Monday, April 5, 2010

Positively Amazing

I've been trying all weekend to come up with the words that would effectively, articulately explain how amazing Friday was, but those words either don't exist or continue to escape me, so the following will have to do.

As you may remember, a while back I posted two book trailers; I made them in preparation for a visit by two authors. A visit that was planned way in advance, and seemed like it was always way off in the future. Well, it happened last Friday.

I know. It kind of snuck up on me, too. (Yes, I know that "snuck" is, technically, incorrect. I don't care. Except inasmuch as I care enough to point out that I don't care.)

It was, in a word, amazing.

I was, to be frank, more than a bit nervous. What if no one read the books? What if no one showed up? What if they decided in the middle of it that they hated me, the library, and everything associated with it, and stormed out? (Never underestimate my ability to be completely irrationally neurotic.)

But it was amazing, and I take very little credit for that. Courtney Sheinmel and Regan Hofmann made this event what it was. Their books connected with my students, and, more importantly, they connected with my students.

We started with a book discussion and signing after school in the library, with separate groups for the two different books. Students showed up early; I don't think I've ever seen that many students show up early for something that didn't involve pizza. But they were there and waiting, books in hand. And even though it was a beautiful day outside, and most of their friends were outside enjoying one of the first days of spring, they stayed. And stayed focused and engaged. Which is kind of a big deal at the end of the day on a beautiful Friday--through in some attention issues, and, well, wow.

When I talk with people about working with LD students, most of them do not think of them as readers. . . and are even less likely to take them seriously as readers. Which is a mistake. Because while very few of my students would list reading as a favored pastime (hmm, could that be because people treat them like they can't read? But that's a separate discussion), when they connect to a book they connect like no other. In the discussion with Courtney about "Positively", which is about a girl born HIV-positive, one of my students made a connection between the stigma of HIV and the stigma of LD that took my breath away (more about that at Courtney's blog).

Though I wasn't able to sit in on it, I heard excellent things about the discussion that Regan led as well. And I got to see her in action that night, when she and Courtney addressed the entire student body. The Friday night programming at school can, at times, be a bit of a battle; students doing everything they can to get out of it, faculty doing everything they can to get students to stay in it. But kids--most of whom had not read the book--loved it. I have never seen a response like that before.

And, frankly, aside from my students, this was amazing for me. There were a lot of moving pieces to this project, and while I did drop a few balls and mixed a few metaphors, I pulled it off. And it went really well. The feedback has been amazing. Many students have, without prompting, told me how much they enjoyed the evening. The next day, I saw a group of students as I was walking towards the dining hall for lunch and they made a point of telling me how much they enjoyed the program; one even said she'd told a friend who'd skipped it that he was an idiot for doing so. Today, three days later, I continue to hear from students about how much they enjoyed it. Which, in the attention span of a teenager (particularly with the drama that tends to come with any weekend), is a really long time.

I'm also really excited about this because I think it started the ball rolling (or got the ball rolling again. . .) on us talking seriously about health and sex education on campus, and how what we do now (i.e. nothing) is woefully inadequate and a gross disservice to our students. In the discussions leading up to this visit I heard everything from one student thinking that HIV was spread like the flu, to one girl asking her friend if she could get HIV from sex (the girl explained to her friend that a) yes she could and b)she probably shouldn't be having sex until she was less misinformed). These students have questions, and avoiding them doesn't make the answers any less important.

If you take students seriously--as readers, as critical thinkers, as people responsible for their own education and health--they will, more often than not, rise to the occasion. I've always thought the idea that you somehow couldn't trust teenagers to step up, or give them certain kinds of information because they couldn't handle it, was ludicrous. And right here I have a clear example of why that idea is ludicrous. You know why so many teens don't step up to the plate? Because so many adults in their lives act like they can't or won't. Trust matters.

I feel like I haven't done this event justice. I love words. I count on my words. But they are failing me here, as I can tell that nothing I've said really expresses how amazing this entire day was. I can tell you this, though: I'm not exactly known for my sentimentality, but every time I've thought about it over the past few days, I've gotten choked up.

Courtney Sheinmel, Regan Hofmann, and me


  1. KM, you may not feel you do the event justice with your word, but never forget that you are doing justice to your students via your words and more importantly your actions. YOU are amazing! Congrats for such a successful event!

  2. First of all, can I tell you have much I love that we're like twins in our neuroses? When I'm anticipating something, I make up HUNDREDS of possible disaster scenarios! (I had a few in my head for Friday, too -- though not one of them involved Regan or me storming out of the library.)

    And reading this post, and remembering the day, got me all choked up. It was extraordinary. You deserve SO MUCH credit for it, and I am so thankful to you for one of the best school visit experiences I've ever had.

  3. That is completely awesome! I'd be happy if I were reasonably certain my students still thought about something three hours after the fact, let alone three days. :) Rock on, you!