I have the great fortune to spend this year with New Hampshire Humanities. We’re working on a literacy project with adult education and refugee resettlement classes for English learners. The project is A Year of New Voices,
In the Year of New Voices, professional writers will meet English learners in Connections book discussion programs. Selected students will have an opportunity to work with the writer, read samples of each other’s work, look for ideas that each have as a thread through their writing. Then English learners, alongside professional writers, will read their poems, stories, and memoirs in “Year of New Voices” readings in New Hampshire communities.
The collage is by Linda Graham who allowed us to use her art on the cover and inside. ESL educators and professional writers joined forces to write prompts, poems, and essays on the value of what bilingual writers bring to English. The full handbook is available for English learners everywhere and to teachers who support them. You can download and printout. Please tell us how you use it and about writing that you do. “Tell Me More” is here.
“Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.”
In 2010, Laurie Lalish of Lutheran Social Services, now Ascentria, conducted a visual arts project with her ESL class in Laconia who created imagery of their homeland. They continued drawing images of home when Jo Radner and I were invited by Laurie to work with her class to do a folktale project. This was New Hampshire Humanities’ Bilingual Folktale Project conducted through the Connections Adult Literacy.
All of Laurie’s students were Nepali-speaking parents and grandparents who had been exiled from their homes in Bhutan. They had lived as refugees in Nepal for 20 years before coming to New Hampshire. Laurie was their first English teacher. She brought sheets of white paper and markers to her students who spoke little English but told stories with their art.
They continued to draw after Jo and I, with interpreter Nilhari Bhandari, listened to many of their stories. After the tellings, they drew landscapes from home, their farmhouses, their animals, the temples of their country.
After the project, the students, including Jay Jogi and Kamal Dangal, gave their illustrations to Laurie out of appreciation and respect for
first English teacher.
Soon after the project, Laurie had to stop teaching because she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. A few years later, she contacted me. She invited me to her house. She lives on a mountainside and it was a beautiful, sunny December day. She showed me all the Bhutanese students’ drawings and offered them to me so that they might be known about and seen. I showed them to Kayla Schweitzer, Heritage and Traditional Arts Coordinator of the NH State Council on the Arts.
A few months ago we both agreed on how to honor the artwork. As part of Welcoming New Hampshire, some of the art created by Bhutanese-Americans in Laurie’s class will be featured in a new gallery and meeting space in Concord called CreatingCommUNITY.
One of the jobs I cherish doing is bringing NH Humanities’ book discussion programs to English Language Learners.I met with Christine Powers’ class of adult learners in Salem, New Hampshire this spring. They were all new Americans and also mothers. We met in the school where their kids go. Together we read a series of illustrated biographies including The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Coles, the psychologist who wrote The Moral Life of Children.
I discovered Robert Coles’ The Moral Life of Children, years ago. For the book, he interviewed many children including Ruby Bridges, six years old. A New York Times reviewer explained Coles book like this, ”’No one teaches children sociology or psychology,” Dr. Coles remarks; ‘yet, children are constantly noticing who gets along with whom, and why.’ His tales are about what they have noticed, and how it affects them.” Ruby Bridges told Robert Coles about the mobs of people screaming hate at her as she crossed in front of them to go to school:
”They keep coming and saying the bad words, but my momma says they’ll get tired after a while and then they’ll stop coming. They’ll stay home.”
It was powerful reading about social justice issues in the U.S. with women from Pakistan, India, Lebanon, Vietnam, and Latin American countries. They are all mothers and know the power of family words. I stayed only for a short time, but Chris and her students kept delving into the book and the questions it asks of us and what we say to our kids.
In this new language of English, each student wrote a cinquain poem.
Reading Praying Talking
“I was praying for them.”
Thank you, Chris Powers and all the women in your class for our time together.