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What the KCP Means to Me:

Bryant | Oakland, California

7c363d8e3c966597f90311d14d81d236favicon If I had to identify the exact point in time when I started to actually like reading, I’d say it was somewhere around fifth grade, when my rather annoying 10-year-old self discovered the magic of Harry Potter. (Ha, see what I did there? Magic. Get it? It’s funny.)

Though I was obviously far too young to really appreciate the nuances of J.K. Rowling’s writing, I enjoyed it nonetheless: I loved Harry, I loved the Wizarding World, I loved how the adults in Harry’s life thought repeatedly sending a minor into life-threatening danger would be a good idea.

After that, being the little ambitious fifth grader prone to delusions of grandeur I was, I decided to set out and prove to the world that I was the most avid reader ever. When that aspiration crashed and burned just like every other dream I’ve ever had in my life, I decided to lower my expectations and settle for just being an avid reader.

Because I file everything not strictly related to academics into the “more or less useless” information part of my mind at the end of every school year, I can’t tell you exactly what impressions the books I read in middle school left on me, but my fondness for reading grew at about the same rate the acne of my classmates’ faces did during those days.

After hearing that more or less useless account of my reading history, I think I can safely say how pleased I am to be part of the Kindle Classroom Project without sounding like I’m only saying it because I’m obligated to do so (which I am) and being insincere with my words (which I’m not).

I’m antisocial and introverted, and no love of reading can fix that, so I don’t particularly enjoy having to go to the library. I don’t like having to awkwardly stand there while a librarian checks out my books and silently judges me on my selection. Now, with the Kindle Classroom Project, I don’t have to!

While I’m not one of those kids from the part of my generation who have trouble returning pencils they borrow (at least, I don’t think I am), I somehow still feel much more at ease having a Kindle on hand instead instead of, say, 732 physical copies of all the books in the KCP library. It’s much more convenient and easier for me now to make use of and appreciate my literacy with the Kindle.

If I feel like reading a book, I can just click on the title and wait a minute or so for it to download. If all the digital copies of the book are checked out, I can simply request another copy online instead of being put on some library waiting list, which, granted, only happened to me once at the Oakland Public Library, but the waiting list was 40 people long and made the task of finishing my summer reading list more cumbersome.

If I feel like reading into the wee hours of the night because I didn’t feel like I read enough during the day, I don’t need to turn on the light to see what I’m reading; the Kindle is the light! Of course, reading in the dark while staring at an LCD screen isn’t the best way to take care of your eyes, too, but I already wear glasses, so the worst thing that can happen to me from reading a Kindle at night is eye fatigue.

Because of the KCP, my love for reading has flourished and ignited in ways I never thought it was capable of before. Why, just a few months ago, I decided to read Pride and Prejudice on my Kindle just for the hell of it. Yes, I may not have understood half of the book, but I would have never even considered checking out a physical copy from the library. If my growing passion for reading was a fire, then I guess you could say my Kindle was… kindling for that flame. (See what I did there? Again, nothing? Come on, it’s funny.) favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Marni Spitz, #11

The Crier

ms. spitz 4favicon When my best friends have weddings, and I want to say a few words at their rehearsal dinners, I have been forced to perform raps to express how much I love them and how happy I am for them. The reason I rap has nothing to do with my rapping skills (although if you really want to know, they’re pretty good). The truth is, I have to rap. Because if I get up there and try to articulate my feelings for people I love in a traditional speech, I will just start crying. And not like cute, wipe-the-tears-away, collect-myself crying. But like the snot, gross, can’t-breathe crying.

My first year teaching I think I cried every single day. Ask my sisters, or my parents, or the people on my subway ride home. I seriously cried every. single. day.

Two weekends ago, I yet again did some serious crying. But these tears were very different than first-year Marni-teacher tears. These were 9th-year Marni-teacher tears: reflective, grateful, overwhelmed-by-all-the-love, -support, -luck, and -encouragement Marni tears.

One of my students and I were asked to speak at Facing History’s annual benefit dinner. My first thought was, “Oh s*&t. How am I going to not cry?!” And also: “Wow.”

So, I decided to conquer my crying head on. And in front of 800 people, composed of students, fellow educators, friends, strangers, generous donors, and one of my heroes, I unabashedly confessed my identity as…. a crier.

In fact, my speech opened with: When people ask me who I am, what is at the forefront of my identity, I without hesitation say: I am a teacher. To my family and friends, I am known as the crier. And to my students, I am the teacher most likely to cry in class.”

Just MercyAnd sitting right in front of me, listening to me talk about my crying, was Bryan Stevenson, literally the best person ever and an exemplary human in every way and I can’t even finish this sentence because he’s just too wonderful and I can’t believe this happened to me and I am getting overwhelmed and I have to breathe. BREATHE.

So as I was saying: Bryan Stevenson is—in addition to being the best human, the best TED talkerand the best writer—a really, really, big deal. In my universe: the biggest of big deals. I seriously felt like I was essentially telling President Obama: “Oh hey Barack. Just so you know, I cry a lot.”

And while I couldn’t see Bryan’s face, he was there. At the front table, in the sixth chair. And since when I had first met him in person approximately 42 minutes before my speech, I was a bumbling buffoon, I knew I had to keep it together. Not just for the 800 people out there, but for Bryan. And for first-year teacher Marni who would’ve never been able to do this. So for most of my five minutes, I held it together. I spoke of the amazing impact Facing History has had on my students and my classroom, and how I cried a lot.  And I spoke of moments when my students connected with historical moments that seemingly are generationally and culturally distant, but are in actuality so very close.

Marni - Arvaughn - Facing History

I shared the story of bringing in Hiroshi Kashiwagi, a 93-year-old survivor of the Tule Lake Japanese Internment Camp, who had spoken to my students:

“And then, the lunch bell rings. Hiroshi think it’s his hearing aid. So he takes it out and continues to talk. AND NOT A SINGLE STUDENT GETS UP FROM THEIR SEAT. Not one of them looks at each other with a “can we go now?” Face. They are HANGING ON his EVERY WORD. He continues to speak for TWO MINUTES AFTER THE BELL.  And while those two minutes were by all teacher definitions pure magic, it wasn’t until I read their thank-you letters that I realized this experience helped my students see themselves as the next generation of upstanders.

One of my students, Brittney, wrote:
‘Thank you for coming and sharing your experience. I learned how far people would go just to marginalize a group of people due to their fear, but in reality, their fear is just ignorance…. and how we use stereotypes as a way to judge people. I’ll bear witness and remember so nothing like that could happen again.”

I didn’t actually cry until it came time for me to introduce my student, Arvaughn. He had won a national scholarship through Facing History the previous year for his mind-blowing spoken word, which he performed that night. For 800 people. For Bryan Stevenson. I began to cry, but am proud to say that at least while up there, it was the cute, wipe-the-tears away, collect-myself crying. (I think.)

Arvaughn - Marni - Bryan Stevenson - Facing History

I wish I could think of a way to put into words just how deeply lucky I felt for that evening—for the chance to meet Bryan Stevenson, and tell him how inspiring he is, and how much his dedication and passion move me and inform my classroom, for the chance to introduce one of my beloved, insanely talented and inspiring students and to be reminded that our work as teachers is also such a big, big deal.

And for the chance to speak, even for just five minutes, on behalf of so many teachers who work so hard, who do such incredible things, and who often, never get opportunities like this. And so when I got home that night, I couldn’t help it.

I got in my bed, watched Bryan Stevenson’s TED Talk for the ten-thousandth time, and cried the snot, gross, can’t-breathe crying. And I think it’s safe to say, I was honestly the happiest I have ever been. Because I, 9th-year-teacher Marni, realize that on so many levels, I got to be part of something so rare, and so special. And I understood that this night, and all the crying moments leading up to it, were more than anything, a testament to the cocoon of boundless support, mentoring, and encouragement my family, friends, coworkers and students have wrapped me in for 9 years.  I don’t have a  rap to synthesize it all just yet, but trust me, I’m working on it. favicon

Ed. note: Marni Spitz teaches U.S. History and Reading Lab at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco. Donate to Marni’s classroom!

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A teacher’s book recommendation, plus a trip to the library, leads Gonzalo to a book he loves

my bloody life

favicon Many of us don’t entirely understand the power that teachers have to encourage young people to become engaged readers.

Gonzalo is a ninth grader at City Arts & Technology High School in San Francisco. Gonzalo’s ninth grade English teacher, Brittany Pratt, and his Reading Lab teacher, Marni Spitz, have built a strong culture in their classes to promote independent reading.

Yesterday, Gonzalo and his peers visited The Mix at the San Francisco Public Library and had time to check out books for the summer. To prepare for the field trip, Ms. Pratt arranged with SFPL to ensure that all students had library cards. In addition, earlier in the week, Ms. Spitz recommended several books to Gonzalo.

It looks like the library visit went well. This morning (yes, a Saturday morning), Ms. Spitz received this enthusiastic email from Gonzalo:

Hey Ms.Spitz thanks for the recommendation of the book “My bloody life” I absolutely love this book it’s so amazing and intresting I already read 50 pages in the span of an hour and that’s the most I’ve read in a day my whole life so excited to read more and possibly finish the book before I we go back to school Monday and share all about the book with you thank you again love this book so much!!!!

My experience says that it takes just three or four books (ideally in a short period of time) to change forever a student’s interest in reading.

This seems fairly easy — but it’s not, at all. For this transformation to occur, three crucial ingredients need to be in place: (1) Access to a ton of good books; (2) Teachers who have read widely and know how to recommend the right books to the right students; (3) Students who trust those teachers, who let them in, and who take a risk to follow through on their teacher’s recommendation that reading is for them.

Great work, Gonzalo, Ms. Pratt, and Ms. Spitz! favicon

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TEACHER VOICES: Michele Godwin, #16

One month before graduation. “Now what?”

michele godwinfavicon Monday, 4/18 2:10 pm
Family meeting week, the last of my advisees’ high school careers. I meet with K’s mom for five minutes, just to let her know that K is on track to graduate May 28. K has all her credits, she’s passing her classes, and she’s in good shape for the senior exhibition. Go ahead and order the invitations for the graduation party! K’s already paid her deposit to CSU Stanislaus; she’s ready to go. It’s the easiest meeting I’ll have all week.

2:45 pm
D’s mom comes in to talk about D’s progress toward graduation. He’s currently failing two classes, and he owes over 30 academic hours. D swats it away like it’s nothing: “Yeah yeah. I’m taking care of it,” he says.

“What about your exhibition slides? I haven’t seen any of them, and all 15 are due Friday,” I tell him. “You have to pass the exhibition to graduate.”

“Yeah yeah,” he says again, yawning and looking at his phone.

D’s mother takes copious notes in the binder she keeps for tracking D’s school endeavors. She knows that D has absolutely zero wiggle room, that he cannot fail one more class or miss one more credit if he wants to graduate on time. She has experienced his Fs as well as his last-minute recoveries. She’s been on this roller coaster for a while.

I tell them both: D can either walk across the stage on May 28th or not. It’s all in his hands. He nods again, checking his phone and pushing back his chair to leave.

3:30 pm
I’m surprised to see N on campus still, school having let out over an hour ago. N has stopped staying at school until the end of the day, cutting out the last 30 minutes or so every day because he can’t handle being here, or so he says. He’s angry all the time he’s not stoned, and he’s hard to be around. It’s almost a relief when he cuts out early, even though it’s absolutely not OK for him to be skipping school.

I ask him what he’s doing.

“Working on AP Bio with Ms. P,” he tells me and keeps walking toward the science room.

I’m surprised. It’s typical of N to buckle down the last few weeks of school and scrape by in his classes. But we still have another couple weeks! It’s not quite last-minute yet!

I resolve to call his mother and tell her the same thing I told D’s mom: N may or may not walk the stage in a few weeks. But I’m betting he will.

Wednesday, 4/20 4 pm
K is worried I’m going to tell her mother bad news. She has a good reason to worry: K never showed her mother her report card from January. K’s failing three classes, and her mother is concerned that K is always out with her friends and never at home studying. K’s older brother dropped out of high school and sits around the house getting stoned all the time, so mother naturally worries that K is destined for the same fate. The mother works long hours, cleaning people’s houses to make enough money to barely get by. She brought her children to this country to give them a better life, to give them opportunities she didn’t have.

K has to translate the bad news to her mother, and then translate her mother’s reaction. It’s too much for her, and she refuses to translate when it comes time to tell her mother she may or may not graduate, depending on whether or not she can bring up her Spanish grade. She cries instead of telling her mother she won’t be able to go to college if she doesn’t bring up her grades. Her mother can tell I’ve given some bad news—she sees her daughter crying—but she doesn’t know what I’ve said, and K refuses to say what she needs to say. I finally have to use Google translate. Her mother listens carefully to the robotic voice tell her that her daughter’s future is in limbo, that she may have to rescind her college acceptance and the scholarship and the work study and all the assistance she’s been offered if she doesn’t buckle down and get her work done. I’m embarrassed, listening to that horrible voice read this woman’s future to her. I wish I had found another teacher to translate, a human being to convey the scary news.

Again, I didn’t think it through. I didn’t put myself in this mother’s place and imagine a robot telling me my child’s future. What have I done?

4:45 pm
I talk to M’s mother on the phone. Her son has all As and Bs, has completed all his community service and academic hours, and is in excellent shape for graduation. She knows all this, of course, because she keeps a very close eye on her boy. She calls regularly, to ask about deadlines and upcoming events and homework assignments. She checks his emails and recently told me she’d found her son a date to prom but she needed to find one for his brother. Did I have any suggestions? I didn’t.

Friday, 4/22 3:30 pm
C’s dad calls for our family meeting. He’s a contractor and has had to take a lot of time off to deal with his younger son, C’s brother, who skips school all the time and is failing all his classes. C is the oldest, the exceptional child and very much a typical child of alcoholic parents: straight As, self-centered, over-achieving. He’s applied to schools all over the country, top-tier schools with excellent engineering programs, as well as UC Berkeley and UCLA. His number one choice is MIT.

His father and I spend a few minutes talking about what C needs to do to graduate in May: keep doing what he’s doing, and work on his senior exhibition. We spend more time lamenting that C hasn’t been accepted into any of the schools he applied to. How can that be? He’s a straight-A student, played soccer all four years of high school, first generation to go to college, qualifies for free and reduced lunch, Mexican American. What’s the problem? I don’t understand it, and I tell his father as much. I wish C had applied to some CSUs, but he brushed those aside. He was so confident. Now what? favicon

Ed. note: Michele Godwin is in her 15th year of teaching high school. She’s back at Leadership High School, where she taught from 2001 to 2008. An English teacher by training and experience, Michele has changed her focus to build a library for Leadership. In addition to her fundraising and library organizing, she is an 12th grade adviser. These are her musings from the past few weeks. Please donate so Michele can buy more books!

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Organizing the Web in 3 not-so-perfect ways: Inbox by Gmail, Save to Google, Google Keep

favicon Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Everyone uses Google to search, but what happens after you find something good? There are a ton of options, and now Google is offering choices, too.

Over the past couple weeks, Google has released three new products:

Inbox by Gmail– Inbox by Gmail Extension. This extension allows you to save links to a bundle in Inbox by Gmail. This might be good for you if (a) you already use Inbox by Gmail and (b) you tend to save and organize links by sending them to your email. What’s not great, though, is that I don’t think you can send those links to friends once they’re in Inbox. (You can send them directly from the extension.)

Save to Google. This extension lets you save and organize webpages from your computer to a dedicated bookmarks page, google.com/save. You can add tags and notes, plus you can view your links on your phone. (But you can’t add new links from your phone.) Again, the biggest weakness of this extension is that you can’t share those links later on (unless you go back to the original webpage, of course).

Google KeepSave to Keep. This extension allows you to save links as new notes in Google Keep. If you already like Keep (I sort of do), this might be a good option. Once a link is a note in Keep, you can share it with friends (especially if they use Keep, too). The bad news, though, is that links are hard to organize easily, though the service now allows you to add hashtags easier (#) via phone.

While it’s nice to see that Google is taking some steps to help us organize the internet, I have to say, I’m not really sure what the company is doing. Each of these products offer just a tidbit of the entire puzzle. For people who don’t want to keep tons of tabs open, and who don’t want to keep sending links to their email, there has to be an easy way to save-organize-share. Right now, Google is not providing those three basic features. favicon

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Upgrading to the Kindle Oasis? Donate your used Kindle to students in the SF Bay Area!

favicon I admit it: Though I have no reason to, I’ll be buying the new Kindle Oasis.

Kindle Oasis 3

My Kindle Voyage is fine. And so is my Kindle Keyboard. But I’ve owned every single Kindle since the Kindle 2, and there’s no stopping me. Despite the steep $289 price tag, I’ll be getting an Oasis when it comes out later this month.

It turns out that I’m not alone. A couple days ago, I read that 41 percent of Kindle sales come from current Kindle owners. This means that there are millions of used Kindles in people’s homes across the country, ready to be given away — to partners, children, grandchildren, and friends.

In case you’ve already saturated your friends and families with your previous Kindles, you should consider donating your latest device to students in Oakland and San Francisco.

I run the Kindle Classroom Project, a program that promotes the love and power of reading. Students get a Kindle and anytime access to a library of 730+ books, along with the right to request new books they like. With the KCP, students read what they want, where they want, whenever they want.

Kindles encourage young people to read more because good books are always in their hands.

If you’re interested in donating your old Kindle, check out testimonials from students and teachers. And once you’re convinced, head over to the Donate page to take the next step. Thank you for donating your Kindle, and enjoy your Oasis (as will I)! favicon

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What the KCP Means to Me:

Laurin | Oakland, California

Laurin-KCPfavicon I have had my Kindle for about 2 months and I love it. At the beginning, you don’t know what to read because there’s so much to choose from. Choosing just one book seems impossible — well, it was for me!

I love the Kindle program because it allows you the opportunity to choose among hundreds of books, books that you probably wouldn’t be able to read because you can’t afford them or you can’t find. The KCP is a great opportunity to read a variety of books, from romance to comedy. Any genre you want to read, the Kindle has it.

I really have enjoyed my Kindle, I have been reading series over series since I got my Kindle. My reading speed has increased because of how I have being reading over this month. I have cried, laughed, and even gotten mad when I read, and that is because reading has become such a constant thing that I read many books with different plots. Each plot extends my imagination and allows me to grow as a reader.

I recommend the Kindle to everyone. It’s such a great device. You just get so much enjoyment from just one tiny little thing. Because of the Kindle, my passion for reading has returned, and I am more eager than ever to read as many books as possible in one day. By far the Kindle program is AMAZING. Everyone should try it! favicon