Anthology lifts up the voice of children

Have you read the new anthology, Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors? If not, you may want to add it to your summer reading list. Published by Celery City Books, the anthology includes the work of a number of Kalamazoo Public School students from Arcadia Elementary School. Poems by Reem Ahmed, Nour Abdullah, Hala Alhasan, Nada Alhasnawi, Faris Bukhader, Nabaa Eyddan, Lisbet Lopez, Taema Qwam-Alden, Roziya Rustamova, Abdullah Tayara, and Ritika Verma are woven throughout the anthology. These fourth and fifth graders are published alongside prominent poets and writers from Michigan and beyond.

If you want to read a book on immigration policy, then this isn’t the book for you. However, if you are a neighbor, have a neighbor, or are interested in exploring the theme of immigration and what kids have to say about it, this 116 page anthology is for you.

Scott Matteson designed the book’s eye-catching cover which bears the Statue of Liberty draped in flags of different countries. Photo by Jessica Grant.

Here are nine things you may not know about this anthology project:

What readers are saying.

CIS friend and community advocate Deborah Droppers says, “I applaud the anthology of essays and poems found in Immigration and Justice For Our Neighbors. The anthology uses the written word to encourage thoughtful discourse on the challenges that each of our communities face while celebrating the amazing things that happen organically when people believe in the power of conversation between neighbors that are close and beyond our picket fences.”

Retired KPS teacher Carol Hodges says this: “Opening this anthology in the middle, I find a child’s poetic love letter to the country of Iraq juxtaposed against the complex musings of an American man teaching English to Arabs in the Mideast. Then there is the story of a Nigerian woman named Rejoice who fears being deported. How different is her modern-day experience from the 1919 steerage voyage of the young British woman leaving shame and servitude behind?This volume is thin but it is far from an easy read. You’ll need time to ponder.”

The people behind the pages.

Were it not for the support of Communities In Schools of Kalamazoo and the Kalamazoo Public Schools, the children’s voices might not have been heard. A shout out to Arcadia Elementary School teachers Debora Gant, Holly Bishop, Erin Young, and Donna Judd for the opportunity to work with such wonderful students. Also, Donia Ali and Grace Gheen are two shining stars at Arcadia who are part of the fabulous Kalamazoo Public Schools Bilingual/English as a Second Language (ESL) Program. They were instrumental to the success of this project in so many ways.

It’s in the bag.

KPL’s Book Club in a Bag

The anthology is now part of Kalamazoo Public Library’s impressive list of books available as a Book Club in a Bag. Karen Trout, Reading Together coordinator for the Kalamazoo Public Library says, “KPL’s 2016 social justice resolution includes the statement: KPL values compassion and champions everyone’s right to be welcome in a safe environment in the library and in the wider community. Adding this title to our Book Club in a Bag collection–and encouraging local dialogue about the issue of immigration–is a perfect way to put this institutional commitment into action.” Book Club in a Bag is open to all Kalamazoo Public Library district resident cardholders.

 

Student voices reaching beyond Kalamazoo.

In Grand Rapids, the celebrated Iraqi-American poet Dunya Mikhail read and discussed excerpts from the “Dear Iraq” poems written by Arcadia poets at “I, Too, Am Michigan,” part of the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters “Writers Squared series.”

At a reading at the stunning sculpture gardens of Roan and Black in Saugatuck, award-winning Michigan poet Jack Ridl talked about the project and helped the voices of the children reach an even wider audience. Ridl contributed three of his own poems to the anthology.

Jack Ridl talks about anthology at Roan and Black.

Students got a lot out of this anthology project.

The Arcadia fourth and fifth graders wrote poems, some for the first time. Their work was published and they have had opportunities to read their work to others, at home, school, on the Kalamazoo College campus, and at Bookbug. They’ve read alongside well-known Michigan poets and writers like Buddy Hannah, Elizabeth Kerlikowske, Hedy Habra, Lynn Pattison, Kit Almy, Phillip Sterling, Marion Boyer, and Alison Swan. They’ve even been approached by audience members asking the students to autograph their copy of the anthology and have graciously done so. (Kudos to Arcadia Principal Greg Socha for all his support of this project, including his wise suggestion of giving students the opportunity to practice their signatures in advance of readings!)

Arcadia students with former CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nick Baxter getting ready to read.

Student are giving back to the community.

One can’t help but think that the students have given more than they have received. Like the other contributors, the children donated their work and all proceeds benefit Justice For Our Neighbors in Kalamazoo, a legal clinic for immigrants.

Also, their words make grown ups think! As one reader said, “I know immigration has been a hot topic but it didn’t really hit home until I read the children’s ‘Dear Country’ poems.”  Similar sentiments have been shared by other readers. A reader who attended the June Bookbug event said, “I’m humbled by the bravery of these children. I can’t imagine the courage it takes to read before a group of people, let alone leave one’s country and then read so beautifully in a brand new language. How many of us could do that? I don’t know if I could!” 

CIS connections.

Nick reads an excerpt from his essay.

In addition to the students’ poems, CIS friends will be pleased to discover an interview with former CIS site coordinator Gulnar Husain. Also, Nicholas “Nick” Baxter, a former Americorps VISTA worker with CIS, contributes a lovely essay entitled “Blueberries.”

Jennifer Clark, co-editor of the anthology, works on special projects and initiatives for CIS and worked with the students on this anthology project as a CIS volunteer, offering workshops at Arcadia Elementary School. She can’t sing the praises enough of the CIS staff at Arcadia. Thanks to Caitlin Bales and Rachel DeNooyer for all their support! CIS volunteer Cindy Hadley also worked behind the scenes, escorting students to and from the poetry workshops. Go, Cindy!

 

 

A second printing.

Less than two months after the young poets read their poems before a crowd of over 125 people who turned out to celebrate the April 19th release of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors at the Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, the anthology sold out of its first 400 copies and went into a second printing.

Miriam Downey, co-editor of Immigration & Justice For Our Neighbors, welcomes everyone to the anthology launch.

Where to get the book.

In addition to finding the anthology at local libraries, it is available at the following locations:

Bookbug (3019 Oakland Drive in Oakwood Plaza at Oakland Dr. & Whites Rd.)

Michigan News Agency (308 W. Michigan Avenue in downtown Kalamazoo)

Kazoo Books (2413 Parkview Avenue in Kalamazoo)

Tudor House Tea & Spice (352 S. Kalamazoo Mall in downtown Kalamazoo)

First United Methodist Church (212 S. Park in downtown Kalamazoo across from Bronson Park)

-Books can also obtained by mail by completing an order form that can be downloaded here.

 

Happy summer reading! And if you haven’t had a chance to hear the students read, you can catch them reading their work here.

 

Poetry Fuels Young Minds

We can’t let April slip by without a nod to poetry. Whether a student is reading and writing poetry in April or December, poetry enhances literacy, builds community, aids in creative problem solving, and fosters social-emotional resilience. Students who have disengaged from learning because of problems outside of the classroom can often be re-engaged through poetry.

On the heels of the hugely successful Kalamazoo Poetry Festival, it’s clear poetry is alive and well throughout the city (and beyond). Here now are six reasons we know poetry is fueling the minds of some of our 12,000+ students, who are tapping into this ancient art form to learn about themselves and the world around them.

1. CIS AmeriCorps VISTA Nicholas Baxter believes in the power of poetry. He shares his talent and passion for poetry within the Kalamazoo Public Schools, running a poetry workshop at Arcadia Elementary School. Every Thursday, budding poets spend their lunchtime reading, writing, and learning about poetry. Here is Nicholas with (left to right) Roziya Rustamova, Aceanna Williams, Nabaa Eyddan, and Reem Ahmed.

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2.  If you didn’t get the chance to read Tristan Pierce’s poem, “Time Waits 4 No Man!” then head over to CIS Connections and read it now because, as this Parkwood student reminds us, time waits for no one.

3.  As a CIS volunteer, I recently had the pleasure of stepping into Woods Lake Elementary: A Magnet Center for the Arts and offering a poetry lesson to Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third graders. I couldn’t help but think of Mrs. Parlato as a literacy warrior. 

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Like all great teachers, she sets clear boundaries for her students while maintaining a sense of fun and fueling their desire to learn. Every one of her students actively participated in the poetry workshop and wrote at least one poem. Woods Lake’s CIS Site Coordinator Maureen Cartmill, impressed with the students’ creativity, said, “Poetry really brings home how important and enriching vocabulary can be.”                                                                   

4.  This past March, 30 Kalamazoo Public School students read their original poems at Chenery Auditorium as part of the inaugural Spoken Word Middle School Poetry event. Superintendent Michael Rice noted that, by sharing their poems that evening, students offered the audience “a sense of who they are and how they are going to have an impact on their world.” You can read more about the event and watch the performances by going here.

5.  Friends of Poetry, an almost 40-year old organization which promotes the reading and writing of poetry throughout the greater Kalamazoo area, is gobbling up poems students throughout the area sent for consideration in their annual “Poems That Ate Our Ears” contest. While winners haven’t been announced yet, we can’t help but think of what Hillside Middle School Principal McKissack said upon reflecting on Hillside’s strong showing at the second annual MLK “Courage to Create” Celebration.

Principal McKissack out at WMU with Hillside students and staff

A number of his students made it to the semi-finalist round, read their work at Western Michigan University and took a number of top prizes in the poetry competition. He was proud, “not of the winning part, but I was overjoyed by the hard work they put into getting there—the reading, studying, the questions they asked. They didn’t give up.”

Young people, through poetry, are putting their voice out into the world. That’s a brave, beautiful, and winning act in itself.

6.  Consider this group poem, written by Mrs. Shannon Parlato’s third grade students:

Recipe for Success

First, take twenty dabs of sleep and let gently rest.

Then take food and water and pour it into a cup.

Add a lifetime of teachers for a heaping harvest

of education so that we can use the Promise

to get the career we love.

After a good long day, roll up in a blanket.

Dream of what we’ve accomplished.

Caring Adult: Olivia Gabor-pierce

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Nicholas Baxter, about to embark on his AmeriCorps VISTA journey with CIS, is seen here, taking his Oath of Service.

It’s time again to think back to when you were young and in school and recall that caring adult you felt especially connected to. Maybe it was in elementary school, or perhaps it was middle or high school. Who is that special person, who, even after all these years, you still carry within your hearts?

Members of the fabulous CIS team at Edison Environmental Science Academy have been taking up the challenge and sharing their caring adult. You’ve read about Principal Julie McDonald’s, CIS After School Coordinator Stacy Salters‘ caring adult. As I was preparing to run the post on AmeriCorps VISTANicholas Baxter’s caring adult, he informed me that he didn’t have a caring adult in his elementary or high school years and “so I chose the most attractive elementary teacher I had and although I do remember her being nice and, well, memorable she is not my most caring adult. I don’t recall anyone being a caring adult until college…”

NickSo, here now is Nick’s reflection about his real caring adult…

At Western Michigan University I had a German professor named Olivia Gabor-Pierce. She was the first person I ever met who spoke four languages and wrote books. She was incredibly intelligent and challenged our intellects inside and outside of class. We thought critically about the language we were learning; she loved that.

Throughout my entire college career she was always the professor who was able to ground me in a few words. No matter what was going on or how stressful things were, her caring, open, and loving demeanor instantly calmed life around us. She was the first person who ever truly pushed my abilities beyond what I thought possible, she saw things in me I never was able to see.

Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.
Nick leading students in a “Keep the Lights On After School” chant he wrote.

She told me I must go to Bonn.  “You must go to Bonn,” she said. It became a meta mantra that was engrained in my subconscious until I actually did go and realized a whole new perspective on life. Because of her heart always being open to her students, my eyes were opened to the world and for that I thank her and believe she deserves the spot of my caring adult.

Nicholas A. Baxter, AmeriCorps VISTA