Currently I'm a summer school program leader and sometimes a teacher in subjects handed to me on an as-needed basis -- like a reading group for middle schoolers. I read aloud to the older children so that they can hear the story of Crash. The book is their school's required summer reading. If by the end of the story and the summer, they have a modicum more connection between getting through a book and knowing how to make meaning out of what they are reading, I feel they will have a ripe seed for their journey.
I also lead a high-school level reading group. Sometimes we don't even read the book, All Souls. We sit with the book on our lap and our finger marking a page as I attempt to explain words, references, and context. Sometimes I pause to take a break from the graphic narrative we are all taking in. Still, the teens will have to learn how to do this themselves -- read a book in a second language. I do ask them questions like, "do you know where Southie is?" "Do you know why people left Ireland?" "Why do you think the some groups of people think they are better than others?" "Google 'Whitey Bulger' when you get home; see what comes up first and come back and tell me the date." If by the end of the story and the summer, they have a modicum more connection between getting through a book and knowing how to make meaning out of what they are reading, I feel they will have a ripe seed for their journey.
I have no idea if my approach is helpful or useful. I do know to sit there with them, taking turns reading out loud, and sometimes giving them a break by reading to them. It's true I will be complicit in teaching them how to check something off a list. I know the feeling. Sometimes it's satisfying but it's not long before we learn that it doesn't move us along on our journey.
The children and teens express gratitude grateful for being safe now; now that they are here in the United States. Reading Crash, reading All Souls, I watch their faces as they try to make sense between the objective behind these required readings and the reality of their own lives. I'm frustrated that while these two pieces of literature are excellent, they are poor choices as a common read for children and teens in a city that struggles with socioeconomic and political race issues; a city that is 40% non-white. How is this a common experience? There is so much patent triggering in the constant narrative of stress, bullying, pain and suffering. My gosh, how can this be educational or rewarding?
At the end of each day, I do feel the joy of being with bright and eager learners and the sorrow of not being about to be an adult standing before them with a clear roadmap for their future. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be a trusted adult in their lives. I'm grateful for the opportunity to be a direct ally and advocate for young people in the struggle. I'm frustrated though. That's an understatement.