Monday, January 20, 2014

Sparking hope

"This is EXACTLY what I need!" shrieked M. as she read the invitation I'd just handed her.
"Yeah, I'm so excited!" giggled J, nodding.
"You're invited... to a special meeting for Spanish-speaking girls: Bring your food to room A15 for a special presentation about a new club for Spanish-speaking girls. Improve your life with activities that will make you a stronger, more secure, happier person! Learn to manage stress, strengthen your friendships, improve your self-esteem, and prepare for the future."
The next day at lunchtime, we were sitting in my classroom, enveloped in cheerful chatter that floated from Spanish to English and back again. As I softly brushed paint across the page, I could feel my shoulders relaxing, as if the paintbrush was channeling the stress out of me. Around the room, I could see it was having the same effect on the girls. Giggles mixed with lips pressed in careful concentration. Casual chit-chat and serious conversations flowed together.

One by one, we stood up to share our creations, and with them, our stories.

"This part is for the bad times in my life," M. pointed at the all-black top half of her page, "like when my uncle died, and my mom had a stroke." Mesmerized, supportive silence, even from the girl at the next table who has insisted for a year that the two of them can't get along. "But now my life is like this..." she gestured at swirls of color underlying a heart. "Kind of crazy sometimes, but lots of good things."

Special memories of family members and friends. Fond scenes of countries their hearts ache for. Losses and struggles. Hopes and dreams. 

Talkative, energetic S. painted a cross for her grandmother, who died shortly after she left Mexico. "She told me goodbye like she knew she wasn't going to see me again, but I knew I'd be coming back to visit soon. It's like she knew she was going to die."

Reticent, sometimes sullen C., who came from a school where her teachers told kids they were "too dumb for Algebra," stood up with shaky hands to tell us that her dad died when she was seven. "This is a rainbow... I don't know why," she shrugged... but I think I do. Rainbows are hope.

V. also split her painting into two contrasting halves. "Esta parte es cuando me siento triste..." (This part is when I feel sad...) "...y aquĆ­ cuando la gente me ayuda."(And here when people help me.") She beams at me with eyes that carry silent thanks across the room. She means me. With deep conversations and timely solutions to crises, I have helped her push back her blue-gray darkness and step into a world of bright colors.

What SPARKS of community for the first meeting! "I thought we weren't all going to get along," one girl told me, "But we did!" That's what courage and stories will do.

Thanks, 4L For Latinas, for helping me SPARK hope, change, and friendship for these girls! I can't wait to see where they will take us, and where their dreams will take them.


  1. Amazing! You are really living your "spark" this year! I look forward reading more about your sparkling moments this year! By the way, my translator app has been going between English and Arabic and now also Spanish! It is a good thing the vowels in Spanish sound the same as in English as this makes it easier for me to read Spanish!

  2. Jennifer, what a gift you just gave so willingly to those young women! Will you meet often, once a month, or? I love hearing about the girls. Have you seen Yes, We Are Latinos! , poetry and prose-just wonderful stories. Thanks for telling us about this new idea!

    1. They're such wonderful girls, Linda! I just love them, and that's why I wanted to do something like this to help them. I think we're going to meet twice a month, but that could change. I've never done anything like this before! (They've been begging to do it every week, but that's too often!)
      I saw your review of Yes, We Are Latinos on Goodreads and I think it's a must-have for my classroom -- thanks for sharing!

  3. You have always been the Spark in my life and now you are the Spark in others. Thanks for sparking hope every day in your students.

  4. How interesting that one thought they wouldn't get along. Their stories tear at your heart. This spark may ignite a fire of learning.


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