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Slice of Life 2013

One & Done

exit51

We lost another good one.

Last night I received a text message from a young colleague of mine. “Well, it’s official…I got the job…bittersweet.”

I knew it was coming, but it still hurt to think that this great teacher would be leaving us after only one year in the classroom. He felt that he simply could not live on a teacher’s salary without having to sacrifice too much, or having to work at least two jobs, and constantly doing without.

He was offered an entry-level job with a tech company making close to $15,000 more than he makes now as a teacher. As the North Carolina legislature quibbles over whether to fund raises for teachers (again) this year, whatever they end up deciding won’t be able to compete with what the business world is offering. When we think about attracting millennials to the profession, we can’t compete with the outside world.

I can’t say I blame him. If I were him at the start of my career, I don’t know that I would choose to continue to teach, at least not in North Carolina. This state has made it perfectly clear (through its education budgets and policies) that it does not value me, my teaching colleagues, or the students it is charged with educating.

I know my friend is sad to be leaving the classroom, as he formed great relationships with students and staff this past year. He will definitely be missed.

What about those of us who are left behind, especially the veteran teachers who serve as mentors to these new teachers? I can’t speak for others but I am seriously wondering why I should continue to mentor teachers if they aren’t going to stay.

Money won’t solve all of the problems we face in public education, but it sure could solve this one. Paying teachers a respectable professional wage could go a long way in convincing those who are new to the profession to stay.

 

 

 

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Courage over Comfort

I’ve been reading some of the slices posted today by women who participated in the Women’s March this past Saturday. I also participated in the march here in Raleigh where organizers were expecting 3,000 women and ended up with an estimated 17,000+ marchers.

When I first heard about the March on Washington a few weeks ago, I remember texting my daughter to see if she would be participating since she lives in DC. She was on board from the start and was eagerly anticipating the event, not knowing what to expect.

When I discovered that there would be “sister marches” all over the country I quickly researched and found one right here in Raleigh. I knew it was where I needed to be.

Like many of you who marched, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience for me, my husband, and my daughter and her friends. We came away from the march even more committed to supporting the causes that are important to us and felt empowered to take action in the face of opposition. History was made that day and we were all a part of it.

In the days since the march, the trolls have been busy trying to discredit the legitimacy of the march, openly questioning why women marched in the first place, and posting memes and making comments ridiculing the women who marched. Even one of our NC senators took a shot at us on Twitter. You can read about it here.

This is just one example of the kind of negative responses many of us were confronted with after speaking out. I don’t know about you, but I am not big on criticism, especially this kind. I expect a lot of you feel the same way. What I suspect is that the people who are throwing stones at us for marching are hoping that this backlash will cause us to withdraw from the fight, to stop speaking out to avoid further criticism and attack. Appeals abound on Facebook and Twitter for “people to get over it” and “stop trying to divide our country even more.”

My nature tells me that if I continue to speak out and become more engaged in this fight I will have to face more of this and likely it will intensify as we make progress in the battle for human rights. Honestly, I’m tired and we are only a few days in!

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9) 

I am praying that I will not grow weary in the days ahead. That I will not give up but keep on fighting for what’s right. That all the women, men, and children who marched all over the world on Saturday will continue to speak out and it will make a difference.

brene-brown-quote

 

 

 

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Independent Reading: Choice Matters

Today was the last day of the semester at our high school and I asked my students to reflect on their independent reading experience. I wanted to know if the time we devote, ten minutes at the start of every class period, is worth it (in their eyes). I teach on the block schedule (85 minute classes) and I strongly believe that offering students ten minutes of uninterrupted reading with books of their choice is key to helping them to become better readers and it is essential to helping them develop a love of reading.

This past semester I taught two honors level English 1 classes. I assumed that most of these students liked (if not loved) reading, but I found out that was not the case. Yes, they could read well but they didn’t like reading, and only a few would admit to loving it. It honestly broke my heart.

Over the course of the semester I did my best to help match reader to book. I spent a small fortune updating  my classroom library and tried to get the latest hot titles in my students’ hands. Matching students to the right books was key; knowing my students and knowing books was essential to this matchmaking process. I eagerly passed new titles on to the right students and they eagerly devoured them.

So today I was anxious to see what they would have to say.

Here’s the question I asked and some of the responses I received follow:

In this class, we have spent ten minutes nearly every day on independent reading of choice books. How has this practice had an impact on you as a reader? How important is it for teachers to allow time for independent reading?

“It has helped me build empathy towards others as well as reminding me that we are all not the same.”

“It is important for teachers to allow independent reading because it gives students a chance to step into another person’s shoes in life.”

“When we first started the class I would never read because reading is not my thing and I felt as if I can’t understand so why push myself harder? Now since the first day my reading is better and I feel better and confident in my reading.”

“…it has helped me to become a more fluent reader and it showed me that you can really have a love for reading.”

“Hopefully the next teacher I have will allow independent reading because it is very important to me.”

“Reading a book for ten minutes every day has exposed me to so much vocabulary…”

“Reading for ten minutes every day has made me a better and stronger reader.”

“This class helped me learn to like reading once I actually find a book I like and actually get into the book.”

“Before taking this class, I read books that were interesting from the very beginning, now I can read books that have a slower pace as well.”

“I also believe ideals/morals can be created through books, thus students in the future years should read books like To Kill a Mockingbird for a better future.”

“The first ten minutes of class are the best part of class.”

“The consistent 10 minutes of reading has made me a much stronger reader. I believe I can tackle much harder books than before.”

“Not only is reading good for me emotionally but mentally, reading puts me in a calm state.”

“…it gets students into a literature mindset.”

“I think the time has given me more patience for books and to enjoy the parts with not a lot of action. Now I also enjoy books that are slower (paced).”

“I believe it is extremely important for teachers to allow time for reading because it might give the students a love for reading they didn’t have before.”

Overwhelmingly, the student responses from both classes were very positive with most students admitting that they had either discovered a love of reading or rediscovered a love of reading they thought they had lost. All students said they needed their teachers to provide this time and choice to help them continue to develop as readers.

I share this feedback about the importance of student choice and time for independent reading in our classrooms to encourage those teachers who might want to do this in their own classrooms but they’re afraid they “don’t have time.”

When teachers tell me they can’t fit independent reading into their curriculum because there’s not enough time I  remind them of this simple truth: If you don’t give your students time to read in your classroom, they won’t read outside of your classroom.

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Something’s Missing

Slice of Life

 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Something’s Missing

It has been a really long time since I’ve written a “Slice of Life” entry…not that I haven’t written, but I haven’t submitted to the SOL blog. I’ve been feeling the need to get back into writing and submitting and I guess this gift of a “snow day” is the impetus I needed to get going.

Here’s what is on my mind this morning: A close friend of mine and I have been sharing our mutual discontent and lack of enthusiasm and creativity for teaching lately. We used to teach at the same middle school, but I left to go to the high school almost two years ago and she stayed on. (This is my 17th year teaching; she’s at 19 years).

When I left middle school I was hoping that the switch to a new school, a new grade, would be just the ticket to kick my creative juices into gear, and that needed kick would carry me through to retirement (10 more years before I am eligible to retire with full benefits). I have enjoyed being a creative teacher and am used to spending a lot of time reading, researching, creating, collaborating with others to bring energy to my classroom. Over the years I have been blessed to work with other teachers who have been eager to collaborate with me and as a result I was successful at keeping my own energy and enthusiasm up for teaching in middle school. The last two years of teaching 8th grade language arts, I was growing more and more frustrated by the micromanagement of my administration and felt that it was limiting my creativity and interest in teaching. I knew that it was time to leave and try something new.

Since moving to high school, I have found it difficult to find that same level of energy and enthusiasm that I once had and I am trying to figure out what caused it and how to fix it.

I am now in my 2nd year of teaching English 1 (Fall semester) as well as English 2 ESL Sheltered (Spring semester). I started teaching an ESL English 1 sheltered class (co-teaching with an ESL Teacher) in my first year at the high school and found that I really enjoyed it. In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I petitioned my principal to ask if we could create an English 2 sheltered class that I could teach so that the students who were in my class could catch up and finish two English classes in one year (most of the students were older to begin with—average age of 17). He agreed and I ended up keeping this group for the entire year. I loved teaching these kids because they were eager to learn English and it was easy to form relationships with them as we were together for the whole school year. I received a lot of gratification from working with my ESL students and they were the highlight of my first year of high school teaching.

For a number of reasons, I have had a difficult time forming relationships with my current students. My colleagues say that block scheduling is to blame…that students know they only have you for one semester so why bother getting to know you or building a relationship when you will not be in their lives in four or five months? As a former middle school teacher, I also notice that unlike middle school, I only see these students when they are in my classroom. They are off to other parts of the campus after that and I don’t often run into them like I would when I worked on a “team” and saw them all day between classes, lunch, and then bus room. Also, unlike middle school students, I have found that high schoolers are largely uninterested in their teachers. They have other more important things on their minds and/or they are completely absorbed in their phones. I often feel as if I am completely invisible in my own classroom.

Teaching high school is a completely different animal than teaching middle school. I am not sure why I feel this way but I do. While we are not “required” to teach certain texts, most English teachers still do, leaving those of us who prefer standards-based teaching out of the loop. It is difficult to find other teachers to collaborate with because so many of them are deeply invested in keeping things as they are. Last year I felt very much alone. This year I have a first year teacher who is eager to collaborate with, but with his lack of experience, much of the planning falls in my lap. I know that I have always done my best work when having a collaborative partner. It’s just not as easy to find one where I am now.

So all this is to say I am trying to figure out if I can somehow muster up the creative juices needed to remain vital and connected to my students in my classroom. Is this just a phase I’m in as I adjust to the transition from middle to high school? Am I able to find what I’m looking for where I’m at?

Some of you may be thinking that perhaps I need to move again, find another school, go back to middle school, etc.  I work at a good school, and was recruited to come here by my former principal. He has been and continues to be supportive of whatever it is I am doing in my classroom, so administrative support is not the problem.

Am I just in a slump? Winter blues? I am not sure. I have been struggling with these feelings for a while now, so I don’t think it’s a phase.

Am I being prepared for a different role? Is this a natural phase for someone at the tail end of their teaching career? Although many at my age might be retiring, I am not able to do that for at least a decade, so I can’t and won’t just get by until then. I owe it to myself and my students to figure out how to be the best I can be in my classroom.

Anyone else out there feeling these things, too?

I would love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks!

 

 

 

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Reflection on Grant Wiggins’ posts: A Day in the Life of H.S. Students & Middle School Students’ Favorite Activities/Subjects

On Friday, I happened to come across this Grant Wiggins blog post and I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, wondering what to make of it. Judging from the number of hits this post has gotten (50,000+ as of this morning), I’m guessing that many of you have been thinking about it as well.

It’s not like it never occurred to me that the life of a student (in this case high school, but in reality not much different from my middle school students’ classrooms) can be difficult, tedious, and downright painful.  My colleagues and I often talk about how unrealistic it is for us to ask students to go all day with little to no breaks other than their twenty minute lunch (please remain in your seat) and the three-minute change of classes. Most teachers could not do it, yet we expect young adolescents to endure this every day. It’s just how it is. Get used to it. Stop complaining.

Except it really is wrong to expect from them what we ourselves could not do, isn’t it?

Some might say that we (adults) have lived through it and we turned out okay. But did we? I can’t speak for you but I know we had recess through the 8th grade. We walked home for lunch (a one-hour break in the day), we had P.E. every day. We also didn’t have test prep, remediation, or a developmentally inappropriate curriculum to master.

At my school, we don’t have and have never had recess. Some of us have lobbied for it over the years but it has regularly been shot down for a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with our schedule and squeezing every minute out of the day for “instruction.”

But aside from the school-wide implications of this teacher’s shadowing experience, what does it mean about my own classroom? This post has had me asking myself some hard questions…Do I allow for movement? Do I teach short mini-lessons to break up the class period?  Do I offer relevant project-based learning? Am I being responsive to my students’ needs, both academically as well as physically/emotionally?

While these questions have been running around my head all weekend, they were joined by even more challenging questions pertaining to my subject area.

As much as I would love to think that English Language Arts is most students’ favorite subject, I know it is not. Another great post on Grant Wiggins’ blog discussed a survey of middle school students about their most interesting assignments/subjects. This reminded me that in spite of my deep love for all things English, the majority of my students (and probably yours) do not enjoy it.

Take a look at the chart at this chart from the post. ELA ranks as #1 least favorite subject.

ms-survey-most-bored

Source:  http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/middle-school-students-survey-responses-most-interesting-work-last-year/

This should not be news to me as I regularly survey students at the start of the school year about their likes/dislikes. This year there were only about 10 or 12 students out of the 135 I teach who listed ELA as their favorite subject, and with rare exception these students were academically gifted  in language arts.  Science was the #1 favorite with math a close second.  Social Studies was up there with ELA as least favorite. Students cite “doing experiments or labs” and other “hands-on” activities as a chief reason for loving science.

What’s a devoted ELA teacher to do with this information?

I’ve been thinking about the structure of my class and how much time we devote to certain activities. I know that one task that is particularly disliked by most students is writing, even for those who consider themselves good at it. Writing takes time. How do I break up the class period to allow for movement, change in task, and still allow enough time for students to think deeply enough to write well?

Reading critically is also difficult for most students. I do try to break up close reading tasks with less challenging work, but again this is hard. It takes time for students to engage with text and move to the level of analysis required for some lessons.  How do we balance critical analysis with other less cognitively-demanding tasks?

Reading and writing are mostly sedentary activities. Do students need to be seated quietly at their desks to complete their work in my classroom?  What could I do to allow more freedom of movement?

Some of the challenges I have in my current position are very large class sizes (average class size of 30 students), academically leveled classes, and sixty minute class blocks. We switched to longer class periods this year. While the change to longer class times was initially welcomed by most teachers (we were at 47 minutes last year), maintaining student attention has been challenging.  It is also very difficult to have a lot of movement when classes are packed with students. The noise level can be a problem and it can feel rather chaotic with that many bodies moving around a small space, making it difficult for some to concentrate on the tasks at hand.  I still incorporate movement and group work but I find it quite challenging and almost impossible in some of my classes. This is especially true in my inclusion class. How do I balance the need for movement with the need for quiet required for thinking?

So what do I do with this information? How can I alter my classroom experience to better accommodate the needs of my students?

I am not sure. I do know that I plan to do some observational research this week. I will keep track of the amount of time my students spend on any one activity and take notes about the level of engagement I observe. I also plan to look for ways to incorporate more movement into our everyday routine.  I will continue to look for ways to increase student interest with relevant lessons and activities.

ELA teachers: Have you been able to make changes that have increased engagement in your classes? If so, I would love to hear from you.

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Slice of Life Challenge: Reading Slump

Slice of Life

 I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

I’m in a reading slump right now and I need a good book to pull me out of it. For the past two months I have been busy reading lots of things—non-fiction professional books (Falling in Love with Close Reading, Reading in the Wild, Voice Lessons…to name a few), twitter/twitter chats, blogs, articles online. But sadly, no fiction.

Have you ever gone through a spell of reading really good books that leave you with a book hangover? Where the memory and the feel of the book linger way beyond the last page? To start a new book right away—especially one that might not measure up to the last one—would be sacrilege. So you wait for the feeling to pass and a new book to entice you.

Except that hasn’t happened.

To be honest, I have been immersed in the world of Edgar Allan Poe for the last two months. I am new to teaching 8th grade this year and we have been doing an intense author study of Poe and his work. Since this is all new to me I haven’t been reading much else since this study began. I am fascinated with Poe! His writing is so masterful and I have found the analysis of his writing to be exceptionally interesting to me and my students. (Not to mention the discovery of literary devices I never knew existed! Who knew anaphora and apostrophe were literary devices?) I am learning so much and I absolutely love it. But I am really missing being in the midst of a wonderful novel. It just doesn’t seem right, you know?

So we are wrapping up our last week before Christmas break and I would love to have a wonderful YA book to read in my downtime.

Any recommendations from my fellow ELA teachers?

Thanks for your help in pulling me out of my slump.

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Slice of Life 2013: The Value of Education

NAACP Protest

 Slice of Life

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

News Flash: Things are looking quite dismal for schools, students, and teachers in general. For a while now, with all of the attacks on education, teachers have been told to” keep the faith” “focus on the kids”, and “remember why you’re there”. In other words, don’t let it get to you, while all the time our elected officials have been systematically destroying our public schools with their policies and agendas. In North Carolina, the cuts have been brutal and they have only just begun to wreak the havoc they are hell-bent on doing. They seem to have a “starve the beast” agenda, i.e. starve schools, teachers, and ultimately students of the money and support they need to function well.

This is only one symptom of a society that has veered dangerously off course, where education was once valued and respected. This article is just another example of how skewed our thinking has become. What is the value of a college education? Is it simply to prepare you for a job? Are you merely learning “skills”? Is it that the cost of higher education has become so unreasonable that we can no longer justify education for education’s sake? Will our colleges turn out nothing but engineering, business, and computer science majors?

At my daughter’s recent college graduation, there were less than 30 English majors in a graduating class of 7,500. At my own (30 years ago), there were probably hundreds.

Today there was another post on our local television station’s webpage about teachers. Our state superintendent warns about the effects of the draconian policies of the current administration. Again, the comments from our community were quite disheartening and downright infuriating.

Where are the PARENTS in this community? Are they really so oblivious that they don’t realize that these cuts are hurting their kids? Do they care so little? I am amazed that more parents are not out protesting and demanding more for NC’s students. Sadly, there are very few. Do parents really believe that these cuts won’t impact them and their children? Or are they so busy trying to make a living that they don’t realize that their kids are being shortchanged?

For those of us who still care, it is time for us to make our voices heard.

Our future depends upon it.

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 24: Life in a Shelter

 Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

I recently finished Blue Baillett’s latest novel, Hold Fast. It was a very moving story of a young family who ends up homeless and are forced to live in a city shelter. Life in a shelter is experienced through the eyes of our 11- year-old protagonist, Early Pearl.

As I mentioned in a previous post, several of my students this year are homeless. My heart goes out to them as they struggle to care about school and learning, when so much of their young lives are spent with worries and burdens no child should have to carry. Early’s story made me even more aware of what these kids deal with every day.

I wrote this found poem using a page from the novel because it deeply moved me and I think it best captured the reality of shelter life.

Life in a Shelter

A Found Poem

Unpredictable and

Bumpy

Blanket-heavy, round with

Shadows

Fast and sharp

A horizontal sting

Laced with ice

People get distracted by

Worries and sadness

Work hard to hold on to

Beauty

Hold fast to

Dreams and words

Grow more fragile with

Each passing day

Time to think about the

Hard choices

People make in life

Work hard to hold on to beauty,

To hold fast to dreams and

Words

So much beauty

Goes unseen

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 21: What Makes You Happy?

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.
In my Thursday afternoon email, I received my NY Times weekly update and saw this What Makes You Happy?  It’s a student questionnaire, but I thought I would use it for my slice tonight.
From the article:
The United Nations declared March 20 the first International Day of Happiness, declaring that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.”

What specifically makes you happy? How do you make others happy? If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, as the Kingdom of Bhutan does, how happy do you think people would be? Why?

All great questions, right?
I am going to share this with my students, as I would be interested to see their responses. Would they be family, friends, fun or my iPhone, X-box, and texting?
What makes me happy?

For me, I am happiest when my family is happy. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my children smile and knowing that for them, all is right with the world.
I’m happy when my husband gets a chance to fly his remote control airplane (his “mistress”) on a beautiful, day with a Carolina-blue sky and no wind. His joy is contagious.
I’m happy when I watch my dog, Rosie, wrestle and play with her friends at the dog park. When I watch her play, I am in the moment and I can’t help but capture her sheer joy at the freedom and fun of playing with her friends.
I’m happy when I get together with a good friend to share a meal or a cup of coffee and we have a chance to catch up and really talk. These experiences “fill my cup” like no others. I treasure them.
I’m happy when my students are so engaged in learning that they lose track of time and are shocked when the bell rings (“What? The class is over?! But we were just getting started!”).
I’m happy when I find “that book” that changes a child’s life. Whether it’s the non-reader who becomes a reader or the book that’s read at the right time, it’s the same: life changing.
I’m happy when I spend time writing and I am able to craft a piece that perfectly expresses what I feel with precisely the right words.
I’m happy when I get my daily “slice” written and posted on time. Challenge met.
How do you make others happy?

I think I make others happy by being a good listener. I genuinely care about people and try to be sensitive to their needs. I enjoy being able to give to others and serve them when they are in need.
If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, how happy do you think people would be? Why?
Hmmm…that’s an interesting question. My guess is that the United States would probably not rank at the top of the happiness chart. I think it might even be a 60/40 split right now in our country, due to the economy, wars, gas prices, unemployment, stressful jobs, etc. I also think that being a materialistic nation that places such a high emphasis on acquisition of things puts us at greater risk for unhappiness, because if your happiness is based upon how much stuff you have, there is always going to be someone with more stuff than you.

So what about you? What makes you happy?Rosie 5 months

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 18: Hold Fast

Image 

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

Many of the bloggers that I follow reserve Mondays for “It’s Monday What Are Your Reading?”  so I thought I would share a bit about my reading life for today’s slice.

I’m currently reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.

 HOLDFAST

This is a beautifully written story about 11 year-old Early Pearl, and what happens to her family after her much loved father, Dash, mysteriously disappears. After a quick succession of disasters, Early and her mom, Summer (“Sum”), and younger brother, Jubie (“Jubilation”) find themselves in a homeless shelter, desperately trying to survive, while at the same time figure out what happened to Dash.

Dash is a lover of words, and works at the Chicago Public Library. This book-loving family shares his fascination and much of the story centers around words, and the magic and rhythm of words.

Dash is also a fan of Langston Hughes, hence the title of the story, and Hughes’ poetry plays a prominent role in the plot.

While I haven’t finished the book yet, I find myself completely absorbed in the life of the Pearl family and concerned for their plight. The author shines a bright light on the harsh realities of homelessness through 11-year-old Early’s eyes.

Hold Fast has made me think about and feel things I’d rather not.

Like, it wasn’t but a few years back that I had never had a student in my class that was homeless. For the past few years, though, that has no longer been the case. This year I started off with one or two homeless students, and as the year has progressed and the economy worsened, a few more have been added to that list, one just the other day.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for my homeless students. I imagine that it is difficult for them to truly care about school when their lives are in such turmoil and they may not know where they might be sleeping that night or if anyone will be there to take care of them. Blue Baillett’s book has shown me exactly what it must be like to be a child who is forced to live in a homeless shelter.

It is heartbreaking.

For those who teach students who may be homeless and living in a shelter, this book should be required reading. Students who live under these conditions need our love and compassion more than anything else. Most of us wouldn’t last a day (or at least I know I wouldn’t) living under the conditions so many children and families are forced to endure in towns all over our country today.

Hold Fast is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.

Dreams

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

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