Mascot by Charles Waters and Traci Sorell

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Mascot
Authors: Charles Waters and Traci Sorell
Published September 5th, 2023 by Charlesbridge

Summary: What if a school’s mascot is seen as racist, but not by everyone? In this compelling middle-grade novel in verse, two best-selling BIPOC authors tackle this hot-button issue.

In Rye, Virginia, just outside Washington, DC, people work hard, kids go to school, and football is big on Friday nights. An eighth-grade English teacher creates an assignment for her class to debate whether Rye’s mascot should stay or change. Now six middle-schoolers—all with different backgrounds and beliefs—get involved in the contentious issue that already has the suburb turned upside down with everyone choosing sides and arguments getting ugly.

Praise: 

⭐ Publishers Weekly, starred review

Told via seven alternating narratives, this ripped-from-the-headlines collaboration in verse by Waters (African Town) and Cherokee Nation member Sorrel (One Land, Many Nations) follows a fictional town’s division over a racist sports mascot. Callie Crossland, who is Cherokee and Black, has just transferred to a middle school in Rye, Va. She immediately expresses disgust at her school’s mascot, a “copper-toned, muscled, loincloth-clad, tomahawk-wielding” caricature of an Indigenous person. Callie’s English teacher Ms. Williams soon assigns a group writing project regarding the “Pros and Cons of Indigenous Peoples as Mascots,” and Callie is annoyed at being paired with Black classmate Franklin, who believes the mascot “brings so much joy.” Waters and Sorrel paint a complex portrait of the differing reactions toward the controversy by layering the racially diverse tweens’ perspectives and showcasing the effects the event has on their individual relationships and the community beyond their school. The creators eschew judgment to present a well-rounded discussion about classism and racism, as well as effective allyship, with compassion and understanding. A glossary and resources conclude. Ages 10–up.

Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Waters and Sorell (Cherokee Nation) join forces to write about the power of being true to oneself.

In a middle school in Rye, a fictional town near Washington, D.C., a racist mural and offensive pep rally chants shock new student Callie Crossland, who is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation and African American. Callie shares a heartfelt poem with her seventh grade honors English class, reminding everyone that the “stupid tomahawk-chop chant” and the “cheap chicken-feather headdress” are nothing less than symbols of “white supremacy.” Afterward, Ms. Williams, her teacher, assigns a persuasive writing and oration project entitled “Pros and Cons of Indigenous Peoples as Mascots.” The small, broadly diverse group of students is assigned to work in pairs; Callie is matched with Franklin, who is Black and a proud fan of the Rye Braves football team. Franklin insists, “I wish we could Lysol racism away. / It’s a bad odor,” but he feels conflicted: “I still don’t think our mascot is racist though. It brings so much joy. / …what’s the big deal?” This clever novel unfolds in poems told in multiple voices showing the wide range of students’, families’, and community responses to the controversy; for some, initial feelings of opposition, hesitation, or indifference change and friendships are tested. The compelling, highly relevant subject matter and accessible text invite readers to understand different perspectives and witness individual growth.

A brilliant story not to be missed; deeply engaging from the first page. (glossary, additional information and resources) (Verse fiction. 10-14)

About the Authors: Charles Waters is a children’s poet, actor, educator, and coauthor of African Town; Dictionary for a Better World: Poems, Quotes, and Anecdotes from A to Z; and the award-winning Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship. He lives near Atlanta.

Traci Sorell writes fiction and nonfiction for children featuring contemporary characters and compelling biographies, including the Sibert Honor books We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga and We Are Still Here!. She is an enrolled citizen of the Cherokee Nation and lives in northeastern Oklahoma, where her tribe is located.

The Authors Discuss the Book: 

Review: The tagline of this book is “Discrimination is discrimination, even when people claim it is ‘tradition,'” and this tagline tells you exactly about the theme of the book. Told from four students’ points of view, it looks at a school where there is a lot of school spirit around their sports team, called the Braves, and a new student starts who is indigenous and is horrified at the appropriation of her culture. The book is written in verse which gives such well written insight into each of the students’ point of view as these kids aim to make a difference. I read this book in one sitting–it is such a great read where you want to know what is going to happen, so you cannot put the book down.

This topic is also so very timely! I saw Traci Sorell at AASL, and she shared that about 2,000 K-12 schools still have Native American-themed mascots. I know of a couple in my area, and I hope that someone shares this book with them to get the conversation going as the book does a beautiful job of looking at the effects of the ignorant choices that were made in the past (and that too many continue to ignore, despite the racism).

Discussion Questions: 

*This discussion guide is provided by the publisher.

Flagged Spreads: 

Read This If You Love: Novels in Verse, Books with multiple points of view, Books that look at timely injustices

Recommended For: 

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**Thanks to Charlesbridge for providing a copy of the book for review!**

Author Guest Post: “Big Problems and Small Fascinations” by Olivia A. Cole, Author of Where the Lockwood Grows

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Big Problems and Small Fascinations

School requires a lot from young people. Focus, sitting still, hands to yourself, social skills. (This doesn’t end with elementary school. Middle school? For sure. High school? Yep!) This is all hard enough – particularly if you won the neurodivergent lottery – and then you have to throw the whole “actual learning” thing on top too: the math and the science and the history. Oh, and homework! Don’t forget homework. (I’m admittedly sad that the “no homework” movement seems to have lost steam in the last year.)

Where is the space for special interests?

This isn’t a write-up about kids being swamped by “activities” starting in kindergarten. It’s not about how college prep seems to start earlier and earlier in a country where college isn’t free. It’s not even about overwork and burnout.

It’s about small fascinations.

In Where the Lockwood Grows, Erie Neaux isn’t tied up with swimming practice. Rather, she and the other young people in the town of Prine are struggling under the yoke of child labor, although of course no one is calling it that. It’s called survival. (Which at least is more noble than the current justifications.) Erie (and the other children who have no choice but to do the dangerous work in the trees that keeps their town running) wakes up before dawn to finish their work, after which they go to school for a few hours, where most of them are too tired or stressed to pay much attention to what they’re expected to learn.

Erie spends most of the time either daydreaming or flipping through an old encyclopedia of entomology, studying the many strange bugs and their attributes contained in the pages. She applies her knowledge as best as she can in the tiny, insulated town of Prine, admiring the dustnose beetles and other local insects.

But when she and her sister discover the truth about what keeps the people of Prine in the dark, their adventure takes them to the city of Petrichor, where Erie’s world finally opens up. Along the way, she’s taken to the Bug Yard, a place where other bug-lovers have developed their fascinations with insects and turned them toward solutions to climate and waste problems. (Awesomely enough, these imaginings aren’t science fiction!) In the end, Erie’s fascination with bugs that she nurtured in her sparse spare time plays a big part of saving the day.

Capitalism has a way of wringing every drop out of a day. Adults feel it when we don’t even have time for a hobby. (Or worse, when we try to turn hobbies into streams of income.) Children feel it when between school and homework there’s none of their day left empty for daydreaming.

In Where the Lockwood Grows, the lockwood blocks the stars that Erie’s mother says her children need to dream. What about us? What do we need to dream? Our Earth has big problems that need big solutions, born from creativity and innovation, from small fascinations that grow into resolutions. How will they be born if we don’t have time to dream?

Published August 15th, 2023 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

About the Book: Twelve-year-old Erie has never lived life fully in the sunlight. After destructive wildfires wreaked havoc on the world around her, the government came up with a plan—engineer a plant that cannot burn. Thus, the fire-resistant lockwood was born. The lockwood protects Erie and her hometown of Prine, but it grows incredibly fast and must be cut back every morning. Only the town’s youngest and smallest citizens can fit between the branches and tame the plant. Citizens just like Erie.

But one evening, Erie uncovers a shocking secret that leads her to question the rules of Prine. Alongside her older sister, Hurona, she’ll journey from the only home she’s known and realize that the world is much more complicated than she’d ever imagined.

About the Author: Olivia A. Cole is a writer from Louisville, Kentucky. Her essays, which often focus on race and womanhood, have been published in Bitch Media, Real Simple, The LA Times, HuffPost, Teen Vogue, Gay Mag, and more. She teaches creative writing at the Kentucky Governor’s School for the Arts, where she guides her students through poetry and fiction, but also considerations of the world and who they are within it. She is the author of several books for children and adults. Learn more about Olivia and her work at oliviaacole.com and follow her on Twitter @RantingOwl.

Thank you, Olivia, for this food for thought and reminder that it is okay to allow kids to focus on their loves and passions!

Educators’ Guide for The Rumor Game by Dhonielle Clayton & Sona Charaipotra

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The Rumor Game
Author: Dhonielle Clayton & Sona Charaipotra
Published: March 1st, 2022 by Disney

Summary: All it takes is one spark to start a blaze.

At Foxham Prep, a posh private school for the children of DC’s elite, a single rumor has the power to ruin a life.

Nobody knows that better than Bryn. She used to have it all—the perfect boyfriend, a bright future in politics, and even popularity, thanks to her best friend, cheer captain Cora. Then one mistake sparked a scandal that burned it all to the ground.

Now it’s the start of a new school year and the spotlight has shifted: It’s geeky Georgie, newly hot after a summer makeover, whose name is on everyone’s lips. When a rumor ignites, Georgie rockets up the school’s social hierarchy, pitting her and Cora against each other. It grants her Foxham stardom . . . but it also makes her a target.

As the rumors grow and morph, blazing like wildfire through the school’s social media, all three girls’ lives begin to unravel. But one person close to the drama has the power to stop the gossip in its tracks. The question is—do they even want to?

From Dhonielle Clayton and Sona Charaipotra, authors of the Tiny Pretty Things duology (now a Netflix series), comes the edge-of-your-seat social thriller everyone will be talking about.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide I created for Cake Creative Kitchen:

You can also access the educators’ guide here.

You can learn more about The Rumor Game on Cake Creative’s Library page.

Recommended For: 

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If You Meet the Devil, Don’t Shake Hands by Sylvia Whitman

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If You Meet the Devil, Don’t Shake Hands
Author: Sylvia Whitman
Published September 19th, 2023 by Fitzroy Books

Summary: Twelve-year-old Gavin Baker, son of a warrior, is a born worrier. With his father serving overseas, Gavin assumes that he’ s already imagined the worst that can happen— until he shakes hands with his best friend Javi’ s long-lost grandfather and finds himself trapped in the old magician’ s ailing body. Help! As the trickster takes over Gavin’ s life, fooling the girl of his dreams and even his own family, Gavin wonders if the imposter is a better version of Gavin than Gavin himself. He has to convince Javi that the real Gavin now has hairy knuckles and a love of Pablo Neruda’ s poetry. Then the boys can try some tricks of their own. But will the two friends be able to reverse the old devil’ s magic? Or will both of their families get their hearts broken?

About the Author: Sylvia Whitman, a writer and educator, has published articles, a picture book, and nonfiction & fiction children’s books. A folklore and mythology major in college, she has always liked proverbs, particularly this one: “A book is a garden carried in the pocket.” She lives with her husband and two kids in Arlington, Virginia. Visit her at SylviaWhitmanBooks.com.

Review: This twist on Freaky Friday looks at the heart of family trauma and perspective. It was fascinating to see how the switch into an unwelcome visitor led to a conclusion that I would not have guessed. Through the eyes of Javi’s returned abuelo, but with Gavin’s narrative, we learn the truth of the past and the present. Though the story focuses on Gavin and “El Diablo,” there are side stories that add heart to the story and flesh out the supporting character. Whitman does a wonderful job showing the reader both reasons for sympathy and anger while validating all of the emotions of all of the characters.

Tools for Navigation: This book will be perfect for middle school classroom and school libraries. Middle school readers are going to be enthralled by the concept of the book and want to figure out how it all shakes out.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Why do you think El Diablo and Gavin switched places?
  • How did the switch affect both of them?
  • What do you think happens next, after the end of the book?
  • How do you think the story would have been different if Gavin and El Diablo hadn’t switched places?
  • Through the flashes of El Diablo’s memory coming through, what do you believe happened in the past? Do you think Javi’s abuelo is as devil-like as they’ve all assumed?
  • Do you agree with the tactics that Gavin uses to reach the conclusion of the book?
  • What do you believe the theme of the book is?

Flagged Passages: “El Diablo’s hand is still waiting for mine.

Should I tell him my last name? He’s Javi’s granddad, after all. Or should I make one up?

Say nothing. Smile. That’s Mom’s advice.

It’s rude if I don’t shake, though.

When we touch, Javi’s grandfather gives me a shock so strong I can hear the snap. Before I can pull back, he clamps his left hand over the shake, trapping me. His eyes bore right into mine.

“What are you good at”—he gulps a quick breath—“Gavin?”

I don’t know. My whole arm is tingling—no, stinging—like after it goes to sleep and then starts to wake up. I want to shake it out. I pull back slightly, but this guy is not relaxing his grip. He’s acting like a diablo, not an abuelo.

I’m about to yelp for help when El Diablo says, “Good with the girls?”

At that, both Javi and I snort.

“Science,” Javi says. “School.”

So is Javi. He’s good at everything.

“A smart one,” El Diablo says to me. “What else?”

I wait for Javi to speak up, but he doesn’t. Outside of class I’m not much of anything.

My dad is always telling me that I should take some risks—not stupid ones, like stealing a car or smoking dope, but expanding ones, like reading a book you’ve never heard of or tasting food you can’t pronounce. Right after Dad went downrange, I tried some borscht that a lady from the family support center gave us, but when Mom explained beets made it purple, I spit it back into the bowl and just ate rolls for supper.

Now the pins and needles are spreading across my collarbone and down my left arm. My blood is bubbling like soda fresh from the can. Isn’t this a symptom of a heart attack?

I yank my hand, but El Diablo holds tight. “Sports?” he asks.

“Your grandson’s the soccer star,” I say. Now let go of me.

Javi shakes his head.

“You are,” I insist. “You’ll make the team this year. They need another goalie.”

“Not if I don’t practice,” Javi says.

“Get your friend here to shoot on you,” El Diablo says.

“He won’t,” Javi says. That’s not true. I’m just careful. I read somewhere that soccer’s the fifth most dangerous sport, with 22.12 injuries per 100,000 participants.

“Before I came to this country, I played striker for El Brujos,” El Diablo says.

Given that he’s sitting down and practically panting, I find it hard to believe that he once covered a field. Javi’s always telling me that soccer requires incredible conditioning. He even found some story about soccer players living longer to convince me to try out with him for the Crossroads team. But he forgot to factor in sudden cardiac death, concussions, and dementia.

I expect El Diablo to start reminiscing, or making up stories, about his athletic career, which I can tolerate as long as he relaxes his grip on my hand. I need it for scratching since it feels as if approximately 250 ants have crawled under my shirt and are marching down into my pants. At six legs per ant, I have roughly 1500 roaming itchy spots.

“Would you mind…letting go?” I ask in my most polite desperate voice.

“You’re a smart boy, Gavin,” he says. “Smart is good. Wise is better.”

I try to signal SOS with my eyebrows, but Javi thinks I’m just puzzled by the comment.

“What’s the difference?” Javi asks.

“Smart knows facts,” El Diablo says. “Wise understands people.”

“Sir—my hand. I think maybe the circulation’s cut off,” I say. But it’s not just my hand; every nerve cell in my body is cut off and in flames.

Still gripping, El Diablo leans toward my ear and whispers, “You have something I want.” (Chapter 4)

Read This If You Love: Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers, The Switch by Anthony Horowitz, Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge

Recommended For: 

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**Thank you to the author for providing a copy for review!**

Saints of the Household by Ari Tison

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Saints of the Household
Author: Ari Tison
Published: March 28, 2023 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

Summary: Saints of the Household is a haunting contemporary YA about an act of violence in a small-town–beautifully told by a debut Indigenous Costa Rican-American writer–that will take your breath away.

Max and Jay have always depended on one another for their survival. Growing up with a physically abusive father, the two Bribri American brothers have learned that the only way to protect themselves and their mother is to stick to a schedule and keep their heads down.

But when they hear a classmate in trouble in the woods, instinct takes over and they intervene, breaking up a fight and beating their high school’s star soccer player to a pulp. This act of violence threatens the brothers’ dreams for the future and their beliefs about who they are. As the true details of that fateful afternoon unfold over the course of the novel, Max and Jay grapple with the weight of their actions, their shifting relationship as brothers, and the realization that they may be more like their father than they thought. They’ll have to reach back to their Bribri roots to find their way forward.

Told in alternating points of view using vignettes and poems, debut author Ari Tison crafts an emotional, slow-burning drama about brotherhood, abuse, recovery, and doing the right thing.

Review: This gorgeous novel alternates two brothers’ perspectives, one in prose (similar to short vignettes) and one in verse. I was captivated by this book and felt really connected to the two characters. The story begins immediately following a violent altercation between the brothers and their cousin’s girlfriend. The boys (Jay and Max) also experience domestic abuse at home. Jay and Max are less than a year apart in age and very close, yet they negotiate the altercations in very different ways. I highly recommend this book and am really glad that I read it and got to know Jay’s and Max’s stories.

Tools for Navigation: This book inspires creative writing. Teachers might ask students to try writing alternating perspectives of two people who are negotiating a conflict in different ways. They might also try writing one voice in prose and one in verse.

Discussion Questions: 

  • Did you find yourself feeling more empathetic toward one of the brothers? If yes, why might this be? If no, do you think audiences might be more empathetic to a brother, and why or why not?
  • How does the domestic abuse impact each of the brothers?
  • How did the different forms enhance your reading of the text?

Flagged Passage: “‘Sadness is not uncommon for our people,’ he tells me. ‘We have been hurt by many. People have been murdered. Our lands taken. But, in turn, when you are so hurt, you cannot let them win again by allowing them to take your mind. We’ve got everything against us, dawö’chke, but we’re still here, aren’t we? Each one of us made it. And we will still make it through all we’re facing'” (p. 186).

Read This If You Love: Angeline Boulley, Amber McBride, Ibi Zoboi

Recommended For: 

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Student Voices: Reflections on Middle School by Neko L., 8th grader, and Leticia R., Lauren Q., & Ronny D., 7th graders

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Reflections on Middle School

“Middle School Reflections” by Neko L., 2022-23 8th grade

As I end my Middle School career, I reflect on all the experiences I’ve had, all the friends I’ve made, and most importantly, everything I’ve learned. At this school, I have found teachers who have taught me things I will use for the rest of my life, disciplined me, and shown me how to be a good person. I look back at how I was all the way back in sixth grade, and I realize how much I have grown and am proud. The school and the faculty have taught me so much, and I am so sad that this is my final year, but I am also pleased that due to the help and teaching of the staff at this school, I am fully prepared to transition into High School. 

I have found new passions in many classes like art, guitar, and the literacy leader program. In my guitar class, my teacher taught me how to use my imagination in every problem and think outside the box. His skills teach me not only about learning the guitar but also about math, science, and social skills. In art, I strengthened my creativity and learned many new things for my own art. In the literacy leader program, I made new friends and socialized, and practiced leadership.

I remember coming to this school small and scared. Covid-19 was still a thing and everyone was required to wear masks, it was not my ideal start to middle school but it was a start. I learned a lot in my 6th-grade year. I started out as this annoying, strange, little kid. I learned being annoying was not very acceptable in the community. I used to get in so much trouble all the way back in 6th grade, and I’m grateful that I have grown and learned from those mistakes. Throughout my years here, I grew from that little kid who knew nothing about this school and the people in it to a kid who now knows people and this school and to not be annoying or get in trouble. Now in 8th grade, I am doing better than ever, I am getting better grades, I rarely get into trouble, and I feel that I am bringing at least a little bit of joy and appreciation to my peers.

I am extremely excited for my coming into high school, it feels like I really have a chance to make a difference in my school for my peers throughout the next few years if my life. I feel like all of my troubles and bad grades and being annoying in the past has brought me here because now I have learned from them and I am now a better person and I finally feel like I can be ready for high school. I can’t wait for my new classes and new teachers and new friends I will meet and old friends that I will make new experiences with.

“My Transition from Elementary to Middle School” by Leticia R., 2022-23 7th grade

Transitioning from elementary to middle school was a significant change that turned my world upside down. For six years, I had grown comfortable in the familiar routine of waking up, getting ready, and going to the same place. But suddenly, everything was different. I had to leave my comfort zone behind.

When I first visited the middle school before starting, I was taken aback by its size. It felt enormous compared to the cozy halls of elementary school. Mixed emotions flooded my mind as I thought about the upcoming transition. I was excited about new experiences but also scared and nervous about the unknown. Countless scenarios played out in my mind, and I wanted everything to be perfect.

I spent the night before organizing my clothes and planning where to meet my friends. I was determined to have the best pens, notebooks, and classes. Everything had to be just right. As I boarded the bus the following day, fear gripped me, but knowing that I had my friends by my side brought some relief.

I felt a mixture of anxiety and anticipation during that first day of school. I was eager to meet my new classmates and see what my classes would be like. As the days turned into weeks, and the weeks into months, I began to settle into the rhythm of middle school. I realized it was normal to feel anxious before such a significant change.

Through my middle school experiences, I’ve learned that it’s okay to have difficulties and be scared of the challenges ahead. But once you face those challenges head-on and come out the other side, realizing everything will be okay, it’s the best feeling in the world.

Transitioning to middle school taught me valuable lessons about adaptability, resilience, and stepping outside my comfort zone. While it was a daunting change at first, I’ve come to appreciate the new friendships, opportunities, and growth that middle school has brought into my life. And as I continue my journey, I look forward to embracing future challenges and discovering more about myself.

“5 Assignments I Liked in 7th Grade and Why” by Lauren Q., 2022-23 7th grade

Moon Phases with Oreos

In my science class my teacher Ms. Bullock had us do an assignment about the different moon phases. When we did this assignment we made the different moon phases out of Oreos. We took the Oreos and carved out the moon phases and then we put them in order and explained them. This assignment was really fun and helped me remember and understand the moon phases better. 

Boundaries with graham crackers

Also in my science class, my teacher had us do this assignment about plate tectonics to help us learn the different plate tectonics. In this assignment we put two graham crackers on top of frosting. Then with the different boundaries we moved them in different directions and for some we had to wet the graham cracker. This assignment was really fun and educational.

Literacy Week Door Decorating

In my literacy leaders class (Ms. Moye’s class) for literary week, we had to decorate the doors. In this project we got to choose which Christina Diaz Gonzalez book to use to decorate the door. We got to draw and come up with so many ideas for the door. We drew the characters, made flags, and cutouts of different things we thought complemented the book.

Science debate

In my science class, my teacher had us do a debate on whether we should continue space exploration or not. We got assigned into the different teams and had to come up with reasons to support our claim. We all had different roles in this debate and it showed us how to work as a team and listen to the other team. We had time to do our opening, rebuttals, and our closing. We also had time to talk to our team to see what we would say next. This assignment was fun but also taught us. 

Book Snap 

Also in my literacy leaders class (Ms. Moye’s class), we had this assignment where we had to choose a book and try to promote it so more kids will read it. We had to make a poster about the book and the author. We put the author’s name and then wrote a little summary about the book to make other kids read it. This assignment took a lot of time to finish but in the end it was worth it and fun.

“Food Rescue” by Ronny D., 2022-23 7th grade

**From Kellee: This post is about a program we do at my middle school. We have a share table in the back of the cafeteria for students to place any food or beverages they do not want. Others then can take what was left, if they would like. Anything that is left over gets donated to the Salvation Army. Last year, we donated almost 8,000 pounds of food! Ronny was part of my 5th period class who was in charge of daily lunch pick ups and the Salvation Army pick up once a week**

The food rescue program consists of the food that students don’t eat being donated to people in need. Student Literacy Leaders weigh, pack, count and collect the food by themselves. It is the students who make the food rescue program happen and one of those students was me. My experience with this program was great. It made me realize how much food is wasted, and how much we can help eliminate food waste. Each year, 119 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. Our School, HCMS, is making a difference to food waste in America. The Salvation Army are the ones who pick up the food collected weekly. After the food is collected, the Salvation Army delivers the food to places and people that need it. There are also other factors to food rescue like the “share table,” a bin & cooler where people leave their donations. Then, after lunch, the food is transported to the refrigerator in the front office. An experience I won’t forget while doing food rescue was the first time I ever did food rescue. It reminds me of how much I liked the idea of donating food to people in need. 

Thank you so much to my student voices today and their look at middle school experiences!

How Color Code Behavior Charts Almost Ruined My Son’s Love of School and Much More

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I’ve been wanting to write this post for a long time, but it is hard to talk about. I still get very emotional about it. But after 4 years, I am ready to share, and I am purposefully posting it right at the start of the school year.

This story takes place when Trent entered Kindergarten.

Trent has been in daycare then preschool and then public school since he was 5 months old. He had always loved school. It was never a fight to get him there. His love of learning, of socializing, of playing, of books–it was all so wonderful to witness. Throughout his first 5 years in school, there had been incidences here and there, as with any kid, but overall I was told he was a pleasure to have in class, he excelled at his work, and he was truly loved by so many teachers.

Then we entered kindergarten. He was so excited. I still have pictures that pop up yearly of him with his huge backpack, our family photo on day one, and the photo with his teacher. Just so filled with joy.

But over just a few weeks, I watched that wash away.

I had learned at his meet the teacher that his new teacher used a color coding behavior chart. We’d never had one in one of Trent’s classes before, and I knew about some negative opinions about them, but I was optimistic because I had to be. Also, as an educator, I understood to some extent needing to give visuals to students about their behavior and to keep track of warnings.

As the school year began, though, my optimism fell away. At first, it was just yellow or red dots coming home in his planner with small notes from his teacher. I emailed her to get more info, and we emailed back and forth about how to help Trent.

But then Trent’s demeanor changed. He tried to hide his planner from me, he stopped wanting to go to school, and he started to call himself a bad kid. It happened so quickly. My sweet boy who loved school now was wanting to avoid it as much as he could. There were so many tears.

Through communication with the teacher, I learned that students could earn their way back up; however, with the focus on negative behavior, Trent, I believe, was giving up. He told me he was bad so he was red. When I asked him what he thought he could do to move up, he said that he tried but that he was a bad kid.

Through talking with Trent, I learned that the kids very much paid attention to who was where. When he wasn’t red, he’d make sure to tell me who was the bad kid that day. That is always how my little 5-year-old put it: the bad kid. No wonder he viewed himself that way, that is how they all viewed students who were on red.

Eventually, I realized that this system was public shaming. It was not helping the situation at all; it was embarrassing and setting kids up for failure. I mean, would we want our boss to let everyone know how we were doing every day?! No!

I cannot put into words what this transformation of Trent, in just a few weeks, did to our household. The whole climate of the house changed, Trent’s whole demeanor changed, and we were helpless because this emotional beat down was happening at school where we weren’t.

I emailed his teacher a lot. I asked a lot of questions. I advocated for my son. But she wouldn’t budge. I think she, too, after only 3 weeks, only saw my son as a bad kid, all because of silliness, some impulse control issues, and his tendency to question.

Thankfully, without any warning, Trent was moved to another class where the culture was completely different. The teacher never talked to me about the why, which was a whole other problem, but I am so thankful the move happened. After moving, it took another few weeks for the toxicity to wash away, but Trent returned to himself and blew kindergarten out of the water and is still rocking school to this day!

But what about the kids who were in that room all year who found themselves on red? Did they enter 1st grade already knowing they were a “bad kid,” so they knew they needn’t not even try?? How does this affect the mental health and longevity of schooling????

This is one way educators can ruin kids. Can we PLEASE realize this practice is more hurtful than anything and move away from it? Because how many kids out there are being hurt the way Trent was but for an entire year????

So, what can be done instead? Get to know your students, don’t ever publicly shame them, use your team of support at your school (the guidance counselor, school psychologist, etc.), and focus on positivity in the classroom. These little change could change everything.

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