Letter to Jason Reynolds, author of Ghost

Dear Jason,

I work in an impoverished community where sports are very important. To some, it is the only thing that is important to them. Learning may not be a high priority regardless of all the tricks teachers and school leaders have tried to pull out, but sports have a special magic for our students. They see African American athletes playing for NBA titles or hitting a grand slam in a baseball game, and my students want to be those athletes. Too often books are jaded with primarily white characters and my students struggle imagining themselves in those books, but that was not the case in Ghost.

The main character, who self imposed the name Ghost, has a lot of powerful messages behind himself that sat and made me wonder. Initially, I was expecting the young man wanting to hide from something or be invisible like a ghost, but you offered so much more that parallels to many of my students. This young man lives in the heart of many of my students. He fought for daily survival and held with him an embarrassment of his own situation because he continually compared himself to some of the other privileged students around him. We try not to compare, but it is hard sometimes not to. The negative feelings from comparing to others can lead any child into some form of an altercation, whether its physical or verbal.  Ghost’s daily grind of only having one parent around and an aunt who loves him is echoed around me. His mother cannot provide everything he wants or might need to be as successful as his peers, which he has learned to go without which is a burden.

Ghost walks around guarded and not wanting to share about his home life and his father’s whereabouts to everyone, even his coach. My students shrug off the same obstacles because they struggle handling the harsh truths about their own family; like Ghost, they know where there loved one might be and cannot shake the uneasiness it causes them inside. Sometimes it’s easier to lock up their emotions inside than face the mortification that comes with someone else knowing ‘it’ about them. It’s hard for a middle schooler to open up and face the trauma from violence publicly, especially to me–a white teacher. I often get phrases like I wouldn’t understand or I’m too white to get it. To avoid it, students crack jokes to laugh at the struggles to avoid crying about the struggles. I try to snap back sometimes, not to crush their spirit, but to build dialogue and camaraderie with the student.

Being a track based novel, Ghost’s story is built around running for his new team, but he is running from so much more in his life. It took a male role model to show him some tough love and flexibility when he needed it most. I hope I can be that person for my students who face similar races in life growing up while they’re in middle school with me. There are often mistakes by kids, but that is OK as failure is the first step in learning.

I see Ghost’s story as a platform to begin some tough conversations with kids and build a solid teacher-student relationship. The hidden messages and themes throughout the novel are ones my students can relate because there are numerous Ghosts walking around my school that need a coach in their life.

Thank you, Jason, for giving me a platform for reaching students where they can see themselves in a book.

Sincerely,

Dr. Brian Cook

Pocomoke Middle School

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Posted in Instruction, Secondary Education, Students, YA Books | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

#Picademy Reflection: Everyone Should Code

I know my stuff, or at least I thought I did prior to heading to Jersey City for #PiCademy. I coded in high school and tinker with web sites from time to time. I am very intelligent in my building (of low tech folks).

However, being around a group of individuals, some at novice level, but mostly expert levels was amazing. I got to listen to the best minds in bringing coding to students from people all across the country and world too. We had a common vision, every child needs to code during their school experience and often.

The simplest task, flashing yellow lights as I drive to work through downtown Pocomoke, is a coded program. It may not seem like much, but it is coding in its simplest form. Often people watch television, video games, and explore cool toys without thinking of what it took to actually make it. What is behind the gadgets of the world? Coding!

My cup was amazingly full after the morning session.

Scratch, Python

Scratch and Python are two very well known coding programs today for students. I have played with Scratch using our iPads at different occasions, but moving into Python was a huge challenge for me. I often used the models from the presenters and was OK. However, trying some of the tricks and extended challenges often left be with broken code and searching deeper for my own understanding. I was constantly learning and building my own capacity (while bringing back memories of my high school coding courses).

Drones

I love working with my drone after school academy, but why not add another component to it. One of the ideas I did not get to further explore (but plan to) is using a camera with a motion sensor to take photos of our drones flying. There was an amazing motion sensor video that gave me a great idea for some media projects I never knew was possible. The tools would allow us to attempt some new projects in our local tech fest too.

Excitement

We have tons of old monitors and keyboards in our school that are ready for Raspberry Pi coding. Thanks to a recent upgrade from our IT department, but will probably require HDMI-VGA converters to make it happen. Also, I had someone drop off five FREE Raspberry Pi kits to my classroom; God is telling me to code again.

I am going to set up work stations in my classroom this year with activities and pilot a small group during lunch and after school academies. #PocomokeScholars will code this year with Raspberry Pi.

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