Be Superman

May 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm Leave a comment

Waiting for Superman. Anyone who has seen the movie can’t help but crave to be part of the solution to the chaos that is public schooling in the big city. So, when the opportunity arose for us to work with a group of second graders from the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, an area featured as a potential model for educational reform, we were psyched. 

“You’re the publishing lady!” announced a uniformed kid with a smile as big as his belly.

“I am!” I responded with equal enthusiasm.

And with that, his head disappeared into a large, seemingly organized bucket of folders in his colorful classroom on W. 134th St. He insisted he had something to read to me. While he searched feverishly, another child entered the room and fell onto me with a huge hug.

“We’re so glad you’re here!” she said. “Do you want to see what I wrote?”

India's Poem

A poem by India

The kids’ eagerness to share their month’s worth of poems with a complete stranger made me smile – such confidence. Their teacher and assistants had injected them with pride of accomplishment that made the occasional spelling of brekfrist and masheen wholly unimportant. 

The folder diver finally found his work and pulled out a poem about an airplane. That his teacher had already announced the cadence “1, 2, 3; eyes on me” meant nothing to this little boy as he proudly belted his poem aloud.

Three weeks after I visited the Promise Academy second graders, the 23 writers came to our Upper West Side studio to see exactly how their books would get published. Don’t get me wrong – it was chaos: a tsunami of unbridled creative enthusiasm unleashed in one ferocious burst. The studio manager looked at us for reassurance that all was under control.

For the next two hours, the children set themselves to enhancing their words with colorful pictures and patterns galore. The assortment of pages, some crinkled and stained, were then shuffled together with covers and “About the Author” pages. Intermittently, the young poets disappeared into our backroom to see the book press and various cool machinery that would suck up their imperfect stacks of paper and turn them into actual books. And we watched their eyes fill with wonder.

A book of poetry may not have much to offer the conversation about educational reform, and despite how hard we may work on a given day, none of us at Scribble Press will claim to be Superman. Still, the morning I was “the publishing lady” coupled with the book-making extravaganza reminded me that we all have a little something to offer to the educational process. We all have a match to spark the magic.

And if you don’t believe me, try this:

The next time a child says, “Do you want to see what I wrote?” say yes.

And when he’s done, ask him for his autograph. 

Then watch his spirit soar.

Because that, Superman, is how you get kids to fly.

-Jennifer Sarja

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And the winner is… Time-out for adventure? A thought or two… and a quick book review

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