Here We GO! Launching KC Kids Unite 2019

Today, as I type, I’m blissfully exhausted from spending the past 5 days with incredible educators who embody a wealth of knowledge and passion in our field.  NCTE 2018 in Houston did not disappoint, and even more exciting for the KC Kids Unite project, we were afforded the privilege to present our work while there.  As we prepare to launch our 2019 cohort, I wanted to share a bit of that presentation to provide background on the racial roots of Kansas City and its perpetuation of the Troost Wall.  “Our Divided City” is a documentary developed through a local production company, KCPT, and addresses the unanswerable question: How do we begin to combat crime and restore communities within a racially-divided city and overall broken system of equity?

Our Divided City

KC Kids Unite does not presume to have the answer, but we do hold a strong belief that in the desire for dramatic change we must begin with our youngest generation.  We also believe the first step in taking action is knowing the city’s truth, facts typically hidden or omitted from conventional Social Studies texts.  It is with these beliefs and in capitalizing on our resources that we work to draw students closer to their identities and therefore, into their communities as youth activists ready to enact that change.

Looking Like Me by Walter Dean Myers is pivotal text used to help students navigate their own identities, but also learn who they are to those around them.  You can click on the picture below for a video version of the text.  As we prepare to meet the teachers leading this cohort, we too, are asking them to develop an “I Am Jam” to share at our first teacher workshops.  As you prepare to surround yourself with loved ones in the coming holiday season, we encourage you do the same.  Just ask those around you, “Who am I to you?”  You’ll be amazed at what you hear, and experience for yourself just how much more closely you feel connected to individuals and your community.

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Teacher Spotlight: Tina Mecklenberg

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Tina Mecklenburg joins us this year as a 5th grade teacher at Renner Elementary in the Park Hill School District. Her students are a very energetic, diverse group of kiddos who try super hard, but have many social/emotional issues standing in the way at times. Knowing that each child as the capacity to learn and grow, she teaches with high expectations for all and believes strongly in having a growth mindset.   She was drawn to this work because of her love of writing and how it allows students to express themselves.  She also wants to learn new ways to incorporate cultural responsiveness into her teaching and students’ learning.

She believes a community is a group of people who live in the same area and support each other when needed.  In her classroom community, learning comes alive when students make connections to what they are learning and their questions guide the lessons.  Her classroom community has not happened by accident.  She has worked intentionally to have her students get to know one other to build trust, and by following the school’s hashtag motto this year,  #choosekindness.  They also strive to accept and celebrate each person’s diversity and uniqueness, and develop heir own identify as being part of a bigger whole.   

 

Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come!

 

Classroom Sneak Peek: Understanding KC’s Racial Divide, The Troost Wall

There is a tale of two sides of Kansas City- the side East of Troost and the side West of Troost.  The story goes that on the east side of Troost residents do not have the luxury of getting a pizza delivered to their door, nor the luxury of fresh produce and healthy foods available at their local grocer, nor the luxury of locally owned business thriving because they are operated by the black community.  The story goes that the East side of Troost was intentionally sectioned off to become the city’s urban core.  Through block-busting real estate practices that included racial covenants in home deeds and the Kansas City MO School District using Troost as a racial dividing line for attendance boundaries after the Brown vs. Board of Education ruling, allowing schools to remain segregated, the communities on each side of Troost started to take on a whole new world of their own, and those worlds could not have a starker contrast.

The homes of two prominent men from Kansas City can expose the contrast of those two worlds more so than any words.  Below you see the childhood home of Walt Disney.  It resides on the East side of Troost at 3028 Bellefontaine Ave.

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The other man, JC Nichols, of Reece and Nichols real estate lives in Country Club District at 1214 W 55th Street.  His real estate practices incited fear in white community, establishing an incredible amount of momentum behind the white flight movement in our city.  He effectively moved the white population out of downtown and into the suburbs that he was single-handedly creating in Mission Hills, KS and through the Country Club Plaza.  As the white population left, he moved the black community in, establishing our city’s racial divide that is still so prominent today.

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Below are students’ responses to injustices and division that have been created and perpetuated by these ill-conceived plans.

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Applications are being accepted now through October 12th.  We have extended the deadline!  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite ApplicationApply now and share with your friends!  

Classroom Sneak Peek: (Re)defining Beauty Through Skin Tone

One classroom exploration for students is to critically think about beauty, including society’s definition in contrast to our own.  From this students consider what makes them beautiful on the inside and out, with our individual skin tones being one of those elements of beauty.  Micheal Tyler’s book, The Skin I Live In, and Wendy Ewald’s text, The Best Part of Me to guide this work.  Check out the student work below to see more!

Applications are being accepted now through October 5th.  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite Application.  Apply now and share with your friends!

 

 

Student writing inspired by the text, The Skin I Live In

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Students’ self-portrait art inspired by the text, The Best Part of Me

 

KC Kids Unite Classroom Sneak Peak

We are entering our final week of accepting applications and we love to see them all coming in!  This week we’ll be offering our readers of daily dose of classroom “sneak peeks”.  The three-week classroom curriculum is led by an essential question centered around student identity.  Today, we see how students explore the first question, Where I’m From?  The video below does an excellent job launching this question in the minds of our students.

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Because the issues being discussed through this work are universal and complex, developmentally appropriate videos and texts are used as entry point into our weekly discussions.  The Skin I’m In by Pat Thomas guides students to think about their nationality in connection to their ethnicity, and presents students with information to think about their race at a scientific and genealogical level.  Through this activity students come to recognize that each of us are connected to countries all over the world. Using this book as a mentor text students embark on research of their family history through websites and family interviews.

Check out the pictures below for in action shots!

Researching family history on familysearch.org

Results of students’ family research are posted on a world map, so each classroom can see the many places we have ALL come from!

Applications are being accepted now through October 5th.  You can apply at the following link: KC Kids Unite Application.  Apply now and share with your friends!

 

The Day You Begin: Thoughts on Self + a New School Year

As most of the literacy world knows, Jacqueline Woodson just did what she always does, created a literary masterpiece for the ages.  The Day You Begin helps its readers embrace the moments we feel an other.  The moments we walk in a room or join a group, and find that despite the many gathered there we feel quite alone.

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In those moments, we can let the crowd make us shrink and fall into silence, or we can immerse ourselves in it, raising our voices and ourselves to connect.  We can begin.

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What transpires in the pages in between is

This is book is such a powerful one at the start of a new school year, because what transpires in the pages in between are the stories of so many of our students, and through their telling children and adults alike learn, become aware, and move forward with a greater understanding of humanity.

This book has taken on its own meaning for myself as well.  How will I begin in a new way this year?  In a sense, I already have.  This year I have had the great fortune of getting back into schools at the building level as a Title 1 Instructional Coach.  Being right next door to teachers and students has given me an energy I didn’t realize I’d been missing so desperately for the past 6 years.  The heartbeat of the school setting has pumped new and life-giving blood into my veins in a way that makes me feel I am starting my educational career anew. I am beginning.  And it has been all the things Woodson told me it would be–exhilarating, terrifying, uncertain.  Yet each day brings a new opportunity to share my story and truth with new people, and the connections are building far faster and deeper than I could have imagined.  It is in these moments I know the universe has placed me exactly where I supposed to be.

It is in this belief that I go forward with Woodson’s words on my heart.  The universe has its way of placing us where we can find purpose.  Sitting in silence negates the profoundness we can create in our everyday lives, for ourselves and others.  We need each other’s stories to begin.

As I take these words forward, I will consider each day where my opportunities exist to begin.  To start a new, bolder, more knowledgeable and empathetic version of self.  Our country needs it, our communities need it, our kids deserve it, and if we search deeply, our own hearts are thirsting for it.

Leaders in Education Must Be Leaders in Learning

Let’s begin.

Summer Institute Writing Marathon, Day 3

It’s only appropriate that a week ago today I was sitting in our city’s Vietnam War Veteran’s Memorial participating in a writing marathon across the city.  Seven days later as I attempt to encapsulate just a small piece of that for those reading, we ourselves are celebrating our nation’s independence.  The writing marathon creates a unique opportunity of rare moments of writing connected to place, often places that are not part of our daily routine.

National Writing Project’s Richard Louth defined it best,

It’s about the writing act, not the writing product.  Most of our writing in school and in the publishing life is about the product.  We teach our students the so-called writing process–draft, revise, polish, edit–and when it is done, they have supposedly learned to write.  What they have learned is one way to write.  There is an entire world of writers–and enjoyment in writing–that this process does not tap into.  And the writing marathon does.  That is, writing for the sake of writing.  Writing for the moment.  Writing for the immediate audience.  Writing as the foundation of other writing by peers who respond directly to your thoughts in their writing.  Writing as the experience of a moment or place.  Writing for the self.

I have participated in Writing Marathons in Philly and KC on a large scale, and around schools, parks and neighborhoods on a smaller scale.  Which only enhances the appeal.  Writing marathons can happen literally any time, any where.  Just pick up and pen and go.  Immerse yourself in the space and write only for the sake of writing.  You’ll be surprised what shows up on the page.

We visited several places across the city during our marathon, but in honor of today, this piece of writing seems most appropriate to share.

War

Blackened, broken, bloodied, blue.

Uncle what did they do to you?

Booming, bombing, barricades, abroad.

Did they tell you this war, a fraud?

Running, choking, aiming, pulling.

Who does the world think they’re fooling?

Peace from this?  How? No way.

Yet you wake to serve day after day.

The noise around you now silenced,

But your brain still on attack.

The voice in your throat now silenced.

But your memories live on in a shack.

A ramshackle domain with no polish or praise,

for the honor, the courage,

that defined those days.

You mention a man killed in ’69.

A life taken at your hand 

while you served your time.

The world has moved on.

Yet your prison remains.

The world has moved on.

A cold stone covers his remains.

Remains of blood and bones and a brother lost.

At what cost?

The cost of empathy, emotion, the ability to engage.

As you sit on the outside filled with quiet rage.

Yes, the war is over

and the world has moved on,

but so much remains.

Let us remember the cost,

for the living, the dead,

each person’s remains.

 

Literary Luncheon

I eat poems for breakfast

If you have never experienced a literary luncheon, at some point in your life you must.  It’s a simple enough concept-write about food in a way that expresses the particular impact it has had on your life, then make the food and share your writing.  When you do this with family, you laugh.  When you do it with friends or colleagues, you laugh and cry.  When you do it with complete strangers. you open and grow and heal in ways you could never imagine and, of course, still laugh and cry.

This past week at the Greater KC Writing Project Summer Institute we feasted on fare and fellowship through some truly incredible works of writing.  Here’s a taste:

Jennifer wrote of detailed notes outlining her stuffed animal collection for insurance purposes in the case of a natural disaster, and those same stuffed animals showing up on Christmas morning along with sugar cookies, German bread stollen, and chocolate cherry cookies.

Anna wrote of con recipes passed off as family tradition when in fact they were plucked from Pinterest, and thus shared her family’s love of relish dishes that led to the black olive fingertips of party goers, and her family “mostly” unchanged recipe for BBQ pecans.

Molly wrote of beef bouillon and Beau Monde seasoning as secret ingredients to her grandmother’s incredibly delicious veggie dip, and a trip back to her home that reminds me so much of what my own kids experience when they visit their great-grandparents today.

Brian hilariously wrote to the powers of his super mom and her ability to make birthday treats that would give any kid some serious school street cred.  As the baby of the family his mother left no detail overlooked in her turkey Rice Krispie treats for his November birthday, complete with a candy corn tail and chocolate chip eyes.

Linda reminded us all that recipes don’t have to complex to be significant with her black eye pea dip that the family looks forward to every summer at the lake.  Her daughter helped her recognize its meaning, and we are so grateful she shared it with us.

Gail eloquently wrote of her baking evolution comig full circle.  Starting in her youth with Duncan Hines, to “discovering that the secret to blue ribbon shortbread is grating lemon peel into the butter at least an hour before stirring in the flour and powdered sugar” and then having to walk away from it all due to food allergies, she wowed us with delicious gluten-free cupcakes from Cupcake A la Mode.

Jane wrote of her father’s love in many forms, including the chocolate chip cookie recipe he inherited from his own mother.  These cookies were eulogized when she passed, and continue to be made again and again whether the distance between them be Iowa or Taiwan.

Tammy wrote of grandma’s noodles in a way I’ll never forget. Making these noodles created a rare opportunity to be messy and loved inside her grandparent’s home, a luxury not afforded in her own childhood home.

Kassidy taught us the importance of preserves–the berry kind that deliciously couple with butter and bread, and the act of, as in preserving memories.  Memories of families coming together and sharing jam-making traditions, growing the circles of our world wider, not smaller.

Diana made us laugh and consider the power of community as she spoke to friends who were as close as family, ice cream and potato chip traditions, and over 55 years of that damn ham salad.

Kate spoke of her family’s immigration and how food connects us when words can’t through garden fresh ingredients picked by the family, succulent homemade sauces, and grandma’s legendary Caprese Pasta Salad.

Leigh took us to Spain with tales of blood sausage and squid ink soup, but decided to wow her Missouri crowd with a vegetarian friendly plate, tortilla espanola–a potato and onion omelette that had us all looking for our passports to join her on her next trip.

Margaret wooed us with her whoopie pies and snapshots of a blossoming love that started with kisses over a salad spinner and has grown to Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives food tours all over the country.

Ro took us inside The Daughters of Columbus cookbook and her grandmother’s Italian kitchen to share her delicious lasagna and the hard time she put in to work her way up to cooking status in the kitchen.

Ted wrote of pumpkin pie so delicious it was devoured on the car ride home, never making it to Point B.  And of relationships so powerful, motherly figures so caring that the pumpkin pie is more of a symbol than a staple.

And I wrote this, for Grandma Josie.  All the love.

There’s a sleepy little town in Illinois by the name of St. David.  Passers-by rarely notice it and to research it is in vain. The facts you find are few.  Population: 587. Streets: 15. Banks: 1. Stoplights: 0. But as numbers tend to go, these don’t tell the whole story.  Amongst those 15 streets sits a home on West Burlington Avenue constructed by the calloused hands and faulty heart of a man I never knew-my grandfather.  A heart that would leave him as cold as the winter’s day on which he passed.

On that day my grandmother rounded the kitchen corner to deliver warm coffee to his side while lying on the couch.  He’d just come in from the bitter cold, and in the moment she laid her eyes on him, horror filled her body. The scalding coffee spewed forth; her teardrops and broken glass shattering against the floor all at once.  Shoveling snow had stopped the old man’s heart, and in the time it took him to walk through the door, ask for a fresh cup of joe, and lie down on the couch he was gone. My grandma had been happily filling his cup only feet away when he took his last breaths. This memory, this kitchen, would torture my grandma for the rest of her life.  But leave the home–no way. He had built this house for her, for them. She would care for it as he intended, keeping her promise to the man she would always love.

But this version of grandma’s kitchen was not the one that I knew.  The grandma’s kitchen I knew was a long, skinny one where rumps and elbows bumped with haphazard turns. One that left the back door slamming on hot summer days between potty breaks and popsicle pilfering. One that used a wooden spoon to hold up a window pane or swat a misbehaving child on their backside.  One that had a flyswatter only an arm’s length away. My grandma considered swatting flies an Olympic sport, one in which she always took the gold. Legend has it those silver-winged creatures didn’t even have to land. As soon as they were in her line of sight, the flick of her wrist sent the swatter wasping through the air and they were as good as gone.  One shot was all she needed. Her aim was impeccable.

The times were simpler then. Milk, eggs, flour, water, and salt were the only food staples grandma needed to satisfy the grumbling tummies of her grandchildren.  When flour clouded the air above the counters we’d quickly scamper in from outside knowing that kerpitcas were on the menu. These Croatian egg noodles came to our dinner table through my great grandparents, Antonia and Joseph, who traveled to America in the early 1900’s from Yugoslavia.  Their travels landed them in Painesdale, Michigan, a copper mining town that began as a tent town in 1899. While there they would grow their family by 8 children, one being my Grandma Josie–the only grandparent I ever knew. She was a hard broad, a Croatian curser who had no time for pishitca (bullshit).  After living through the Great Depression and the rations of World War II, my grandmother learned to be crafty and thrifty all at once.  She refused to let anything go to waste and knew how to make something from nothing. A satisfying meal made from basic goods–well, that was all she really knew.  By the time the flour settled we were there to help break the eggs, add the milk, whisk, knead, and cut the noodles to make a plentiful pot. Sprinkle in a little salt, melt some butter on top, and feast.  We gathered round this simple fare time after time, enjoying it all the more because we were a part in making it.

The kitchen I knew was one where the wooden round table we sat to eat was also the one where we played card games, read newspaper comics, and on occasion, would find my grandmother sitting alone, staring off in a distant gaze. I imagine now she was recalling back that fateful day and wishing in so many ways it could have been different, that he didn’t have to miss so much.  I hope in some way our girlish giggles and silly shenanigans eased the pain, paving the way for happier memories. She always said we were “full of pee and vinegar”, and she was right. In return, I hope she knows how many happy memories she created for us. She now rests beside my grandfather once again, and would be beyond proud that her noodles have stood the test of time, still satisfying the appetites of those gathered together today.