Sunday, June 19, 2011

Because You Loved Me...

At my wedding, I danced with my father to "Because You Loved Me" by Celine Dion. Here's why:

For all the times you stood by me...
Physically, you stood by me at least 10 times for Parents' Night at basketball, volleyball and softball games. Emotionally, you stood by me many more times.

For all the truth that you made me see...
You are such a constant force in my life. I can't even begin to list the number of times you have guided me in the right direction.

For all the joy you brought to my life...
One of my favorite memories with you happened many times: sitting in the passenger seat of your big red GMC Sierra listening to "Colors of the Wind" by Vanessa Williams. You fostered my love for Disney movies, and this is just one example of that.

For all the wrong that you made right...
When I decided to stop playing volleyball at UMD, a decision I agonized and sobbed over for hours, you surprised me by telling me that I should follow my heart. I thought you would tell me that I should finish what I started, but you could see the struggle I was going through. You knew it was the right thing for me to do.

For every dream you made come true...
Speaking of UMD volleyball, I would never have done it if it weren't for you. I wanted to continue playing volleyball into college, but you gave me the strength to try out. You always see the worth in Sarah, Mom, and I that we don't ourselves see. Remember driving home from tryouts? You were so happy for me. When we got home, Mom made a congratulatory steak dinner.

For all the love I found in you...
When I was little, we used to hold hands whenever we went anywhere. One specific time I'm thinking of, we're walking across the parking lot to Border's in Dearborn. As young as I was, I honestly remember cherishing that day. I realized, even then, that we had a special relationship, one like no other father and daughter in the world. We went in to the store and you made a beeline for the music section and I found a home in the children's nook and read on the stairs. Maybe you're one of the reasons I love reading so much today.

I'll be forever thankful.

You're the one who held me up,
never let me fall.
You're the one who saw me through,
through it all.

You were my strength when I was weak.
You were my voice when I couldn't speak.
You were my eyes when I couldn't see.
You saw the best there was in me.

Lifted me up when I couldn't reach,
you gave me faith 'cause you believed.
I'm everything I am
because you loved me.

You gave me wings and made me fly.
You touched my hand, I could touch the sky...
I wish I had the picture to post. The best I can do is try to recreate the image with words. You're not in the picture, but I know you're down there. I'm about 5 years old, wearing a blue and pink striped bathing suit. Smiling from ear to ear, my arms and legs are spread wide in relaxed happiness. Standing in Lake George, you threw me into the air, and for a moment, I was flying. Back on Earth, I landed into your arms, just where I belonged.

I lost my faith, you gave it back to me.
You said no star was out of reach.

You stood by me, and I stood tall.
I had your love, I had it all.
I'm grateful for each day you gave me.

Maybe I don't know that much,
but I know this much is true:
I was blessed because I was loved by you.

You were always there for me, the tender wind that carried me,
the light in the dark, shining your love into my life.
You've been my inspiration. Through the lies, you were the truth.
My world is a better place because of you.

In hindsight, I think that picture at Lake George is symbolic of our relationship. You raised me with confidence. You tossed me into the sky to fly on my own, but you controlled the wind. You were always standing under me, ready to catch me when I fell.


Now I have another father, Rich Lewis, Sr. He is certainly in deservance of an honorable mention. Thanks for keeping our car running, for turning our soil, and for being our friend. I'm happy to say that Rich has, in many ways, turned into you. Thank you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

I love a good coming of age story.

I have a good number of Latino students, so this school year, I charged myself with the task of collecting enough books featuring Latino protagonists to go around. My goal was to give those students a story they could relate to in hopes that the reading flood gates would open for them. You see, many of my students (Latino or otherwise) have a reading level that dips far below their grade level. What's worse, many of them don't own any books or subscribe to any magazines! Together, the combination is lethal. Most of them claim that "reading is boring" or "there are no good books," but the real problem is that they feel like they can't read and they're embarrassed. If they're 13 and aware that they're reading at a fourth grade level, they are much more likely to proclaim, "Reading sucks!" than to pick up a book actually designed for fourth graders. These books look and feel childish, and that's the last thing a 13-year-old wants to be.

As a teacher, the benefits of having an extensive classroom library are two fold. As a favor to myself, I collect books so I can point students who are whining about a book in a new direction, so I am not constantlly sending students to the library (many times just so they can get out of class), and so I can offer struggling readers books that look and feel age-appropriate, but are easy enough and fun enough to read that they feel successful. While this task is expensive (I shop on the bargain shelves at Borders and Barnes & Noble, at community book sales, and at garage sales, but boy does it add up), laborous and time consuming, it's well worth it. More importantly, students see my large library as a clue that reading is important, an essential component to a student's growth. Okay, so those aren't the words they choose (more often it's, "Why do we have to read so much?"), but when I look around my classroom during independent reading time and see 30 students genuinely reading, it warms my heart.

Let's get back on track. While I certainly didn't collect "enough" books featuring Latino protagonists, I collected a fair amount. As best laid plans often do, my plan to read all of the books I collected went awry. Given the nature of Young Adult Literature, it's often hard to stomach some of the "youngest" of plots. I did, nevertheless, read a few. One of the best was Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan.

Living in Mexico during the 1930's, Esperanza's family is wealthy and well-to-do. Esperanza wants for nothing and has servants who cook her meals, clean her room, and do her hair. She isn't a spoiled brat, but she knows no different, so she takes advantage of the luxuries that her life provides for her. The night before her birthday, her father, a land owner and well-known businessman, is killed. This, of course, shakes Esperanza, Mama (her mother), and Abuelita (her grandmother). Shortly after, Mama is approached by Tio Luis, who asks her to marry him. A faithful wife, Mama declines. Tio Luis isn't happy and makes the family's life so difficult that they decide to migrate to the United States. This journey is a hard one. They must sneak across the border and must do so in the worst of conditions. Esperanza finds that life in California is nothing like the life she lead in Mexico. In order to survive, Esperanza learns that she must work. At first, she spends nights crying herself to sleep because she misses Papa and her old life. Proving that the will to survive is one of human-kind's greatest strengths, Esperanza comes out of the tunnel a winner.

Esperanza Rising is a coming-of-age tale that I'll never forget. While Young-Adult in nature, the issues surrounding the story are meaningful and indicitive of many generations of immigrants who decide America is a place they can call home.

I have a student who started out the year reading at a fourth grade level. She read Esperanza Rising and she was hooked. Her reading level has since Risen. I hope she continues to read over the summer and for the rest of her life.