How to Create a Schoolwide Program to Celebrate Student Writing and Heritage

Want to inspire future poets, writers, and dreamers? One elementary school in San Francisco did just that with an author study of U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera.

Lorraine Orlandi, Community School Coordinator, shared with us the goals, preparation, and impact of their Latino Heritage Celebration.

With National Hispanic Heritage Month in the fall, Paul Revere School K-8 selected Juan Felipe Herrera to study and honor for Herrera’s activism and body of work, as well as his ties to San Francisco.How One School

When does your school make time for artist studies?

“We have three major cultural celebrations each school year: for Latino heritage, African American heritage and Asian-Pacific Islander heritage. For each, we have an intensive artists residency of about six weeks to prepare students to perform in school-wide assemblies and at an evening event for the entire community.”

Why choose author Juan Felipe Herrera?

“We have struggled to connect the history and values being taught through these artists’ residencies with our day-to-day classroom teaching and learning. Juan Felipe Herrera’s work provided the perfect vehicle for our school, which includes a Spanish Immersion strand in addition to the general English strand. Students in all classes could access the work and it provided a unifying element for the learning and celebration. The project fit within our school-wide literacy goals. It was a breakthrough that we hope to be able to extend to all of our cultural celebrations in the future.”

Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8
Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8

What kind of work is involved for staff?

“Preparation included teacher training around materials — we bought a bunch of books, found videos and teaching guides online. Teachers had an opportunity to meet all together and in grade-level groups to discuss how to use the materials. As you know, some of the work was eventually posted for colleagues and families to see.”

How does the program pair the content with literacy?

“In our school-wide project for grades K-8, students across grade levels responded to the work of Juan Felipe Herrera as a way to learn about and celebrate Latino heritage and consider their own identities within our diverse school population. The books and poetry gave teachers wonderful tools for strengthening our commitment to using culturally responsive materials in the classroom, and to connect students’ learning to their own experiences.”

How do teachers incorporate Juan Felipe Herreras work into their curricula?

  • Two fifth-grade classes worked with a teaching artist to learn the poems “Laughing out Loud, I Fly” (Harper Collins) and the poem “(Vamonos La Kiva Casa Libre)” (from 187 Reasons Mexicanos Can’t Cross the Border, City Lights) and choreograph movements to the poems. They read the poems and performed the dances at the assemblies and evening event.
  • Our sixth-graders presented the poetry they had written in response to “Quien Quiere Correr Conmigo?”.
  • Our kindergarten classes and a special day class for K-2 created work in response to Desplumado and Grandma and Me at the Flea.
  • Our first-grade Spanish Immerison class created work inspired by reading Upside Down Boy.
  • We also featured some of this work in the final performances and presentations.

    desplumado-1
    Student Work from Paul Revere School K-8
Juan Felipe Herrera Book Collection (4 Paperbacks)

Ready to bring books to life and allow students to see themselves as creators? Start with some resources:

Jill Eisenberg, our Senior Literacy Specialist, began her career teaching English as a Foreign Language for second through sixth grade in Yilan, Taiwan as a Fulbright Fellow. She went on to become a literacy teacher for third grade in the Bay Area, CA as a Teach for America corps member where she became passionate about best practices for supporting English Language Learners and parent engagement. In her column for Lee & Low’s The Open Book blog, she offers teaching and literacy tips for educators.

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