ICYMI: Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice is Heard

Originally posted on April 6, 2018, “Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice is Heard” offers the perspective of Editor-in-Chief of Thornton-Donovan School’s student newspaper Overlook Journal on the Parkland tragedy, as well as the gun violence epidemic currently ravaging our country.

Since I was hired at Thornton-Donovan, in my position as Middle School English teacher and Overlook Journal moderator, I have sought to build a culture that seeks truth and promotes impartiality. The recent series on gun control and school safety that began with this introductory piece highlights this civic consciousness.

I want my students to be agents of positive change; unfortunately, though, it appears as if support for change has faded three months after Parkland, according a recent Reuters poll. My hope is that moderate thought prevails and compromise on such a polarizing issue can be achieved for the sake of the children.

Image courtesy of ‘Newsday’

Throwback Thursday: Your Deeds Are Your Monuments

Throwback Thursday: Your Deeds Are Your Monuments, originally posted on October 6, 2017, expresses how proud I am of a student who has endured and overcome more than most. 

Since his birthday is tomorrow, I figured this would be a fitting throwback for him.

Happy birthday, young man. 

I’ve always told my students I’m not their friend or buddy, so do not confuse me with someone they can pal around with. And I’m not interested in their social lives or weekend plans or who’s dating whom so long as it doesn’t affect their academic lives or physical/mental health. That’s the stuff of high school gossip  some educators definitely whisper about – those people need to get a life.

Anyway, there is a line that exists between teachers and students for a reason, a distinction that further separates child from adult. However, kids eventually grow up. Then, what do you do?

They move on, you continue to do your job with a new set of kids and a new one after them and so on. And as a teacher you hope they make the right decisions and see future success; that’s it, right? Well, yes and no. In my position as the middle [and sometimes high] school English teacher at Thornton-Donovan School in New Rochelle, I occasionally have the unique opportunity to watch a child progress from 6th grade all the way through 12th grade. That tidbit provides some context for the work I did with a young man originally from the Bronx whom I started working with when he was in eighth grade. He became the first member of his family to graduate from high school last June (see “The Make Good Son” for more on him).

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Throwback Sunday: Mother’s Day Is

Throwback Sunday: Mother’s Day is, originally posted on May 14, 2017, wishes all the mothers out there a happy and healthy Mother’s Day. You gave us life, you took care of us, and you made us into the people we are today.

And for that, we should be thankful. 

Mother’s Day is breakfast at the diner at 8:30 in the morning (like everyone else). Except it doesn’t matter you’re following the herd in this instance.

Why?

Because as cliche as Mother’s Day brunch is, it’s equally and appropriately perfect (and the perfect excuse for eggs benedict).

You’re catching up, not rushing through it on the way to work or some miscellaneous social function/obligation. You have time, the most precious commodity, and you can take a breath for a second.

It’s as simple as that.

My lovely mother with some drunk idiot via Dennis Tommasulo.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the women who give their time, their vitality, their love, and most importantly their values to their children; all those women who sacrificed and still do for their children; and all those mothers women no longer with us that children miss today.

Put your feet up, enjoy your family, and remember what and who’s important.

Get To Reading

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you want to improve your vocabulary, expose yourself to varied syntax, and hear different voices and perspectives and tones, and feel different moods, GET TO READING!

Reading what?

‘The Hate U Give’ by Angie Thomas via Goodreads.com

Anything at first, whether it be a magazine, a comic book, a novel, a contemporary text, a canonical text – fiction or nonfiction, does not matter – as long as you read something. That’s the first step; keeping it going is the next step.

It should be simple: cut an hour of television or video game time out – I know, a crazy concept that for some is harder than kicking smoking rock. And it’ll make your studying for the SATs that much easier too because you’ll have a context for the words your learning as opposed to memorizing “hot” lists of words you won’t remember anyway. You know, because memorization is the LOWEST form of understanding (knowing without meaning or even the means to apply).

If you were in my classroom, I would say go over to the bookshelf that’s regularly stocked with new and old texts that reflect diverse student interests. My aim in maintaining such a representative bookshelf is I want my students to develop the love for reading and learning that I discovered far too late. I didn’t have a teacher who inspired this in me, but I wish I did.

Anyway, since we’re not in my classroom, here’s a place to start: What’s Andrew Reading? From YA, to thrillers, to nonfiction, to some oldies, there’s something for everyone there. I just finished The Hate U Give, which I would recommend to ALL who want a fresh, authentic, eye-opening perspective.

But, seriously, GET TO READING.

My Philosophy of Education Simplified

I want to thank my grad school educational philosophy professor, Bill Evans, from way back in the day for teaching me that philosophy is not nearly as antiquated as I initially thought.

However, I will not give any plaudits to my undergrad educational philosophy instructor who spent more time talking about breast pumps and why a student afflicted with Alopecia wore a wig than discussing Vygotsky v. Piaget – absolute nutbar.

Anyway, the below updates and clarifies Andrew’s Philosophy of Education:

I aim to provide my students with an eternal desire to explore, uncover, learn and relate across disciplines to discover their style, work ethic, passion, and personality. This starts with working with my students to forge a social contract that establishes a classroom culture founded on respect, accountability and pride.

Believing that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity, I build a rapport with my students by treating them as such and expecting the same from them. In this pursuit I seek to laud their accomplishments and create an environment where learning is celebrated – one that instills confidence and conveys to them that their opinions are valued in our classroom. This is why I urge them to demand an answer to the question of why they learn what they learn. In my mind, if they ask, they care, so I provide my rationale for why the course material is meaningful to them throughout each unit. Furthermore, I clearly communicate my expectations and disappointments to create a standard they are expected to meet.

Essential questions give structure to units as the lessons provide opportunities for students to examine these questions through textual analysis and their own experiences as a means to interpret, critically assess, and ultimately understand. Group and personal shares, free-writes, creative writing exercises and examination of shorter, related pieces set the tone for a lesson and excite the students for the more complex tasks ahead. A majority of the lessons end with a whip that gives students a chance to reflect and exhibit understanding, which also informs my teaching practices. In the student-centered discussions my lessons promote, I serve as a proctor to steer discussion. For this reason, the ideal classroom set up is a horseshoe where students face one another. With the SMART Board in front of the classroom but my computer in the back, I can sit among the students or walk the aisle, being a part of the classroom community and not the figurative head of it.

I utilize informal assessment measures – free-writes, for example – in addition to formative assessments like contextual sentence component identification quizzes to engage students, monitor their progress, and build their skills for application to the summative assessment. Critical response exercises, including outlining and drafting, further develop competency in essay writing, for example. To support students throughout the writing process, I employ both student and teacher writing workshops, along with myriad graphic organizers, student samples and checklists for drafting, editing and revising.

Finally, I seek to instill a sense of social awareness in my students, so there is a justice component found in my units that requires students to confront complex social issues, such as bigotry. In the 7th grade’s study of To Kill a Mockingbird, the class examines justice for Mayella Ewell, Tom Robinson, and Bob Ewell. Students then assess bigotry in society today – how it is present in their lives and what must be done to deconstruct entrenched beliefs and reimagine a more inclusive and empathetic future. This change, my students come to see, starts with them – the next generation of leaders I seek to prepare for the rigors of tomorrow.

Sorry for the Inactivity

Very uncharacteristic of myself, I have not been actively updating the blog.

Why?

Am I quitting blogging?

Am I folding the website?

No.

And no.

My wife and I endured a trying closing process on our purchasing of an apartment in Long Island City. Our loan officer quit four days before our closing date – thanks a lot, Ami Rosen (scumbag). That, and the co-op operates on its own time and at its own pace, which is quite slower than the real world.

But we did close.

And I did get to see my wife’s office for the first time.

Oh, hey, WE’RE OWNERS NOW!

Celebrating, we absconded to San Francisco and Sonoma for a full week to get away from it all.

So all is well in the world of Chapin – until I return to work, at least – I’ve just been too damn busy (story of my life).

Check back next week for new content!

The Walkout That Wasn’t Really

The Walkout That Wasn’t Really, originally published on Thornton-Donovan School’s ‘Overlook Journal’, expresses sophomore Grace Kelly Kretzmer’s disappointment with the school and some of its students over how they handled such a solemn event.

Personally, I couldn’t be prouder of Grace and her peers for speaking up about an issue they believe in. I can say that when I was their age, I was not as civically conscious, and this concern shows all the character and maturity that distinguish my students from others. They truly will be the leaders of tomorrow.

Here are Grace’s words:

On March 14, the majority of Thornton-Donovan School’s student body met outside to protest gun violence and honor the 17 students who lost their lives in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“The walkout showed that students at T-D have a fighting spirit, and they deserve further outlines for expression, even those pertaining to issues specific to our school,” said sophomore Jordan Mallach.

However, this is a positive spin. In reality, when asked by multiple teachers, friends, and parents how the walkout went, there was definitely a huge hesitation before answering. The walkout itself was more of a “walk-around,” meaning walking around campus for twelve minutes. Worse, speeches were rushed and cut off before we hit the seventeen-minute mark. Honestly, I’m disappointed with how we handled the subject matter and the walkout itself.

“They should have given us at least a period to do this properly. We would have walked out of T-D and then we could come back and have students speak up,” freshman Mila Mabhongo said.

Participating in huge movements like March for Our Lives and the National School Walkouts should be something I should be proud of, not embarrassed by. It is not a privilege to protest, it’s a right and I’m not sure if that was clear.

The mural in the lobby of Thornton-Donovan School.

“T-D’s walkout definitely could have been organized in a way that would have given more effective message. For one, I think many can agree that it wasn’t a walkout, as nobody left the inside of our campus,” sophomore Antonea Rufa said. “The bare minimum we could have done was walk the 17 minutes; however, we did not even achieve that. Many schools did much more than walk for 17 minutes, and I definitely think that our school should have done more to commemorate the 17 lives we lost.”

Personally, I think we could’ve done so much better. Could some of the students been more supportive and respective? Yes. Could more have made signs and worn orange? Yes. Those things we, the students, should’ve done. It’s a shame to say some students only participated in the walkout to get out of 17 minutes of their second period class and socialize with their friends. While those people complained about being hungry and bored, the students who were one hundred percent dedicated to marching and standing up for the greater good weren’t able to fully enjoy the walkout and its purpose.

But could administration let us walk for the full seventeen minutes? Yes. By walking for only 12 minutes, are we placing a higher value on those 12 lives over the remaining five lives that we didn’t walk for? It seems like it. Was getting back to homeroom and then second period more important than addressing this serious, real topic that is scary and should be mentioned? No. I was back in homeroom by 10:17, and back in second period by 10:18, not 10:20 like planned in the memo. The walkout was treated as if it was a privilege over a right. It felt as if the school was doing the students a favor by letting them participate.

With a serious movement like this, students need support from their teachers and school, which is something we only got from a select few teachers. I can only hope that for April 20th’s walkout, held on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting, we are more organized and committed, and that we gain more support from the school.

Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice Is Heard

Originally published on March 26 in Thornton-Donovan School’s Overlook Journal, “Gun Violence: A Teen’s Voice Is Heard” is Editor-in-Chief Quincy Campbell’s call to action. If adults will not confront this alarming trend of gun violence in our country, then it is up to the children – our conscience, or at least what our conscience should be – to stand when others will not:

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced

-James Baldwin

On March 14, Thornton-Donovan joined millions of high school students from around the world partook in a historical 17 minute walk out in memory of the seventeen students who were killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. This was a moment in which together, we as teens proclaimed our fight against gun violence. But for the Overlook Journal, this is only the beginning. It has become too unbearable to stand by and watch as government officials  and voters ponder what our safety is worth. We deserve a say in the matter.

The only way adults can come to a productive solution regarding teen violence is by adding teens in the equation.  This is a problem concerning our lives, and the lives of our friends and siblings. We cannot be excluded from an issue we are involved in. Teens need a voice in this matter, and more importantly, we need an audience.

So for the next two weeks, the Overlook Journal will be releasing a series of articles, written by teens, regarding gun and teen violence. This will provide unique perspectives, insights, and facts in hopes of encouraging you to examine this issue in a teen’s point of view.

We encourage you, the reader, to share your thoughts and feedback on this content, so we can discuss ways on how to make it even better.

-Quincy A. Campbell

Editor and Chief

Throwback Thursday: The Prologue

Throwback Thursday: The Prologue was originally posted at “A Reintroduction: The Prologue” on August 18, 2017. I wrote the prologue of Knowing When You’re Too Young to Grow Up two summers ago on a prep in between summer school classes. I had just recently watched Dead Poet’s Society, and, as I wrote in the September 2, 2014 post “Rediscovering my Protagonist in ‘Dead Poet’s Society'” it inspired me:

Once I was done with the kids (or maybe a bit before), I roughed out a draft where I focused on establishing the narrator’s (and protagonist’s voice). My intention was to draw the audience in by revealing the death of the protagonist’s best friend. The circumstances of his death are shrouded in mystery by design; the last thing I wanted was to paraphrase the story the audience is about to get into.

'Dead Poets Society' Poster via Amazon.com

‘Dead Poets Society’ Poster via Amazon.com

‘DPS’ is the quintessential substitute teacher go-to movie in high school, and it reminded me of the innate sense of rebellion in teenagers that originally inspired (and continues to inspire) ‘Knowing When You’re Too Young To Grow Up’.

The book is so much more than bitching and complaining and belly-aching about the plight of a high school kid whose life is devoid of responsibility and privileged in every way.

While that’s part of ‘Knowing When’, it’s not the whole story. It is the anatomy of teenage angst, from the protagonist’s upbringing to his history with his friends and the secrets they keep from each other to his choices and the consequences they yield.

Prologue:

I killed my best friend, not with a gun or a knife or a car or a bomb or a poison, but he died and I lived and it was all the same in the end.

He didn’t know until it was too late. And I guess I didn’t either at first, failing to consider that my actions could so adversely affect him, could eventually destroy him. But they did. And that’s really the only thing that matters here.

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