it begins with books

Making progress on a promise, Fariña brings books to homeless children

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder
Chancellor Carmen Fariña reads to a group of three- and four-year-olds living at the HELP Bronx Crotona Park North shelter.

A year after vowing to put more books in the hands of the city’s homeless children, Chancellor Carmen Fariña has helped oversee the creation of 20 small libraries in family shelters throughout the city.

Scholastic Inc. donated 3,400 books to create libraries at 20 family shelters for a pilot program that Fariña said she hopes to eventually expand to more than 40 shelters. The shelters in the pilot program — which serve 4,000 children across Brooklyn, the Bronx, Manhattan, and Queens — each have 170 books in their libraries, including bilingual books.

“This is a dream come true,” Fariña said after reading to a group of three- and four-year-olds living at the HELP Bronx Crotona Park North shelter that provides transitional housing for nearly 100 families. “These are kids who are eager to learn.”

Last April, after hearing from Department of Homeless Services Commissioner Gilbert Taylor that 22,000 children slept in homeless shelters, but none of them had libraries, Fariña vowed to get books into those nearly 160 family shelters. Taylor recalled that conversation standing in front of the new bookshelves at the Bronx shelter Monday.

“It really began with books,” Taylor said. “Something as fundamental as having books and being able to get them outside of school. And to see it actually take shape in this shelter is something that is very heart-warming.”

The 20 shelters, the majority of which are in Brooklyn and the Bronx, were chosen last year based on whether they had space for a small library, according to the homeless services department.

“That’s not a strong number, but it’s only the beginning,” Fariña said.

The city said the books were the start of a broader literacy program that will involve placing volunteers at the shelter libraries, adding reading workshops for parents and children hosted by partner organizations, and using the Queens, Brooklyn, and New York public libraries to connect shelter residents to existing services.

For now, the city is trying simply to provide access to books, most of which are on school reading lists, Fariña said.

“A lot of these books were chosen so that parents could read to children and even parents who are at a certain literacy level can read,” she said. “Some of the adolescent books here would be actually just as good in an adult’s hands.”

Fariña started the afternoon by reading one of the new books to about 15 squirmy three- and four-year-olds living at the Bronx shelter. And while she said she “couldn’t keep them still” during the reading, all hope of containing the children’s excitement went out the window when a costumed Clifford the Big Red Dog walked into the room.

“These kids are actually really hopeful, they’re excited, they’re learning,” Fariña said.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.