by Heather M. F. Lyke
— This piece was first published in May 2020 by RPS Secondary Curriculum & Instruction --
There is an old adage that, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This year, I thought I’d try and grow the population of the specific village raising ‘my children’ (or, in my case, the 174 students I taught first semester) by widening the access my students have with adults in our community.
The First Community Collaboration
Some might assume—because I’m married to a social studies teacher or because I once had a job supporting social studies teachers—that I am well-versed in all things historical. This is far from true. While I love reading historical fiction and I’m well versed in certain literary and philosophical movements, that’s where my historical expertise ends. For this reason, when a colleague of mine pointed out that a local expert on the orphan trains of the early 1930’s was going to be giving a Community Education Class on the topic, I decided to reach out—see if she’d come in and work with my students.
My sophomores and I had started the school year off reading the novel Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline. Not only do students love the snarky zest of the protagonist who happens to also be in high school, but this character’s world-view ties in well with our Native American Indian Literature state standards. Simultaneously, however, the other protagonist navigates a part of history my students and I knew very little about… So why not bring in a community expert?
My students loved Dorothy Lund Nelson’s visit. She had done a lot of research and was passionate about her topic. She had students wear name tags and she talked to them as if they themselves were orphans in the early 1900’s. For the rest of the book, and occasionally throughout the rest of the year, students would reference her visit. Plus, she left a copy of The Home We Shared: History and Memoir of the North Dakota Children’s Home at Fargo, North Dakota behind for our students to share, and when we were still together in the classroom it was checked out often.
The Next Community Collaboration
Working with Dorothy Lund Nelson is what got me started—and it led to a community connection that just keeps on giving: our Mayo High School collaboration with the Rochester Public Library (RPL).
We stumbled into this collaboration naturally because every Tuesday, when I would meet one-on-one with roughly a half-dozen students throughout the period to talk about what they were reading, I kept finding myself recommending audiobooks to my more reluctant readers and to my students struggling with fluency when reading aloud. Personally, being addicted to audiobooks, I was surprised by how many students were not aware of the audiobooks they had access to for free via our school library and via RPL. This prompted me to reach out to RPL and see if they’d have any interest coming and getting my students connected with library cards. Sarah Joynt, their librarian who does student outreach, was instantly on board.
Joynt spent the day with me and my students. Each period, she shared with students some of the many online resources RPL provides, discussed some of the in-person opportunities that teens often enjoy at RPL, answered a wide variety of questions that students had, and then got those who wanted them set up with library cards (which she delivered to us about a month later). A high-energy presenter, students leaned in and listened to her every word. They ask questions about the Bookmobile and the BookBike, they wanted to know how to get jobs at RPL, they even wondered aloud if there were ways to get overdue fines waved (yes, by the way, there is). In fact, this collaboration went so well, that now all 10th graders at Mayo High School—not just those who have me as a teacher— have had Joynt come into their American Literature and Composition classrooms to share about RPL’s free resources.
Here are a few snapshots of the magic that Joynt brought into my students’ lives:
Future Community Collaborations
There was a time in my teaching career where I though bringing in community members wasn’t worth the effort it would take. Well, color me a different color now. In both cases this year, reaching out was fast, easy, and simple. The benefits far outweigh any negatives that came with scheduling these visitors. In fact, I’m already making plans for next year—and I’m not just planning to bring back Lund Nelson and Joynt: I’ve already started lining up community experts in the field of writing to work with my Creative Writing students in the school year 2020-2021!
If nothing else has been verified by the pandemic, it is indeed that it does “take a village to raise a child.” I am heartened by, and lucky that, this year I took the time to expand my students’ village this past fall, because it certainly made this pandemic-spring a bit easier for them to navigate. We never know what the future has in store, so why not give our students as many connections as possible? And those connections can easily extend far beyond our classroom doors.
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