In addition to doing Professional Development for schools and districts, I also do student assemblies (with my YA author hat on.) And the truth is, while I like doing to adult events, the kids just smoke the grown-ups on the “fun for me” scale… it’s not even close.
Anyway, I did a really cool, very well received student assembly last year at Wilson High School in Long Beach, CA. Essentially, a great teacher over there named Devon Day nudged and nudged me to come, and when I was able to make the schedule work, I did.
The kids were great. The staff was nice. All in all, it was pretty good stuff.
I only mention it because this is the same Wilson High that has been in the news lately… for all the wrong reasons. Tragically, one of their students was fatally shot and killed after their homecoming game. It was front page stuff out this way.
A big theme of mine that day was about choices and trying to advocate for education over violence. As the author of the really popular YA book Homeboyz, a book many of their students just love, I feel it is essential to make sure kids are crystal clear as to why I wrote the book. It’s a cautionary tale, violent and raw and all too real. Studnets, like moths to the flame, are entranced by gangs in this day and age but this stuff ain’t no joke — that’s part of my presentations. Anway, Devon just sent me the following email as her school wrestles with how to move on in the aftermath of this tragedy.
I am sure you have read all about the 11th grader here at Wilson High School that was shot and killed on October 30th after the Homecoming game. She died on route to the hospital but was shot at the cross walk coming into the C-side. Alan you’ve crossed it!
Tomorrow I am starting Homeboyz (Year 2 with your book). What a great piece of literature to get the students talking about the consequences of violence. I know I have some kids with street lives in my English classes this year. It will be an interesting time to get the students to open up and write about their experiences, especially with the recent death of Melody Ross. Tonight is a candle light vigil on the campus quad. We expect a huge turn out. I started with one class on Tuesday. I started out by reading parts of chapters one and two with the help of one of my returning students, Alejandro who loves to read out loud. When I told them they had to read the remaining pages to chapter 3 by themselves, nobody complained. I look forward to tomorrow’s activities. I am still using your BookJam curriculum.
Hope all is well.
On one hand, I am thrilled that a great teacher like Devon finds my work worthy enough to bring into her own classroom to try and teach and reach her kids. On the other hand, I am sad and empty.
I mean I live under the delusion that when I do free assemblies like the one I did for Devon’s school that it’s because it’s gonna make an impact and kids are gonna get it and things are going to change. Unfortunately, I do not have nearly the power I wish I did to help young people avoid the violence which plagues young America today.
It’s depressing. No matter what I do I know that individually it will never be enough. (I mean, I am working on 4 hours of sleep as I type this right now and my voice is so raw from teaching and speaking I am scared of creating scar tissue on my vocal cords — but I just haven’t had a break for weeks).
And yet still, we forge on. What more can we all do but forge on? Not give in to cynicism and bitterness. Not turn to anger or hate. All I guess we can do is put one foot in front of the other.
My heart goes out to the family and friends of Melody Ross… and to the community of Long Beach Wilson. As adults in this world, we have got to find a way to do better by our kids.
Blame is easy. Solutions are a whole different matter.
This weekend, let’s all remember that bullets just took another young student’s life and no matter how much I think about it, it really just doesn’t make any sense.
Good luck, Wilson High. Hope you know there are people in your corner everywhere even if you do not see them.