On my recent trip to Italy I was asked by my colleague, Dr. Peter Fischer, Syracuse University in Florence, to describe our program in more detail. The following serves as my answer.
Twenty 4th and 5th graders meet after school for one hour a week for a period of six weeks. They may meet in a room at a recreation center or a library or a resource center or on-site: at a berry farm, a museum, a public garden, a nature center. Always under the supervision of a RRL facilitator, the children don their chef hats and open their recipe books, and in no time are ready to start.
A member of the community has come to speak with them, to share his or her story. There is a topic, or a theme for these sessions. The theme may be “potatoes” or “water”, “sharing” or “growing”. This theme serves an underlying purpose: it gives direction to the sessions and is interpreted by each speaker accordingly. I have to mention and emphasize that the speakers–a local farmer, an artist, the mayor of the town–have all volunteered their time and their stories, and are an integral part of RRL. They are our partners, as we are all members of a community.
The children learn what the visitor does, why he does it, and how. For example, one year the topic was the Long Island potato. A local farmer came and talked to the children about the potatoes on his farm. How he planted them, watered them, harvested them, sold them, and ate them. He also told them about how important communication is to him. If he wasn’t able to communicate, he wouldn’t be able to sell his newly harvested potatoes. If he couldn’t read or write, how would he learn about a potato fungus or write his bills?
After about 15 minutes the speaker leaves and the children open their recipe books. It’s time to write, this time the topic is related to the farmer’s talk. The facilitator may provide direction here. She may prompt with a suggestion. Write a story about three children who visit a potato farm and what happened when the farmer handed each one of them a hoe; or write a story about manure. Depending on the circumstances and the session(s), the children may write in groups, or read out loud alone or together; they may illustrate their stories. They communicate and share, they build on what they know, and they have fun learning.
Another speaker from community was the mayor of the town who was raised in Ireland where they eat a lot of potatoes. The mayor recounted his story and finished by explaining why communicating was so important to him. How could he be the mayor of their town if he couldn’t communicate with the people who lived in it?
As the week’s progress the children learn more not only about the potato, but about their community and the people in it. What people do, how and why they do it, how and why communicating–reading and writing and speaking–is so important. And each week they are challenged to write, and they do alone or jointly following the guidance of the facilitator.
A “graduation” celebration follows. An announcement is placed in the local newspaper, posted on the website, mentioned at school. All members of the community are invited. All the guest speakers arrive. It may be a Saturday morning, they have assembled at the local public library. The children and their parents and caregivers, lots of friends. The children put on their chef hats and open their books, stand up together or alone, and begin to read.
The Village of Greenport is a wonderful community on the North Fork of Long Island with a interesting maritime history. If you don’t know it, read about it and visit soon. We’re lucky to have our program running there. The children are true members of the community, as you can see.
And check out Mitchell Park when you visit Greenport; it’s a four-acre, jewel of a park down on the waterfront.
Congratulations to Julie and Heather and to all the children in our autumn programs. It’s great to watch them grow.
Very big thanks to our partners. The Blue Duck Bakery did a bang-up job last week at their new Greenport branch. If you haven’t been to the new location, don’t wait any longer. It’s beautiful. Check it out:
Are you looking to support a worthy cause and the environment? Check out the Sustainable Gardens project at Syracuse University Florence. Read a nice write up about it at Flo ‘N the Go.