Paper clouds pasted onto the blackboard offer up inspiration.
Imagination, fantasy. dreams, discover – these are the words written upon the floating images, curling slightly at the edges, that set the stage for the creative endeavors taking place within Room 313 at Midwood High School, Bedford Avenue and Campus Road, where children’s storybooks are under construction.
There, students who have been struggling with the English language learn to let their words and thoughts run free, thanks to an innovative program that taps into the students’ creative instincts while giving them a solid grounding in the English language.
The results – as demonstrated during Midwood’s second annual Storybook Day – can be breathtaking.
In one tale, the youthful storytellers, Jacqueline Glazman and Lydia Chow, created a modern-day parable, Henry and the Purple Spot, in which “a chocolate cow sold to a herd of vanilla cows” teaches an important lesson about celebrating individual differences.
Ardi’s Adventure, written and illustrated by Nicole Hamilton and Amaris Millington, told the tale of a mouse who makes friends with a snake, and how the mouse’s family finally accepted their friendship, with the mouse’s mother admitting that she had made an error judging the snake by appearances.
In another, Hard Work Pays Off, ninth-grader Richard Wells told a story that, he explained, was intended to instruct, ‘Younger children who need motivation to prepare for high school in the future.”
My Parrot Family, created by Umail Qureshi, Danish Ali and Ali Akbar Alyas, focused on the meaning of home. “Really,” the young authors wrote, “no matter where you go, you will never forget your home or your country."
That story was read to the class, not by its authors, but by Borough President Marty Markowitz, who urged the assembled students to learn whatever they could about each other’s cultures.
“You are so blessed, all of you, that you go to this great school and have an opportunity to meet each other like this and work and play,” Markowitz told the assembled students seated at desks or leaning against the walls.
“I hope, students, that you learn something about each other, your cultural background, your religious background, even some of the languages,” he added.
According to teacher Maureen Cox, who conducted the celebration, the program began with ninth graders at the school who were not reading and writing at grade level. It has evolved, she explained, to include English language learners attending a Saturday class, as well as 10th grade students in literacy, gifted and collegiate classes, and ninth grade inclusion class students.
Getting struggling students interested in reading and writing is a challenge, said Cox, who works with them in special double-period literacy classes whose goal is, “Total stimulation and immersion to try to ramp them up to the level they should be on.”
This means a minimum of 25 minutes of independent reading daily – an effort that is tempered by the program’s creative side, in which students are given crayons and markers and asked to put together their own book.
The story book project doesn’t end with the Midwood students. Rather, because the Ramp-Up Literacy program involves cross-age tutoring, and read-alouds with younger students, the Midwood students take their own books to Public School 152, across the street, and read them in the elementary school classes there.
The books’ journey will hopefully continue even further, said Cox. The Midwood Key Club, she explained, has a connection to a school in Zimbabwe, and the plan is to send the books there, for African students to read and enjoy, and also to help them learn English.
It’s a gift that hopefully will keep on giving—not only to the far-off students who one day might be inspired by the books written by the Midwood students, but to the group gathered to celebrate their literary endeavors in Room 313, who are picking up a key skill for success as they compose their stories.
“Writing is a skill you will need your whole life,” stressed Markowitz.