Today’s blog is a guest post by Erika Duncan, executive and artistic director of HerStory Writers Workshop.
Find Brave Journeys/Pasos Valientes on the First Book Marketplace.
“Who has the courage to read this week’s story in English?” Mr. Hogu asks his students, who are not only new to Hempstead High School on Long Island, but new to the United States. They are reading silently in Spanish from Brave Journeys/Pasos Valientes, a bilingual collection of stories created by Herstory Writers Workshop, an organization dedicated to giving voice to people of all ages.
For these students, the book has a unique resonance: Brave Journeys/Pasos Valientes was written by young people who crossed rivers and deserts and mountains to come to Long Island—just like they did.
Mr. Hogu is using Brave Journeys as the only textbook in his class this semester. It will fulfill every aspect of his English as a New Language curriculum and prepare his students for the English-only standardized test required to graduate. Since its publish date in March of 2018, 12 Long Island school districts also have incorporated the book into either their curriculum or after school programming.
“Before I had this book, I didn’t know what to do,” Mr. Hogu says as he thumbs through the exam practice templates the students have been using to write about Brave Journeys.
The story for today is, “And Now, It is My Turn.” Herstory Writers Workshop facilitator Helen Dorado Alessi is there to assist the students in writing their own stories, inspired by those in the book.
“’Y ahora, es mi turno.’ I want you to think about what the title means,” Mr. Hogu repeats several times in Spanish and English. He calls on a boy in the back who is eagerly raising his hand to read.
The boy starts: “To be honest, I didn’t think it would be so hard to live without Mom…”
A few sentences later, another student picks up the thread: “I remember I was always a happy girl with dreams. One of my dreams was to have a ‘perfect’ family… una familia perfecta, ja, ja, ja.”
They pause to figure out the author’s intention in using those words. “Ironía,” a student calls out from the other side of the room.
The students spend 20 minutes reading the first page of “And Now, It is My Turn,” in both languages. The focus on language learning and literary elements allows the students a safe space to take their own emotional journeys.
“And now it is your turn,” Mr. Hogu says. “I need you guys to show how you crossed the river too.”
One girl starts to cry when she tells her story. As Mr. Hogu comforts the student, two girls across the room hold each other, reliving those moments of separation from grandparents, siblings, and the people who raised them.
“It takes courage to be vulnerable,” Helen tells them as she calls on another student who reads more softly and slowly, while the room grows quiet with the attention and caring that will allow each newcomer writer to take the next step.
Brave Journeys is providing a critical mirror for recently-arrived students, and an equally critical window for their peers. Thanks to a generous donation from Herstory Writers Workshop, it is currently available in the Book Bank section on the First Book Marketplace. Herstory Writers Workshop has generously covered shipping and handling for this title, so members of the First Book community of educators can receive up to 5 books absolutely free, while supplies last.