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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Books and Bliss: Reading to Gary's first graders


A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about feeling adrift, as if I had no real purpose. "Come and read a book to my first graders," my friend Gary responded in the comments. "Their lives are not always easy but those kids wear emotions and find their way back to happiness. You have so much to offer and so do they. I think it is a win-win situation." Gary teaches at the American Sign Language and English School in the city, and we met years ago through his wonderful blog, Follow Your Bliss. Gary's been a reader of my blog long enough to know about my natural introvert tendencies, but against everything that was telling me to avoid center stage, I said yes!

Oh, I am so glad I did. Gary had explained that some of his kids were non-hearing and some were the hearing children of deaf parents. Most are bilingual in ASL and English. Because some of the kids are deaf, I'd have an interpreter signing alongside me. We agreed I'd read one of my favorite books ever, Thank You, Mr. Falker, a picture book about an insightful educator who teaches a lonely, isolated student to read. The word dyslexic is never mentioned in the book. I often read the story to my own kids when they were growing up, and I never failed to tear up at the moment when all the words on the page suddenly make sense to the girl and she reads and understands whole sentences for the first time. The girl is Patricia Palacco, the author of the book. Despite once feeling dumb because all the kids teased her about not being able to read, she grew up to be a writer and illustrator of books for children. Mr. Falker changed her life. Gary thought the book would be perfect because it offered an opening for me to talk about loving books and getting your own stories down without stifling them.

When I walked in the kids lively faces immediately put me at ease. There were twenty-one of them, all sitting in a semi circle around me and the interpreter. Their faces were eager, curious, expectant. They each introduced themselves to me by signing their names. First we talked a bit about what it meant to be " a writer," and how writing is really just getting your thoughts out of your head. Then I read the book. The kids were the most generous audience, hanging on every word. The interpreter signed what I was reading "gorgeously," Gary said after. I imagine the story was that much richer, arriving in the children's' imaginations by both sight and sound.


Afterward, the kids asked me questions they'd prepared, and we had a rollicking good exchange. Some moved from siting cross legged to lying on their stomachs, chins in their palms. I loved it. I loved them. They were so open-hearted. One girl observed that the girl in the book had been bullied by the kids who called her dumb. She named it. Then she shared that she had been bullied at her previous school, which is why her mother moved her to this one. I wanted to hug that little girl. I was glad that she was now in a place where she felt safe enough and embraced enough to share so freely. I always knew my friend Gary was a special kind of teacher, but being with his first graders, I realized just how gifted and committed he is. That's Gary in the black-and-white plaid shirt below. His first graders are lucky to have their own Mr. Falker.


In the photo, I adore how one girl's hand reaches around her classmate to rest on my shoulder. After the group pictures, the kids crowded around. One said, "I want to hug you," and she did. The rest followed her lead and soon I was the beaming guest at the center of a first grader hug fest. Gary texted me later that the kids had made me thank you cards, and he wanted to send them to me. He snapped photos of some of the cards.





"One of the kids wrote, Books are great. I like books too," Gary messaged me. "Our work here is done." Thank you, Gary Wellbrock, for making this wonderful experience available to me. You're right. Your kids can lead any soul right back to joy.

(Note: The students' parents granted permission to post their kids' pictures.)

18 comments:

  1. Oh this is heartachingly gorgeous and amazing and fantastic. I adore you and thank you. Love, Rebecca

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  2. I absolutely love that you stepped outside your comfort zone to accept my invitation. I absolutely love the way you valued my students and shared the joy of words. I absolutely love how you embraced their questions and listened to them. And I absolutely loved reading your reflections on the visit.
    Thank you so much for the gift of your presence, your words, your experiences and your attention. The children have so much to share and you helped them know that writing is an option for each and every one of them. I am eternally grateful.

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  3. This is so beautiful it almost hurts.

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  4. Absolutely and wonderfully and perfectly joyful.

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  5. What a wonderful experience. Thank you for doing this!! You look absolutely great among all these kids.

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  6. How wonderful is that! Thank you Gary for setting this up and thank you Angella for sharing your adventure. And an extra special thank you to the children for bringing joy to all of us.

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  7. How amazing and joyful you look in your pretty red scarf surrounded by those lovely children! This is so beautiful. I'm so glad for you.

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  8. Yes, amazing and joyful.
    Xoxo
    Barbara

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  9. What a brilliant experience. Kids are so gorgeous at that age. ( my Grandaughter is 6) Will you do it again?

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  10. So glad you went! The kids look so happy to have you there. More of this? x0 N2

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  11. Oh how wonderful this is, it caused some tears, thank you! Will you do this again? I think the kids would appreciate it. And it sure is good for you too.

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  12. Perfect. I remember years ago my husband and I read poetry to a 4th grade class at Piney Woods in Mississippi. My oldest daughter was a member of the class. The teacher had shared that they were a restless bunch who might not pay any attention. They paid total attention. It is one of my favorite memories. I don't know why I/we didn't do it again.

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  13. This post made me smile...What a lovely experience for you and for those kids!

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  14. Follow Your Bliss, indeed! This post makes me so happy. First, those cool kids. (The one touching you, No doubt you have unearthed something in her.) And, you! I know you have been struggling. This is what you needed. Love from 6 year olds is a lovely gift. Is this something you could do on a regular basis for more little ones in your community? You are a god in their eyes.

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  15. What you just experienced is exactly why people go into teaching, and you've captured it so well. The paperwork can be nightmarish and the hours insane, but when you really reach them and see that light spark on...there's nothing like it. You know, I graduated with a master's degree in education this year and then took a job in an unrelated field. I've been debating going back, and stumbling on this post today was a gift. Thank you.

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  16. Oh, this post made my day. Seeing you and Gary together is terrific, and what a great, uplifting experience to read to his kids! You should make this an annual event! Being around kids, especially kids that age -- when they're so open -- well, it's an amazing experience. I've discovered that myself when working with young elementary-age kids.

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  17. I absolutely loved all of this! And oh - those cards!!! I miss my years with little kids.

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