This text is reprinted from Bringing “Bookjoy” and Cultural Awareness to Children Nationwide (The Council Chronicle, March 2016), by Lorna Collier.
Making Connections across Cultures in Utah
Día was celebrated at Mountain View Elementary School in Salt Lake City, Utah, for the first time last May 1 (April 30 falls on a testing day, so the school chose May 1 instead). The school hosted an all-day celebration, involving 600 children, that coincided with a district literacy night, says third-grade teacher Tyson Price.
The school’s student population is about 60 percent Hispanic, Price says, but about 30 languages are spoken overall (including Tongan, Somali, Swahili, Russian, and Chinese). Día celebrated Hispanic culture but brought in other cultures as well.
For example, some students wrote essays about important moments in their lives, then went to other classes to read them out loud. Some of the narratives were from refugee students who—for the first time—shared what they’d endured to come to the US. “To hear those students’ perspectives about traveling to America or living in those refugee camps was a great opportunity for other kids to connect with them and understand what they’ve gone through,” Price says.
Though none of Price’s students wrote narratives, they listened to those who visited their classes and then discussed the presentations. “One girl said that was really brave of [the refugee student] to come and tell her story because it was a scary time in her life and it might be hard to talk about it.”
Many of Price’s students are Mexican immigrants who were better able to relate to refugee students from other countries after they shared their essays, says Price. “They connected on that level of wanting to have a better life; before, I don’t think they saw that common connection, but that brought it to their attention.”
Another event involved a former NFL player from the community (his mother is a Mountain View teacher), who spoke to students about how his love of reading got him through school, including college, and thus into the NFL, ultimately earning him a trip to the Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints. The former player, Marcus Mailei, is a Pacific Islander, a culture that is represented at the school, says Price.
Other events included:
- a readers’ theater schoolwide presentation of Where the Wild Things Are
- teachers and students dressing up as favorite book characters and decorating classroom doors to honor favorite books
- a book exchange and giveaway, ensuring that students went home with new books
- visits to the new public library down the street, where students learned about summer reading programs and prizes they could earn by reading books
- library staff visits during the evening literacy night, where parents were given kits full of activities to help their children become better readers
- read-alouds by Latina moms who attend a community learning center on the school’s campus; the mothers also shared their experiences about how reading had helped them in their lives
- tweets by teachers throughout the day to reach out to the community and show the importance of Día and how the school is trying to make a difference.
“Our main goal for the day was for the kids to learn to love reading and how it can be a positive influence on their lives,” Price says.
Mountain View plans to do a Día day again this spring, says Price. He hopes to have his students prepare essays in advance of the event so that this year they can have writing to share with other students.
“I like this because kids are writing it and other kids are reading it and it’s giving them the opportunity to see different perspectives,” Price says. “Even though we may speak different languages or come from different places, we have those connections that bring us together.”
Arizona University Hosts Día for 6th- to 12th-graders
NCTE member Tracey Flores, a doctoral student in English education at Arizona State University (ASU), has been working on a Día initiative for six years. Schools in cities surrounding the ASU Tempe campus bring 6th- through 12th-graders (often with parent chaperones) to campus for a morning Día event, usually from about 9 a.m. until 1 or 2 p.m., held in May after state testing is done. The event has grown from 250 students its first year in 2011 to more than 600 in recent years.
Día at ASU features speakers, slam poets, visiting and local young adult authors, mariachis and baile folklorico dancers from the Agua Fria High School, and hoop dancers. Students listen to keynote speeches, then break into small, interactive groups (sometimes run by authors) that focus on literacy activities, such as crafting and sharing a slam poem or learning how to write strong dialogue for a character, create a writer’s notebook, or craft song lyrics. “It’s really about getting them to see themselves in all their uniqueness and also having a space for them to share who they are—and to start to think about what that means,” says Flores. “It’s a celebration of culture, languages, and literacies.”
Students also come away with free books, written by one of the featured authors present at the event (and often signed by the author). Teachers have told Flores this is especially motivating for students, even those who aren’t normally big readers, because now they feel a personal connection to their book. While the ASU event primarily features Spanish as well as English, Flores says organizers are trying to bring in resources representing other cultures, languages, and literacies, such as American Indian; the hoop dancers are an example of this effort. Flores would also like to involve more children from nearby reservations.
One perennial challenge: budget. “Each year we start with zero,” Flores says. Partnerships with community organizations and businesses help fund the event. Dunkin Donuts provides doughnuts and milk; the local Phoenix Book company provides books at cost, while authors donate time or take reduced fees. Flores also seeks a humanities grant to fund free books and author visits. She would like to try to create a two-day Día event in the future—if she can work out budgetary and time constraints.
“We are helping to expand the view of literacy and expand the network of people in the state working toward this goal,” she says. “We’ve really garnered excitement from schools to attend.”
“It’s a Party for Books!”
At Travis Elementary School in Houston, Día has been celebrated the past two years as a night-time event so more families can attend. The event began at Travis partly as a result of efforts by parent and PTA member Debbie Muñiz, a former Houston school district researcher who had worked with Día in the past through a nonprofit organization in Houston. She suggested Día to principal Tom Day, who quickly embraced it.
“We wanted to have better outreach and engagement with our Hispanic families,” says Day, noting that nearly half the students (44 percent) in the school are Hispanic. “We thought what a great idea to have an event where we celebrate culture and instill a love of reading—and bring the community together.”
At Travis’s most recent “book fiesta” celebration, the school provided three to four free books for children; a folk singer/storyteller performed Spanish/Mexican folk tales; and the Houston Children’s Museum helped teachers work with students in about 20 different literacy-related activities. Students and their families rotated among tables where they could, for example, create the life cycle of a caterpillar on a paper plate (to honor The Very Hungry Caterpillar), make glasses using pipe cleaners (an homage to Arthur’s Eyes), or participate in other ways.
Parents also were given activity books with suggestions for enhancing their child’s literacy at home over the summer.
“Some parents said ‘I don’t know what to do to help my child,’” Muñiz says. “So we were able to give them hands-on simple things to do at home with items they probably already have. For me, that is why we need to keep doing this. We take for granted that a lot of parents already know how to do this, and some want to do it, but they don’t necessarily know how.”
Muñiz says many parents came to her to say how grateful they were for the night and for the new books, which let the children start their own home libraries.
As for the children, says Muñiz, a parent of two Travis students: “They say, ‘this is so cool! We are having a party for books!’”
Muñiz noticed as the last Día was winding down that one child was sitting on the steps of the stage, his new books arrayed around him, already engrossed in one. “I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this is what it’s about. He’s so excited, he’s got these books, he’s like, ‘I’m ready to start reading them now.’”