell stories to inspire the kids (for years it's been one of my favorite tellers - Julie Della Torre), and then the kids - EVERY CHILD IN THE SCHOOL learns a tale to tell. In May, they all come together to hear their "school story" a lovely folktale about friendship from Haiti called 'Tipingee". This year, since I had told stories to the whole school, I joined Julie Della Torre (we like to call ourselves Julie Squared) to perform "Tipingee" in front of the entire school. It was such an incredible experience to see the whole school clap their hands, and sing the refrain that runs through this story that they have heard and loved so very, very much. After we told came my favorite part of this amazing day - the children broke out into groups, and they TOLD STORIES TO US!! Marcia was genius in that it isn't just one grade together - we had second graders with fourth grades, third graders who had listened to the first graders earlier. The way the students supported and listened to their peers was the sweetest thing I had ever seen. It was the way we should all listen to other people - with respect and attention, showing that everyone, be they younger or older than us has something valuable to say. I had to run to the third part of my day then - teaching a yoga class - but my heart was full with gratitude that I got to be part of both of these celebrations of things I love: stories, books, children, libraries, librarians and STORYTELLING!!! Thank you Virginia, thank you, Marcia - you are proving that libraries matter, that storytelling educates, as well as entertains - you are making a difference!!

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