By Bill Bradberry
Niagara Gazette — French journalist and novelist, Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (1808-1890) is often credited with coining the phrase, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, translated, “The more things change, the more they remain the same”, a fitting description for the most recent disappointing news from the New York Education Commissioner about the sad state of affairs generally with New York boasting a slight rise to a 74.9 percent graduation rate while Niagara Falls remains stuck closer to the bottom at 63.1 percent with neighbors Buffalo at 53.4 and Rochester a distant last place at 43 percent.
These are not the confidence building numbers that a region trying to redefine itself wants to brag about, but they certainly cannot be ignored either. Parents responding to the heavy media campaigns around the country promoting New York as a good place to do business may not be so inclined as to seriously consider relocating thousands of miles from better performing schools for business purposes in exchange for poorer graduation rates for their children.
No doubt poverty, cultural differences and parent participation all play significant roles as the data clearly demonstrate; the greater the concentration of low income families in a district, the lower the graduation rate; the more affluent the district, the higher the graduation rate.
While I’m not exactly sure where all of the solutions to the economic challenges lie, I do suspect that English Language Arts, also known as “reading skills” might be one of the many that parents and children can improve on their own, with a little help from friends, like Rotary International.
Niagara Falls Rotary Club President, John Cooper says they and thousands of other local clubs raise millions of dollars every year in order to donate dictionaries and other learning materials to children around the world. “But”, he says, nothing does more to inspire children to read more than having someone read to them, especially a parent”.
Watching the tear drenched pride flash across the faces of the proud families and friends like those of tiny little five year-old Aniyaha Thomas at the Twenty Forth Street School a few days ago affirms for me my belief that parents as well as students at the elementary school level are very passionately interested in getting a good education, so what happens between grade school and high school?
Again, I’m sure I don’t know, but I do know this: my mother and teachers read to us, and we read to each other. We all became voracious readers, we all graduated from high school, we all went on to higher education.
So, with reading in mind, I present this abbreviated 2014 Summer Reading Lists, aimed, but not intended solely for the target audience that seems to need the most help, according to the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor who admits that, “achievement gaps for minority students are not abating, especially when it comes to “advanced designation diplomas”, generally seen as a key to college entrance.
The selections from an article written by Aly Seidel for National Public Radio earlier this month will appeal to everyone regardless of the wealth, or lack thereof of your school district which includes no fewer than 10 unique districts, nearly 35,000 students with assets skills and passions that run the full gamut from A-Z.
It’s called, “A Diverse Summer Reading List For Kids”. The entire article, excerpted below, includes brief summaries of all twenty-five of Seidel’s selections is available online at npr.org and at #WeNeedDiverseBo
The books address themes like international adoption, biracial families and cultural history, to name a few. Not all of the authors are minorities, but every book features a protagonist of color that children can point to and say, “That’s me!”
Children like to SEE THEMSELVES in the books they read. Take a look at a few, all 25 of which along with a whole slew of good books by local authors like Paul Gromosiack and others are always available locally at the Book Corner, 1801 Main St., 285-2928, if not at the local libraries.
“The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring” by Lucille Clifton. King Shabazz gets tired of everyone telling him that “spring is right around the corner,” so he and his friend Tony start turning street corners to chase this elusive spring — after putting their caps on backwards to show they mean business! (Ages 3-5)
“Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo!” by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez. A multilingual mouse and his family live upstairs in an old theater. They love to go to the plays and shout “Bravo!” when the curtain falls. But when Gato-Gato, the theater cat, finds them, Chico Canta must use his gift for languages to save his family. ( Ages 4-7)
“Brush of the Gods” by Lenore Look. Brush of the Gods is about Wu Daozi, a famous seventh-century Chinese artist. The author imagines Wu Daozi as a young man trying to learn calligraphy, but when he sits down to write, he creates beautiful paintings instead! (Ages 4-8)
“The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood” by Virginia Driving Hawk Sneve. As winter comes to Virginia’s reservation, she can’t wait for the charity boxes from the East, full of coats for the winter. However, her parents expect her to put other people’s needs before her own, and she is devastated when her classmate takes the rabbit fur coat that Virginia wanted. This is a story about selflessness and the spirit of Christmas. Winner of the American Indian Youth Literature Award. (Ages 5+)
“Corduroy” by Don Freeman. Race is incidental to this beloved 1968 tale about a stuffed bear and the girl who loves him. One of School Library Journal’s “Top 100 Picture Books” of all time (2012) and the National Education Association’s “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” (Ages 2-5)
“Dumpling Soup” by Jama Kim Rattigan. This New Year’s Eve, Marisa finally gets to help her family make the traditional meal, but she worries nobody will like her oddly shaped dumplings. Each page has illustrations with lots of activity and feel-good themes. (Ages 4-8)Contact Bill Bradberry at firstname.lastname@example.org.