Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Homage to Marge

One of the inspirational people I work with is Marge Pellegrino, the author of My Grandma's the Mayor, and several other books for children. Marge is the founder and director of our Word Journeys program, an ambitious after school workshop where high school students mentor elementary school students in writing, art, and speaking skills.

Marge's Word Journeys projects are deep ones. They're designed to elicit heartfelt responses to the eternal questions of humanity: How do I have compassion for others? Who am I in the world?, and How can I make the world a better place?

The format of the workshops includes a reading, listening, and writing exercise, a paper craft or sculptural activity related to that exercise, a treasure hunt for relevant and meaningful items in the library, and finally a time sharing the work. After the younger students leave, the teen mentors write and share their thoughts, impressions, and feelings.

For example, after listening to the book For Every Child, mentors and children discussed how each of the basic human rights of children made them feel. The students were asked to translate those into a cause and effect with similes, for example: "When you keep me safe, I feel warm like a barn fire on a cold night." Each student created a collaged quilt square; when they were through, their square was tied to every other child's in the group to make the "quilt."

Another workshop used the book On the Day You Were Born by Debra Frasier to set up an activity that asked the students to create a story and image about the day they were born.

This year Marge suggested that we try something new. She proposed that half the teens and half the younger children be from Tucson's growing Somali Bantu refugee population. By doing this she hoped not only to include the children, but also to build bridges in the schools between "mainstream" children and the Somali kids, who often feel isolated in the classroom and on the playgrounds.

Why an homage to Marge today? Tomorrow we celebrate the end of the seventh year of Word Journeys at a party at the Woods Branch Library. The children will do presentations to everyone about one of their projects, and I will present Marge (shhhh!) with a plaque that commemorates our selection as a semifinalist for the White House's 2007 Coming Up Taller Award.

Another reason for this homage is her recent Op Ed for the Tucson Citizen entitled "At age 40, Woods Library defines 'home'" that perfectly describes what is so exciting about today's public libraries. Here is an excerpt:
Over the past 40 years, Woods has come to look a lot different, inside and out. The programming and offerings have kept up with the ever-changing technology and the diverse population that flocks to this fourth-busiest branch in the county.

People from 39 countries, from every continent except Antarctica, call Woods their branch.

Inside, high school mentors work with elementary students in literacy activities. Homework Help invites children to find help they might not be able to get at home.

Moms network and learn from each other and experts. Neighborhood groups hold meetings.

Anyone can come in and spend time on a computer, or browse the collection, the magazines, check out a movie.

It's a place for lifelong learning, a place from which parents sometimes need to drag their children because they don't want to leave.


From the fresh flowers on the desk to the library associates who can call neighborhood kids by name, Woods is a bright spot in the neighborhood.

Come celebrate Woods' 40th anniversary from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 19.

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