Tonight I had the privilege of being part of the “Wednesdays with the Wex” Celebrating 15 Years of Pages anniversary discussion. Joining me on this panel was a stellar group of past and current educator participants, Laura Garber, Fawn Harris, Andy Jados, Stacey O’Reilly, and Sarah Patterson, all who have been touched by Pages in some way. Sitting on this panel was not only an honor, but served as a reminder of why this community is so important. In the conversation we were reminded that Pages is more than just an art and literacy multidisciplinary program for students, it brings people together, young people to young people, teachers to students, teacher to teacher, artist to artist, and artist to young people, and on and on. We were also reminded that Pages teaches us “to play” (O’Reilly) and step outside of our comfort zones to bring our students a richer experience using language, literacy, and making art. We were reminded still that Pages teaches young people to see themselves, each other, and the world in a different way. Furthermore, we were reminded that our students feel safe in the Pages space, and the community we create helps them feel represented and seen without judgement. Congratulations to Pages on 15 years, and thank you Dionne for bringing us together.
The end of the 2019-2020 school year was, to say the least, unconventional; to say the most, it was awful! Community building is a huge part of my classroom environment and “office hours” via Zoom meetings just don’t compare with the face-to-face, one-on-one interactions we have while physically at school. The anxiety we all felt while watching the daily press conferences about the novel coronavirus invading our world, our country, our state, and our city could not be collectively shared and dealt with. We had to rely on words sent through routers and the cloud and Zoom calls to convey our feelings and our fears.
The art of writing contends with this dilemma. Words can convey the most beautiful sentiments, but the warmth of a hug from a loved one is felt deep into your soul. So the challenge for writers is to make their readers FEEL something akin to that soul warming hug. Or sometimes to FEEL like a slap in the face or like a constant rolling tide. The challenge for writers is to accurately convey with only words what is easier to demonstrate in person, face-to-face.
Sometimes writers get it right. Jason Reynolds, Laurie Frankel, James Baldwin, Zadie Smith, Earnest Hemingway, Joan Didion, Erik Larson, Angie Thomas: they do that for me. They bring words to life in my mind, in my heart, in my psyche. I FEEL something when I read their words. As a teacher of English literature, language, and composition, I want my students to FEEL the power of words as I do when I read them.
Sometimes the recommended reading in our curriculum does that. Certain passages in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby can evoke the feeling of desperation in the reader that both Gatsby and Daisy feel because their love is forever doomed. Similarly certain passages of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird can evoke the feeling of frustration in the reader that Scout feels when confronted with the injustice of the charges brought against Tom Robinson.
But sometimes it takes a rap lyric to evoke the same feelings of desperation my students are experiencing as they witness peaceful protests being met with police in riot gear. And sometimes it takes a YA novel about police brutality written by a young black woman to evoke the same feeling of frustration my students feel at the injustice of seeing yet another black body abused or killed by white police officers.
Writing, while not as personal as face-to-face contact, can evoke FEELINGS that turn to action that lead to change. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. knew this and used it to fuel action by blacks and whites during the Civil Rights movement. James Baldwin also knew this and used it to spark conversations around the globe about the position—and potential—of blacks. Ibram X. Kendi knows this and is using it to educate us on the impossibility of racial neutrality. Robin DiAngelo knows this and using it to define and destroy white fragility based on the socialization of white supremacist ideas.
My hope for my students is that they recognize the power the pen holds. And that this power has helped create the feelings that prompt people to take notice and change their thinking. And that these feelings can fuel change. And that they can, with practice, write words that evoke feelings that might make this world a little less scary or that might fuel change that will make this world a little more safe. I hope that they realize their written words can feel like that soul warming hug I so desperately want to give them right now.
It’s been an unusual school year, so along with that comes an unusual final exam. For the first time in my teaching career, there is no special schedule and no quiet classroom to monitor while my students pour their last effort of the year into the exam for my class.
So, this year, I strove to find authenticity for my student’s “Stay-at-home” exam. I asked them to reflect on how the class helped them to grow as a learner or as a person.
My juniors, who had the wonderful opportunity to participate in the Pages Program this year, did not disappoint. Their exams rolled in one-by-one and a common theme started to emerge.
If you’ve found this blog, you might be asking yourself: “What kind of impact does this program have on the students?” The students say it best themselves:
“I feel what had the biggest impact was completing the pages program. There were a few different activities we did in the pages program but they tied together and taught me three important things: how to express myself more freely, how to value others’ work, and how to make a change through the various types of art.”
“These field trips give the students a chance to connect the classroom lessons through real-life and doing hands-on and real-life experiences and tangible artifacts. They give us access to culture and history and art that they may feel left out on the regular curriculum; the sensory, physical, and social aspects of field trips enrich learning experiences.”
“I don’t really like being in a class and just sitting there and learning. When we left school, I got to move around and learn about a lot more things and see more of the world from a different view.”
“I really liked the museum because it brought out who you were. It could explain a lot of other people’s stories or their backgrounds and how they would look in the future.”
“I loved that one project where we had to cut magazines out and put them on a poster [with April Sunami}. I really loved that one because I could pick a statement or a picture that really hit or made me feel some type of way.”
“Going to all of the field trips I got to experience art with my peers to see the world in a different lens. It gave me ideas and taught me how I can expand my ways of writing as well. It made me want to write more of what I loved to do. It made me picture scenes and scenarios in my head, things I knew I was capable of.”
“The art gallery, film, and musical performance taught me that you can’t do anything by yourself because there is only so much you can do. Teamwork helps a lot.”
“When the guests came and did projects with us I loved it the most. Getting up and moving around helped get my morning started.”
“Going to the art museum was important to me because I enjoyed seeing all the art and it will be a day I will never forget because it was a good memory and if I could go back I would.”
“One of the biggest things for me this year was the field trip we had at the Wexner Center and watched the film. This is mostly because it opened my eyes to how much pollution there is around the world. Also hearing other people’s reactions made me think even deeper and do more research which many things don’t make me do in school.”
“I really liked was when [Scott Woods] came to our classroom and taught us how to make poetry. He taught us how to make poetry out of topics that we would’ve never thought to make poetry out of. He allowed us to make room for poetry in our lives.”
I hope that these excerpts from my student’s final exams made you smile. As their teacher, it reinforces for me just how important it is to be involved in this program.