Third Graders have an author visit with Rita Williams-Garcia.
June 3, 2021AT IRVING ELEMENTARY, 3RD GRADE TEACHER CHRIS NELSON COULDN'T PROVIDE THE INSIGHT INTO AN AWARD-WINNING BOOK THAT HIS STUDENTS SOUGHT. SO HE WENT STRAIGHT TO THE SOURCE.In the award-winning book “One Crazy Summer,” New York Times bestselling author Rita Williams-Garcia tells the story of three sisters who travel to Oakland, California, in 1968 to meet the mother who abandoned them.It’s an engaging and historically accurate children’s book, and one that became near and dear to the hearts of the Irving Elementary Bullpups in Chris Nelson’s 3rd Grade classroom.“I have always been interested in putting myself in the shoes of other people,” Mr. Nelson said. “To see how others think and feel based on their experiences. My students were asking to explore some of the civil rights movement and black history, so I started searching for a book that would help us ‘try on’ these ideas.“I found choices that had main characters around the same age as my students. My hope was to have students reflect and connect the characters’ experiences to their own lives and surroundings. The students voted on their choice and the winner was ‘One Crazy Summer.’”The 3rd Graders immersed themselves in the pages of the book, often posing questions of Mr. Nelson that required more insight than he was able to give.So to solve this quandary, and provide his students with the understanding they sought, Mr. Nelson went straight to the source.The author.Mr. Nelson visited Rita Williams-Garcia’s website, found a contact email, and sent along the questions his students had posed.“I also asked her to come speak with us,” Mr. Nelson said.And she agreed.But before that much anticipated Google Meet, the 3rd graders spent an afternoon practicing computer etiquette and troubleshooting cameras and microphones.“We also rehearsed our introductions and questions,” Mr. Nelson said. “As we practiced, confidence and excitement grew out of the whole class.”The Google Meet with Rita Williams-Garcia was as insightful and rewarding as Mr. Nelson and his students had hoped it would be.“Rita Williams-Garcia was energized,” Mr. Nelson said. “She told stories about growing up, shared her writing journals from when she was in elementary school, read a chapter to the students, and took all of our planned questions and more.”The beloved author made an admirable impression on the Bullpups.“It felt great to learn about Mrs. Garcia’s life and world,” said Vincent Pacheco.“I want to be an author like her,” added Nayeli Corral. “I was so excited to ask her about how to start a story and where to find details in my life that I can use. She shared her journal from when she was in 3rd grade, and it looks just like mine.”Noted Ryder Perry, “I was nervous to meet a real author and a famous person. It was very exciting to have the author read her story to us,” with Anaya Jimenez adding, “I was scared at first because meeting new people is hard. But when we started talking, I saw that Mrs. Garcia is just like us.”For Mr. Nelson, it wasn’t merely about reading “One Crazy Summer.”It was about delving deep into it and its message.“To prepare for reading and listening, we review a Read-Aloud Expectations chart,” Mr. Nelson explained. “This chart provides students with choices during reading. If there is a vocabulary question, students hold up one finger. If students need help visualizing the environment or action, they hold up two fingers.“I catch and release the conversation based on the student’s interactions. These signals often lead us down different paths, such as learning about afros, Muhammad Ali, the printing press, Sarah Vaughan or what wearing your bag ‘Brooklyn Style’ looks like. It was quite a ride.“Once the students were engaged and, in a routine, then we started predicting, making connections between the story and our lives, reflecting on words and phrases, and reflecting on our feelings and the characters feelings.”