“Anyone who has ever taught eighth grade understands what a tough crowd this age group can be,” states Emily Campbell, an 8th Grade teacher at the Clinton School for Writers and Artists, speaking to hundreds of people gathered for the TCRWP's Annual End of Year Principals Conference.
“Not every book hooks the kids,” she states, “So, when Jerry Maraia invited us to prepare a performance piece based on Maya Soetoro-Ng’s first picture-book, Ladder to the Moon, my predictable response was to worry: worry that my students might be intimidated by the idea of performing their poetry for the sister of President Barack Obama and hundreds of people at TC’s Milbank Chapel; worry that they might not love a book they had not yet read; worry that, even if they did love Maya's book, could they really love it enough to rise to the occasion of writing poetry actually worth performing for such a distinguished crowd?”
It turns out that Emily had no worries once her students heard Jerry’s minlesson based on Ladder to the Moon. Jerry, a TCRWP staff developer, knows the art of inspiring students to read and write. He knew just how to engage the students in close listening during his read aloud of the story about the night a young girl imagines she is talking to her deceased grandmother on the moon.
Emily continues, “Every now and then a story comes along that is quite simple breath-taking. When Jerry read the last line, ‘Come, tell me everything,’ I saw transformation in the eyes of my students. His minilesson touched their hearts. I was so thrilled to see Joseph, Shakir, Mohammad, Julia, Greta, Simone, Matthew, Caroline and Marcus all sharing memories of people they had lost or never met, people whose legacy they felt. The kids wrote poems and letters paying homage to relatives who had shaped them. For one week, they wrote and wrote, filling their notebooks with memories and soul. At last, our Ladder to the Moon performance piece was born. On the evening of April 13, 2011, Maya’s generous spirit touched the hearts of the standing-room-only crowd gathered in TC's Milbank Chapel. As Maya told us about the inspiration behind her mother's story of family legacy and the call to service, one student whispered to me, 'She makes me feel so special.'”
You can learn more about the TCRWP author-visit with Maya Soetoro-Ng, held on April 13, 2011, in the Spotlight.
Once we saw the students' performance that night, we invited them to reprise their performance for the closing of the TCRWP's Annual End of Year Principals Conference, held May 20, 2011, at the New York Botanical Garden.
We invite you to view the 6-minute video clip (below) which shows the work of Emily’s students, inspired by Jerry's poetry writing minilesson based upon Maya Soetoro-Ng’s book, Ladder to the Moon.