Who Will You Harbor? Inside This Year’s Middle School Community Read
What story will middle school students tell about this year of learning? While I believe this is a question we, as educators, ask ourselves every year, this fall was the first time in my career it had been so explicitly addressed when the Middle School community read and discussed Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, Harbor Me.
I had the privilege of hearing Woodson, the 2018-19 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, speak at Hallett Elementary. When I was granted the opportunity to ask a question, I posed, “What do you want students to get from this novel?” The author answered that she wants young people to meet people who reflect them while also giving them insight into others’ experiences; she wants young people to unlock their own stories; and more than anything, she wants to unlock language and literature for young people.
I was struck how her response so closely reflected many of Graland’s Guiding Principles. Honoring Individuality, Promoting Independence, Cultivating Compassion and Building Community are not only represented in her answer, they also appear as themes in Harbor Me.
In the spirit of Building Community and creating a safe space for students to share their stories, the school year began on day one with an atypical schedule. Students were paired with someone from another grade level to participate in “empathy interviews,” to celebrate each others’ memories, and to discuss the central themes presented in the novel. These pairs also created small pieces of art to bring their partner’s story to life; all of the artwork is currently displayed in the Middle School Commons (the big steps) and in the stairwell to my office.
Creating a story that reflects each year is inherent in the cyclical nature of the school calendar; as we move through the year, there will be many opportunities for us to revisit this novel and the theme of mirrors and windows: Which of the characters reflected you, and which of the characters gave you insight into another way of experiencing the world?
I believe there is always a story to tell at the conclusion of each year. Although the grade level and subject matter may not change, the cast and supporting characters do. Already, the stories have begun to take shape, and I am looking forward to the experiences that will carry us through to June when one story will end in order to make way for the beginning of another.
Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.