"Stay Woke:" Building Literacy and Resiliency Through Story Telling

On Saturday, January 13, 2018, I was blessed with the opportunity to present at the SC Alliance of Black School Educators Conference held at Kingston Plantation in Myrtle Beach. I'm appreciative of the engagement, support and feedback I received. Here, I'm sharing some components of the presentation.

Over a year ago, Spartanburg School District Seven in Spartanburg, SC partnered with Books With Barber, a non-profit founded by educator Jasmine Mix, to place books in barbershops to promote reading for young, African American males (https://www.facebook.com/BookswithBarbers/). Through this initiative, we placed bookshelves with culturally relevant, age-appropriate books in 18 barber shops throughout our district. Additionally, we have placed libraries in the Spartanburg Housing Authority and in the homes of children who had few or no books.

After a recent, successful book drive, The Office of Student Services will be spreading more books throughout the community. We have written grants in order to add "Little Free Libraries," such as the one at Houston Elementary School, outdoors at other schools and locations throughout our district (https://littlefreelibrary.org). In collaboration with our local United Way, we have encouraged giving to expand the number of early learners birth to five who receive books monthly from the Dolly Parton Imagination Library (https://imaginationlibrary.com). Additionally, we have contributed books to the Reach Out And Read Program (http://www.reachoutandread.org), which provides pediatricians with books to gift parents of young children as they have conversations with the parents about the importance of reading to their infants and toddlers. Currently, our district is seeking grant opportunities to send some of our four-year-olds home with libraries this summer to help them further prepare for kindergarten in the fall while preventing the "summer slide."

Other components of this presentation include the importance of building strong literacy foundations for children so that no child is retained in third grade. Helping children choose culturally relevant, age-appropriate reading materials of high interest is a powerful tool to mitigate unnecessary retentions, the summer slide, achievement gaps and a lack of motivation for reading.

Because children enjoy engaging rather than "sittin' and gettin,'" storyboarding, or creating an organizer using illustrations or images displayed in sequence of the story, is a formidable tool allowing students to create, recreate or view a visual of the story. Using crayons or markers to draw or cutting out pictures to retell a story requires students to interact with the text.

Storytelling is another powerful tool often underutilized when helping students build literacy. When students learn the components of building their own stories, their comprehension of stories they read is ameliorated. Storytelling has been proven to not only attract less motivated students to literature, but it also nurtures listening skills. Hearing personal stories from their parents, teachers, and administrators help children value and retell their stories, while again further understanding the components of a story.

Finally, storytelling can build resilience in students. Sharing about a time when they were sad and hearing from their classmates allows students to know we all have moments of pain or discontent. Further exploring such a topic by asking what helped the student overcome can offer classmates strategies for building resilience. These activities offer teachers an opportunity to provide guidance on what is appropriate to share, which requires a skill of discernment that young children have to be taught. Children engage in social interactions, as well as learn literary conventions, such as the components of plot, setting, point of view and theme, while building oral language vocabulary.

Examples of stories that build resilience are BJ's Big Dream, What Is That Stinky, Winky Smell, He Never Slumbers and My Friends Lived in the Outlets (www.BJsBigDream.com). We all have stories from our childhoods, as well as the stories from our children's and relative's childhoods that can be used to build character and resilience in children we teach today.

Perhaps these great writers said it best:

"Those who tell the stories rule the world." --Hopi American Indian proverb

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." --Maya Angelou

"There's always room for a story that can transport people to another place." --J.K. Rowling.

I challenge you to share your story with a child today!

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634 NE Main St., #1263 

Simpsonville, SC 29681