In urban school districts, money is always tight. Teachers across the country, from Nashville to the Bronx, Denver to D.C., are repeatedly told that there’s no room in the budget for new books or field trips. Author visits? Forget about it.
(It’s funny, though, that there always seems to be room for test-prep programs and “turnaround” consultants who are ready to a) take credit for any student growth, even if they had no role in that success and b) place blame on schools and teachers for failing to “implement with fidelity” when test scores remain flat. But that’s a topic for another day…)
If, by chance, teachers are encouraged to submit a proposal for an opportunity their students unequivocally need and deserve, there’s almost always a catch: “That sounds great, but…how will you measure its impact?”
Last week, thanks to the leadership and generosity of Lipscomb University and Parnassus Books, 635 Nashville students spent 75 minutes listening to Jason Reynolds (yes, THAT Jason Reynolds) share one story after another. Stories about his childhood and family, about his relationship with reading and writing, about his obstacles and challenges, about his hopes and dreams. Stories that our students could relate to and identify with, stories that made us laugh and cry, stories that inspired us to do better and be more.
No one in that auditorium wanted it to end. No one in that auditorium questioned its significance. Hundreds of readers and writers were born that morning. Hundreds of children were seen that morning. And heard. And loved. And affirmed. And inspired.
And yet, I can still hear the critics…
“That sounds great, but…how will you measure its impact?”
Here’s the answer I’d like to give those critics: You can’t! And if you’re the kind of person who needs to justify giving our students these life-changing experiences by connecting it to some test score or reading level, then we probably don’t need to be friends.
However, I recognize that people deserve to know that their money is being spent wisely, that if they’re going to reach out to Jason Reynolds or Kwame Alexander or Nic Stone, it’s going to be worth it.
And that’s the reason I wanted to write this post – to show, through a series of photos and student responses, the impact of an author visit. The impact of Jason Reynolds.
(If, by the end, after reading everything our students have to say about the experience, you’re still not convinced, go back and read it again …)
TUESDAY, APRIL 10: 7:15 am
We received a warm welcome upon our arrival at Lipscomb University! Prior to the author event, we coordinated a Project LIT Book Club with pre-service teachers that included a get-to-know you icebreaker (quiz-quiz-trade), small-group discussion of Long Way Down, anagram competition, and, of course, trivia!
Lipscomb also provided breakfast and Bison swag bags for our students, and their students and faculty went above and beyond to make us feel welcomed!
Walk across campus to prepare for the main event…JASON REYNOLDS.
The event started with an announcement from Lipscomb’s Julie Simone: Every student in the audience was going home with their own copy of Ghost!
For the next 75 minutes, 1,300 eyes were glued to Jason Reynolds, hanging on his every word…
Time for photos, autographs, and some heart-to-heart conversations.
11:30 am-12:30 pm
Lunch on campus!
Back to school, where we reflected on the day and began writing our thank you letters.
There are dozens more, just like this one!
THE NEXT DAY
I had students complete a reflection via Google Forms. Here’s what they had to say:
QUESTION #1: What did you think of Jason Reynolds’ talk? How did it inspire or encourage you?
- I loved how he wasn’t afraid to be his self, how he wasn’t a snobby author. He inspired me to write my own Jason Reynolds poems.
- I think Jason’s words touched a lot of people and it most definitely shocked me. I didn’t think the books he wrote were actual stories he had been through or seen firsthand.
- I related to him a whole lot. It inspired me to actually take my time and read.
- It gave me another view on life, and it inspired me to do what I love.
- I really enjoyed his story about his childhood and how he grew up. It inspired me to keep going in my life even when bad things happen.
- I think it was a great message for me to hear because it reminds me of the city I live in now.
- I think it was awesome to meet him, and it words were very inspirational to me. Everything he said was true and funny. It encouraged me to get myself prepared early. His message really touched a lot of people and he spoke about things most people don’t want to.
- It don’t matter where you’re from you, you can make it.
- We kind of had a similar mindset. That there weren’t books set out for me to read that showcased how I lived or how I grew up. It was always the same character description. For example, blue eyes, brown or blonde straight hair, things like that. I’d look at the book and just say to myself, “I know I won’t be able to relate to these characters,” so I stopped reading those books. Then, through Project LIT, I found books that I could relate to. Most are Jason’s books (yeah they are usually written from a boy’s POV, but I can still relate). That’s some of how he has inspired me.
- I liked it because it was real, and he was being completely honest.
- I loved how real and open he was with us. It really opened my eyes.
QUESTION #2: Overall, what has it been like to meet and interact with Nic Stone and Jason Reynolds? How did they change your perspective on reading and writing? On life?
- They have made me want to become a writer. To write more than I already do. I didn’t know it was possible until I met people who have made it.
- Overall, after meeting Jason and Nic, I feel that reading is more than just reading about a story. Books have deeper meanings and like Jason does with his books, he wants you to use your imagination and create your own ending.
- It felt like a dream! My whole life I wanted to meet an author because I love to write.
- I never thought that I would actually meet real-life authors and it was cool to have conversations with them as if we were their friends.
- Jason makes me want to read more because of the struggle he had without reading (until the age of 17).
- Jason started off reading late in life. He gave up, but he started back. Like his success story isn’t perfect.
- They were both awesome and meeting them was cool. They make we want to read more.
- Well, I’ve always loved reading but I didn’t care too much about writing. Once I heard them, I was a bit encouraged to try writing to see how I would do.
- They inspired me to write more and be great at doing it
- THEY ARE BOTH MY FAVORITES! I love them both equally. They put a lot of things in perspective for me and I am going to continue to write regardless. It won’t matter if others don’t understand it or don’t like it. I won’t stop.
- They were just like us. They weren’t already handed this stuff. They had to work.
- It encouraged me to write more and made me feel that my feelings and ideas do matter.
QUESTION #3: What does Project LIT Community mean to you?
- Project LIT has become a big part of my life. I love representing Project LIT and doing everything I can to help.
- Project LIT means I’m making a difference in other people’s lives by being able to help others come together through the power of literature.
- Project LIT means a lot to me. It’s a place where someone who feels alone can fit right in.
- Project LIT to me means raising awareness to reading and literacy. Showing that reading can be fun along with the benefits that come with it.
- Project LIT means a lot to me, because we are really making a huge difference little by little. I like how we got different schools to create their own chapters. I believe we could make a change if we keep going.
- A worldwide book club to help kids in need receive and love books.
- It means a lot to me because just where we have gone. We have made it so far from where we were at the beginning. We are making a change and it is special to know I’m helping do that.
- Project LIT gives us a chance to give back and I’ve always wanted to get into the community to see what I could do for them. I know I’m very fortunate to have things, so I would like for others to have the same opportunities I’ve had. This project is one of my proudest accomplishments and I’m grateful I got to be a part of this.
- It’s a way for me to help people access books.
- Project LIT is everything to me. I am always bringing up the project and activities that we have coming up, because it’s a really great program that is 100% student led and planned. Of course I love Amato and many others that have helped it take off. It’s not just about reading, either. We have athletes to who read to children proudly and deliver books to centers without hesitation. The stereotype is that athletes are dumb and can’t read and that all they can do is hold a ball or run when that isn’t the case. We have a mother in the program. She might be young, but she’s super bright and intelligent and once again not the typical stereotype. Young, dumb, and someone who doesn’t want anything for herself. In this program, you have the quietest students you know bouncing around, laughing and smiling and being themselves because they are in an environment where NOBODY JUDGES ANYBODY! That’s why Project LIT is everything to me and more. I could honestly go on forever.
- It’s a way to give back to others, and help us expand our reading and others.
CLOSING THOUGHTS: Thanks to everyone, especially Jason, for an experience we’ll never forget. Teachers, hopefully this blog helps you and your students as you continue to fight the good fight.
Additionally, you can learn more about Project LIT Community and our inaugural Project LIT Summit here. Finally, don’t hesitate to reach out with any questions via email (email@example.com) or Twitter (@jarredamato). Have a wonderful week, and as always, happy reading!