Escape Through Literature by Mackenzie M.

Aug 14, 2019 | Education

Every Wednesday, our Teaching Artists are inviting you into the ARC classroom! This week, NYCCT Teaching Artist Mackenzie discusses how the books chosen for the ARC programs connect to the students lives.

This year during the ARC program, one of the first books I shared with my students was Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza.   It’s a book all about empowerment and superheroes.  My kids couldn’t get enough of it.  They were so eager to jump around the room acting out their imagined superpowers; they couldn’t wait to share their strengths.  The story seemed to live outside the boundaries of age and gender; every kid found their own way to engage with the text.

I wondered if this book would be as successful outside of a shelter. It occurred to me that maybe the reason my students were so engaged, was because they desperately needed reasons to honor their power.  They have so little control over their lives.  Some have been without a permanent home for years, some are separated from family.  So it felt that in the ninety minutes we had together, it was ninety minutes for these children to wrap themselves up in an imaginary world where all the control was theirs.

I often had thoughts like this when working in the ARC program.  I was aware that most of these kids had likely suffered some sort of trauma.  It was important for me to maintain this awareness, to be conscious that putting a hand on a child’s shoulder or saying “parents” instead of “caregiver” might trigger them.  But I couldn’t let this awareness consume me.  I also had to remember that I was there to bring fun.  I couldn’t let my fears about what they might be going through affect the playfulness and energy of the program.

At my recent site most of my students are between 7 and 15 years old, but that can vary from week to week. I might see the same students several Fridays in a row, or they might be different. There might be lots of us, or only a couple.

It’s hard to do this work and not fall in love with the kids.  I was so happy to see how excited my students were about reading and playing in the space.

It’s hard to do this work and not fall in love with the kids.  I was so happy to see how excited my students were about reading and playing in the space.  I remember a moment of pure bliss when my students and I were simply soaring around the room.  We had just read Jack’s Worry by Sam Zuppardi and so initially had begun moving with the intention of playing a dark shadow but, it turned into something totally different.  By the end of it we were a flock of birds, dipping and dancing.  We moved like that for a long time, marinating in the silliness and the beauty of the moment.

As a teaching artist, you often never get to know the impact your work has on your students.   You can only wish for what it might be.  I wish for my students that they find moments of escape through literature and I wish that the confidence I saw in them during the ARC program carries over to every aspect of their lives.

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