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First Book, Closing School

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Today’s entry is from Kirsten Theodore, who will graduate in June 2008 from Frederick Douglass High School, which she has described in a previous essay in this blog series as her dream school.

This Tuesday (May 6, 2008) she along with a number of friends of Douglass High School, will meet with Paul Vallas, the Recovery School District superintendent who “moved” (his family remains in Chicago where he continues to float plans for another run for governor of Illinois) to New Orleans less than a year ago.

He has brought with him a number of consultants and programs and plans. Unfortunately, he has not spent time finding out what has worked for students such as Kirsten and how to support and improve those programs and schools.

We continue to worry about changes in a public school system that happen without deep study of and respect for those of us who learned and worked and read our first books in that very school system.

First Book I Ever Read
Kirsten Theodore

I can remember the first book I ever read. It was about a woman traveling back in time where she happened to run into her ancestors. Ever since I read it, I’ve wondered about my own ancestors.

I was in sixth grade when I first received the book. A couple of Students at the Center (SAC) members and I had just finished performing a play about Homer Plessy and the fight for racial justice in New Orleans. All of the SAC members were in school at Frederick Douglass High, but I wasn’t. My cousin and sister were working with UrbanHeart, an after school program that involved Douglass SAC students helping those of us who were younger with reading and writing and performing.

After rehearsal one day, Mr. Randels was getting ready to take me home. We got into the car, and it was dead silent. “So Kirsten, what books have you read lately?” he asked.

What a way to break the silence, I thought to myself.

“Um The Cat in the Hat I think.”

“Well we got to change that. I got some books in the back, if you’re interested.”

“Ok,” I replied.

I reached into the back and grabbed the stack of books he had sitting on the seat. I went through all the books, and one stood out to me, Kindred, just because it started with a k. I decided that this would be the book that I wouldn’t read.

We arrived in front of my house. As I was getting out Mr. Randels said, “that’s a good book you chose.”

“Ok, thanks.”

I went inside to my room and threw the book on the dresser with no intentions of reading it. A week passed, and I didn’t even look at the book. That next Tuesday I got punished for skipping school. So I was stuck inside with no TV. Since I had nothing to do, I had to find ways to occupy my time. First I tried exercising, but I got tired too fast. Then I tried cleaning, but the bleach was getting to me. Finally I tried studying, but I lost interest. So I just flopped on my bed and counted the dots on the ceiling. Out of my peripheral vision I saw the book. I went over picked it up and started reading Octavia Butler’s Kindred.

1 Comment

Dear Kirsten,
This essay made me laugh. It's not often that I come across such a vibrant, action packed essay on reading, an activity that I often think of as quiet and solitary. Your essay reminded me that reading is, more than anything, about conversation and connecting with others. Your essay also reminded me of the one thing I always hope I can manage to do as a teacher--inspire my students to love reading and to read for both pleasure and knowledge's sake. I really need to go re-read Kindred, too!

I hope you guys post an update soon on the meeting with Paul Vallas.
Best wishes,
Catherine Michna

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