Monday, November 24, 2014

Veterans Day Part Two: Courage Brings Us Home

HMMS band led by Ms. Nicole Wright
Just after 12:30 on Monday, November 10th 2014, all of our planning and negotiating and adjusting and cooperating came to beautiful fruition.

Thanks to the HMMS music teachers and students, the ambiance was perfect.  The strings quintet and band provided just the right mood.  
So much to love about this!

The Student Council met our visiting veterans at the door, gave them a tour of the building, and conducted a brief interview.  It warmed our hearts to see the generations connect in such a meaningful way.  Mary's daughter was lucky enough to get to meet and interview a Korean War veteran, and she repeatedly referred to him as "my veteran."  So sweet.  
Sweet Anna with "her veteran"

We'd encouraged students to dress up or wear red, white, and blue the day of the assembly.  The Community Service Club distributed yellow ribbons to all students and adults involved, giving us a unified look.  They also wrapped  UNBROKEN books in red, white, and blue ribbons.  Tucked inside each book was a letter written by a member of the Student Council, thanking the service men and women for their work.  These books were later presented to our visitors as gifts.

As students and visitors filed in, the band played and we showed a slide show of HMMS students and teachers pictured with the veterans and active service members in their families. It was touching to see teachers with their parents, children - often much younger in the photo than they are now - with grandparents.  It set the perfect tone.

When everyone was seated, Erin and Mary took to the podium to kick off the kickoff with these words:

"Welcome to the first day of All In! 2015. It’s only fitting that our official launch is happening the day before Veterans Day, giving us the opportunity to celebrate both Louie Zamperini, the heroic subject of Laura Hillenbrand’s book UNBROKEN, and the heroes of our community. Today, we welcome 15 Franklin veterans as well as Senator Karen Spilka, Senator Richard Ross, and Representative Jeff Roy.

On September 27, when Unbroken was announced as the book for All In 2015, Horace Mann students found themselves in an unexpected situation. There was no countdown, no assembly, no screaming audience, and no balloons. In fact, the craziness everyone expected of the crazy reading ladies was missing altogether. Thank you for forgiving us, and please allow us to explain. 
Everything we do has always been about fun. It's fun to read a popular book with friends. It's fun to leave school and go see a movie. It's fun to leap into a recycling bin filled with shredded paper and go diving for dragon's eggs. The CRL are all about fun! And that's great, and we love it, and it works...but.

Sometimes you find yourself called to do something greater.

Life is all about choices. Our favorite literary characters teach us that. Katniss chose to save her sister; Bilbo chose an unexpected journey; Tris chose to be true to herself. When we chose UNBROKEN, we knew that it was going to be different.  We knew that it was important...a story we and our students needed to hear. We also knew it was an undertaking far greater than any we'd attempted before.

Sitting before us are the students who read The Hobbit as 6th graders, proving teachers, principals, and literacy experts wrong. They said it was too hard. You taught us to never, ever under-estimate you.

Sitting to our left are 7th graders who conquered a 500-page text in their 6th grade year and led this school on a march that shattered All In!’s participation records and brought us our biggest year yet. They said we couldn't fill six busses. You helped us prove them wrong.

And to out right sit our newest recruits. Students who have never before gone All In!, yet signed up anyway. You know not what this experience will require of you, but neither did our hero Louie Zamperini.

What is a hero? A hero is a person who puts others before themselves, like Katniss. A person who pushes on despite their fear, like Bilbo. A person who acts on their convictions, like Tris. A hero is a person like Louis Zamperini...someone who maintains a positive attitude even in the most negative situations and never, ever, ever gives up.

You can almost see her whole face!
Heroes become heroes because of the choices they make. We hope that you will choose to join us in this adventure. We are confident that each one of you is capable of rising to the challenge and discovering the hero within yourself."

The Student Council representatives then took the microphone to introduce "their" veterans.  Please take a moment to digest what these remarkable young people did.  Not only did they serve as ambassadors for the school and welcome our visitors, they also conducted interviews and turned their notes into formal verbal introductions presented to an auditorium packed with people.  And half of them could barely see over the podium!
Representative Jeff Roy is going All In!

State Senators Richard Ross and Karen Spilka addressed the crowd, encouraging them to find ways to recognize the service of veterans and urging them to read the book.  Representative Jeff Roy inspired our young crowd with the following:

"Books can change your life. What others have written and said is more the heart of who we are and the way we are, than many of us could imagine.

And books are always accessible. In fact did you know that there are more public libraries than McDonald’s in the United States? In fact, there are 17,000 libraries, compared to 14,000 McDonald’s. I have nothing against McDonald’s – I like a Big Mac every now and then myself -- but the food for thought available in libraries is much more satisfying." 

Introducing the dramatic reading
2012 Hunger Games co-victor

Current high school students - we call them our All In! Alumni - and a handful of 8th graders and future three-peats performed a dramatic recital of the introduction to the book.

Three Student Council representatives asked their adviser if they could write poems to present at the assembly.  We didn't see or hear the poems before they were read to a crowd of 500 plus.  These young ladies handled themselves with such poise! 

White Cliffs and three words
The assembly ended with a slideshow of a Community Service Club project - my three words - accompanied by an 8th grade future three-peat singing The White Cliffs of Dover.  The Crazy Reading Ladies, having held their emotions in check for an almost unheard of 60 minutes, may have cracked just a bit as she sang.

When the Milford Daily News reporter's questions were answered and the auditorium was empty, Mary turned to Erin and said, "That could have been the worst assembly we've ever managed or the best.  I honestly don't know.  I was just in 'get-it-done' mode."  Judging from the comments we've received since, we've decided it belongs in the "best" category. 

And it wasn't one minute after the stage cleared before someone said, "I don't know how you're going to top this next year!" 

Well, it's not the fist time we've heard that. 

There'll be bluebirds over
The white cliffs of Dover
Tomorrow just you wait and see.

There'll be love and laughter
And peace ever after
Tomorrow, when the world is free.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Veterans Day Part One: An Unexpected Journey

"The Best Laid Schemes..." 
Book Release: 11/11/14. Perfect timing!
In a brilliant marketing move, Random House publishers decided to release the YA version of UNBROKEN on Veterans Day.

Back in September, when the title was revealed to students and parents, The Crazy Reading Ladies decided that an assembly on November 10 would be absolutely perfect. We would honor veterans and officially kick off All In! 2015. Sage advisers warned us: there wasn't enough time.
Pshaw! To whom were they issuing this advice? Did they SEE our Divergent assembly?! We had until November 10 - almost two whole months! In CRL time, that's like a year and a half.

As we set about planning, Gandalf (a.k.a. our principal) cautioned us, "Keep it small and book-centric." 

Okey dokey!
Mother/daughter selfie with Senator Ross!
We ended up with a thirty-piece band, a string quintet, three politicians, eight visiting high schoolers, fifteen veterans, a Student Council honor guard, and local cable access television. (And a partridge in a pear tree.)

Gandalf - who knows full-well we ordered confetti cannons last year - should have known better.

Honestly, though, we started off trying to follow orders.  We wanted to keep it small! We're good tributes/Hobbits/initiates/soldiers, after all.  But, as good heroes often do, we found ourselves pulled astray.  As Robert Frost taught us, "way leads on to way" and original paths are difficult to rediscover.  One decision lead to another and we quickly found ourselves on a path leading to spectacle.  In this Part One post we try to unravel the twisting road and leave you a trail of breadcrumbs, should you ever decide to try to follow our footsteps. To experience the day itself, please read Part Two. 

Something Old and Something New
Early in the brainstorming process, a colleague suggested having teachers read the introduction of the book as part of the kickoff assembly.  We thought that idea was wonderful, but we wanted the day to be as much about students as possible, so decided to invite former All In! participants to do the honors.  We sent emails to the high school, inviting our HUNGER GAMES co-victors (now Juniors!), our HOBBIT and DIVERGENT Literary Leaders, and others whose participation was memorable.  Most were happy to help, but a handful couldn't miss class, and we ended up needing five more voices.  Of course, we're never at a shortage for manpower!  Current 8th graders - our future three-peats - were more than happy to step up and help us out.  So far, so good!  We talk about the importance of the day, read the introduction, promote the book...done and done!  

We Are Looking for Someone to Join in an Adventure
How do you have a Veteran's Day Assembly without inviting veterans?   Short story: you don't.  Erin made a few phone calls to our super helpful and right-next-door Senior Center and before you knew it, we had seven seniors RSVP that they'd be pleased to attend.  They helped us by advertising our invitation in their newsletter.  That newsletter fell into the hands of the social director for a local assisted living center, and they brought eight more veterans to our door.  Because of the help of these local organizations, our students got to meet and recognize veterans of WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and those involved in more recent conflicts.  

This important and necessary addition to the festivities required that we strike a respectful balance between promoting the book and honoring their service.  Many conversations were had about how best to do so.  Which leads us to the involvement of many people and school clubs.  

Our Loyal Band of Adventurers
My 3 words video
So many people in the school community wanted to be involved.  SO many!  We were, quite honestly, overwhelmed in the best way possible.  There have been times over the past three years that the CRL have felt a little like the middle child of our community.  To have so many genuine offers of help was enough for our grinchy hearts to grow three sizes.

Our 7th grade REACH teacher showed us Good Morning America's "My Three Words" campaign, and the Community Service Club ran with it.  They made a video of the HMMS community response to the question, "What does the word 'hero' mean to you?"

The CRL know that music plays a large role in student buy in.  We've always chosen an official song for each book.  The kids hear "Some Nights" by Fun and cry "The HOBBIT Song!"  Nothing but Eminem would work for DIVERGENT.  But this assembly about the struggles and sacrifices of veterans didn't really call for modern pop music.  Instead, we begged help from our talented music teachers. 

Strike up the band! 

Our strings teacher agreed to provide a quintet of student players stationed in the lobby to greet visitors.  Our chorus teacher pulled her select chorus to sing the National Anthem to start our assembly.  She also worked with an 8th grader on a solo of "The White Cliffs of Dover" and provided accompaniment.  Our band teacher directed the student band as they played patriotic songs while the audience entered and exited the auditorium.
7th grader chatting with "her veteran" 
About a week before the assembly, the Student Council adviser approached Erin to ask how he could get his kids involved.  In one week's time said adviser and his band of "get it done" kids pulled off the following:  a smorgasbord of cookies and muffins and other goodies to serve our visitors after the assembly, letters of thanks to give to each attending veteran, a patriotic honor guard to applaud for and greet them as they entered the school, and friendly and respectful guides to lead visiting veterans to their seats.  As we discussed the details involved, Student Council members also took on the task of interviewing and introducing the veterans and presenting them with a copy of UNBROKEN as a gift.   

Our school community has also participated in Dress Up for Charity, in which we raise awareness of a current issue and students and staff dress up to show respect for the cause. On November 10, All In! sponsored Dress Up day for our nation's military and students and staff donned their fanciest (or most patriotic) attire for the occasion. That lifted the tenor of the day and made our guests feel even more honored. 

Since our mission was to strike the delicate balance between honoring veterans and promoting ALLIN15, we decided that it would be appropriate to educate the students about the content of the book and explicitly tell them why we thought they should read. ALLIN15 was also the very first time the staff knew about the book before the students did, and many took the opportunity to read it over the summer. Given this, we decided that teacher testimonials would be the way to go. And our staff is just game enough to permit a troop of middle schoolers - we call 'em our Crazy Reading Minions, we meet Mondays after school - to shove a camera in their faces and push record. Once edited, "Teacher Testimonials" had a running time of twelve minutes; it speaks volumes that the longest video aired at the assembly was filled with our wonderful comrades who willingly stepped out of their comfort zones and spoke about a book.

Without the help of these teachers and students, we're not sure we could have struck the appropriate balance between honoring veterans and promoting the book.  We are truly grateful. 
                                                Wizard's Council
Rep. Roy, Sen. Ross, Sen. Spilka
Somewhere along the way, Gandalf suggested inviting state politicians to attend.  This has been standard operating procedure for major school events, so Erin dutifully sent off emails to all the folks we could track down, with no real expectations.  Within a matter of days we'd received positive responses from Senators Spilka and Ross and Representative Roy.  We also got a "maybe" from Governor Deval Patrick.  Just sayin'.
An Unexpected Journey
What began as a "small and book-centric" assembly morphed into something much, much bigger.  Check out Part Two to read the rest!