Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Where We Belong

It was 7:25 on Friday morning; a sixth grader bounced into the front office and circled around the secretary. "Do you know what today is? It's All In!  All In is todaaayyyy!"  That was just the beginning.

It's no secret - the Crazy Reading Ladies did their fair share of bouncing around on Friday, too. 

The theme of our first activity was "Where You Belong."  The five factions are central to the plot of DIVERGENT, so our first mission was to sort our cherubs based on what they value.  Kids rotated among seven faculty-led stations to confront various moral dilemmas.  Their answers determined their faction, and the results were entertainingly accurate

That's…a lot of initiates!

DIVERGENT has brought us our biggest numbers yet - 281 students - and we planned our first event in a way that would (hopefully) accommodate our voracious readers. We weren't sure how many would decide to stay after school the Friday before a long weekend; but, as the day wore on and we encountered one bouncing child after another, we laughed and said, "I think we're going to get slammed."

Slammed we were.  

When the doors opened, over one hundred-sixty middle schoolers poured into the gymnasium.

One happy seventh grader.
The view from Year Three is pretty fabulous.  We are thrilled beyond belief to have more participants than ever, and yet somehow, the planning has gotten infinitely easier.  We weren't nervous anticipating what was to come; we were excited.  We've already confessed that this event was planned mere days beforehand.  Well, we also made changes with one hour to go.  "Let's change how we reveal the factions." YEA! "Let's add a costume event to the relay!" COOL! We rolled with it, it worked…and it was good.  

Besides, it's kind of awesome that we've amassed such a costume cache over the last three years, we didn't even need to shop!  

Fabulous faculty faction fashionistas.
Our attendance list was impeccable, and our teachers were superlative.  Oh, while we're mentioning how organized we are, we should probably tell you that teachers came to help with zero knowledge or preparation. See, the CRL had written a two-page missive with specific instructions the day before. We emailed it between the two of us, added details, and even edited it. It was pretty wonderful, and it would have been incredibly helpful. And we completely forgot to email it to our colleagues. 

We work with the most supportive faculty on the planet; over a dozen teachers, both of our administrators, and the school secretary braved the chaos and came to play. This left the CRL free to roam, extinguish small fires, snap pictures, and enjoy.  For that, we can't thank them enough.  

Some of our wonderful cherubs.
To be perfectly honest, this labor of love is highly emotional for the CRL. It's hard not to get choked up when you see teachers dressed in faction colors, sprawled on the floor with kids after school.  We've had teachers that have been with us since the beginning, and those who experienced their first All In! event this past Friday.  

The euphoric finish to the faction relay.
We see struggling readers march in to the gymnasium with pride, unable to wipe the smile off their faces. We see regular ed and special ed kids working and laughing and posing together. We look around and see three-peats and newbies. After three years of putting up with her mom's endless meetings with the other Crazy Reading Lady, we have our own little CRL in attendance now. (She's in Candor and unsurprisingly volunteered...demanded?... to run the first leg of the relay race.) And we lost our breath when we saw a child who is a frequent truancy concern make his way to the gym. After school, on a Friday, because he read a book…for fun.

All In! alumni
As if we needed any other reason to be emotional, we can't help but reflect on our own middle school experiences. We'll be straight with you: we were NOT cool.  Just the fact that we're able to write "our own middle school experiences" without breaking into hives is impressive.  We were not popular, or poised, or pretty.  Yet somehow, we've managed to create a middle school experience to which our kids want to return.  Friday afternoon, eight alumni showed up from the high school to lend a hand, cheer initiates, hug their teachers, and have fun.  Kids wanting to come back to middle school?  That just might be our biggest achievement yet.  And it solidifies the gut feeling we've had since the beginning of this crazy reading adventure: that working together, in this school, with these kids…this is where we belong.

-Mary @allincotillo and Erin @allinoleary

Tuesday, January 21, 2014


When Katie, Erin and I met around my kitchen table to plan the book reveal, we took faction quizzes.  Predictably, Erin identified with Abnegation and Katie with Dauntless.  I really wanted to be Erudite.  Not only do I value learning, but blue is a really great color for me.  I was somewhat disappointed to be grouped with Amity.  I took another quiz, this time choosing answers I thought had a slightly more intellectual flavor.  Nope.  Still Amity.  I took quiz after quiz after quiz.  Amity, Amity, Amity.  Phbt.  I don't look good in yellow. 

Owning our faction fashions.
The night before the big reveal, I didn't sleep well.  I tossed and turned a lot.  I didn't attribute my restlessness to anything in particular.  I had a big day ahead of me.  There was the reveal, a new lesson to teach to my classes, and my parents were in town for a rare dinner opportunity.  It wasn't until I was walking in to school, fighting the growing nausea, that I realized I was nervous.

After our on-air, highly scripted, excessively-rehearsed argument, we each snatched up our book and left the news room in a bit of a huff.  News crew kids tailed Miss O'Leary and grilled her; I eavesdropped from the guidance office, grinning like an idiot.  As I hid like the Amity coward I am, I realized something.  I didn't lose sleep because I had to speak on the news.  I wasn't nervous because I knew I'd be addressing a room of 500+.  Nope.  My stomach was now completely calm.  I felt sick because I didn't want to fight with Erin.  Huh.  I guess I'm Amity after all. 

CRL update twelve weeks later…

We were planning our first event, inspired by a colleague's Scruples-like faction activity.  We took seven moral dilemma-type queries and generated five responses to each one, hopefully capturing the values held by the factions.  

The humble, innocuous Abnegation
slipped right under the radar.
We also had a strong desire to out-think our kidlets.  See, every sixth-grade girl wants to be Dauntless.  Every eighth-grade boy wants to be Dauntless too, and will go so far as to answer the questions in the back of Veronica Roth's bestseller reflecting whom they hope to be, not as the student who cried in Miss O'Leary's class when she corrected his capitalization error.

See what we mean?

We had a lot of fun with it - what U.S city would  Candor visit? What would Dauntless eat for dinner?

Candor is ready to relay…
and tell the world.
So we made up the responses.  All thirty-five of them.  Sure we had justifications - and we totally thought they were clever - but we had a decent dose of mind-messing thrown in, "No one is going to order sushi, they'll all choose chicken fingers and fries - we'll totally get some Abnegation!"  FYI - turns out, a considerable number of middle schoolers order sushi.  Who knew?
The Erudite included every member
of our school's math team. No joke.

When all was said and done, and all one hundred sixty-something initiates rotated through the stations, we stood in awe.  Not only did our test result in a fairly even distribution of initiates, it was incredibly, impeccably, hysterically accurate.  

When it came time for the faction relay race, this is what went down. 

"Go ahead."  "No, it's okay.  YOU go!"
"You first.  I insist!"  
"It's cool if we just wear our own
leather, right?"
Amity: While all the other students were debating who would be one of the 7 from their faction to run the relay race, no one in Amity volunteered.  They didn't want to take a spot from a friend who might want the honor.   They didn't care who won; they were just so darn happy to BE there!  

Dauntless:  They wouldn't sit down.  Or shut up.  Or notice when the entire gym was silent and staring at them, waiting for them to do both.  At one point they were chasing the Assistant Principal around the gym to see who was the fastest. They came dressed in their own black clothes, knee-high boots, and Batman sweatshirts.  When handed a leather jacket for the costume portion of the relay race, one dauntless heroine asked if she could just wear her own.  

Erudite: Before the black-market-trading portion of the faction relay activity, the Erudite plotted in secret.  They decided to hoard the materials they gathered.  True, they wouldn't need *everything* they got, but by keeping it to themselves they knew they'd be depriving other teams of points.  It was a manipulation the CRL never anticipated (we ruled it legal - it's not their fault they are smarter than we are).

Candor:  These guys ratted out the clever Erudite at the very first opportunity and complained (loudly) that it was unfair. 

Our HMMS cherubs answered questions that were written the night before by women running solely on desperation and caffeine, yet their answers resulted in factions that were so perfectly aligned with the novel that we could supply the filming of INSURGENT with more extras than they could possibly need.   

You can't make this stuff up. 

I guess that just about wraps up...oh... Abnegation?  Well, Abnegation finished second…but nobody noticed.