During a brief moment of optimism at this time last year, I had the idea of creating an award for local education heroes “who have served in the best interest of children, dared to think outside the box, and modeled quiet leadership and courage.” This year, after twelve months of collective angst and epic division throughout the city of Nashville, I’ve had neither the desire nor energy to rekindle last year’s optimism. I know I’m not alone. The mass destruction of trust in our elected and appointed leaders has affected everyone from the courthouse to the schoolhouse.
But I’d be flat-out wrong to ignore the ribbons of light beaming from the corners of darkness reminding us that no matter what goes on outside of school or the school district, there are people who actually keep their focus on kids and deliver for them. I’ve spoken with parents desperate to make a difference in their child’s school and observed educators, organizations and school board members who are dedicated to making a positive impact on students and public education.
Still, the vast majority of 2018 reminds me of Langston Hughes’ poem Mother to Son, the rawest of motivational speeches. A mother lovingly lays threadbare the trials of her life using the relatable and stunningly visual “life ain’t been no crystal stair.” If I can borrow a phrase, this year ain’t been no crystal stair,
“It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up…”
A sad, but accurate description of education’s business and political realities of 2018.
Tacks and Splinters
Because of all the serious complaints against the director of schools and his administration; school board members expending enormous amounts of energy and time leading a public campaign to publicly ridicule the director of schools; the lack of attention paid to the Maplewood Cluster where most of its schools fall into the bottom 5 percent of the state; and the school board discord that plays out on Facebook, Twitter, and school board meetings, it was a challenge to muster the motivation to seek out the diamonds amongst the rubble. In recent weeks, I even tweeted condolences to parents forced to rely on the adults and system in its current condition. Fighting to keep the darkness from winning, I was reminded of the need to uplift the reason for the EdChamps season.
Anyone who has read my blog or social media content knows my passion for Project LIT Community and its teacher-founder Dr. Jarred Amato. Launched in 2016 in response to an article about book deserts published by The Atlantic, Amato and his English class at Maplewood High School filled book bins and distributed them throughout the community. Two years later, PLC chapters promoting community and classroom libraries with cultural-affirming books can be found in 49 states. In 2018, the movement hosted its first annual conference with passionate teachers from around the country plus special guests renowned YA authors Kwame Alexander, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, and Jeff Zentner.
It’s programs like PLC and out-of-the-box educators that inspire me. But it would be too easy to honor Dr. Amato for the second year in a row. However, it has forced me to think about the brightest lights in fields of darkness, the people who do school under the most difficult of circumstances. Students. In a year that will forever be known for its fierce resurgence of youth activism, it’s only fitting to honor a group of students responsible for kickstarting the most LIT movement in Nashville.
In 2016, thirty-five students and their teacher set out to do something special for their community. Realizing that the location of their school and the communities from which their students come are the definitions of book deserts, the group sprung into action by searching for old newspaper bins and asking for book donations. Dedicated to their community, the founders spent their Saturdays at the school painting, decorating, and delivering old newspaper bins. Libraries In The Community led to monthly bookclubs inviting community members into their school library to fellowship with students and talk books.
Through these book clubs, I’ve had the honor to meet some of the student-founders, now seniors, whose commitment to this effort never ceases to amaze. But the belief they have in themselves and love of their educational community are what strikes me best. Even as their school and surrounding neighborhoods are often ignored by city leaders, these young women and men are looking toward a future where they will lead. Armed with an understanding of the power of books and the importance of reading, you can rest assured the budding civic-minded bosses will continue to make us proud.
Congratulations to the Project LIT student-founders as EdChamps 2018!
In Hughes’ poem, the mother continues by telling her son of going into places where “there ain’t been no light” encouraging the lad to keep moving forward. A special shout to every Metro Schools student for shining bright even during harsh seasons. May you use that flame to light the path ahead and may the adults hired or elected to provide excellence use your light to find their way back to you.