CASCADE OBSERVATIONS: Communities of learners

Last Saturday dawned beautifully. Blue sky, snow-covered mountains, birds singing and early spring flowers popping open. The perfect day for biking, working in the yard, taking a walk, or (for several dozen local teachers) willingly sitting in darkened rooms illuminated by computer screens, not sunshine.

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Welcome to EdCamp, a national movement “promoting organic, participant-driven professional development for K-12 teachers worldwide.” Locally, innovative teacher Adam Howell has organized this event. He’s invited teachers from throughout the Gorge, convinced local restaurants to donate breakfast, and had T-shirts printed. He greets teachers as they enter the darkened school. No one grumbles about missing a beautiful day outside; Adam’s enthusiasm for this day is infectious.

As the teachers arrive they fill out cards detailing what they want to teach, and what they want to learn. Adam and others organize the cards into categories, assign rooms and send us on our way for the first sessions. I am the only one who heads for a session on learning how to make my own teacher website. Michelle, a fellow educator, happily works with me one-on-one. What a treat.

In a time where politics are overly partisan and people would rather point fingers than find commonality, it is refreshing to be with a group of people who have come together to learn and share for free. No time sheets are filled out today, but all who attend take riches away with them.

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With great excitement I joined another community of learners this month when I stopped by the library and picked up a free copy of this year’s “Hood River County Reads” selection. I first read Robin Cody’s novel “Ricochet River” over 20 years ago; reading it again is like seeing an old friend at a high school reunion.

The “Hood River County Reads” program is one of my favorite community events each year. Since 2006, local readers of all ages and ethnicities have been invited to read and discuss books. In 2006, that book was Oregon author and Parkdale native Virginia Euwer Wolff’s “Bat 6,” a young adult novel about softball, growing up, and the Japanese-American experience post World War II.

In 2007, two books profiling the Mexican-American experience were featured. I attended a discussion in Spanish of “Gonzales and Daughter Trucking Company” with its author, Maria Amparo Escandón. She graciously listened as we asked our questions in halting, less-than-beautiful Spanish.

That same year, schools throughout the county were visited by children’s book author Pam Muñoz Ryan, author of the informative and inspiring “Esperanza Rising.” Many of our local young readers could relate to her story about migrant farm workers.

In 2008, 2009 and 2010 we were treated to books and appearances by Oregon authors Craig Lesley, Lauren Kessler and Molly Gloss.

In 2011, the lights literally went off on this noble and wonderful program, when the Hood River County Library was forced to close due to the County’s financial problems. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers and the generosity of local voters, the library reopened.

Last year, author Francisco Jiménez and his book “The Circuit” drew more than 200 people to an afternoon presentation in Odell. The event included an exhibition of art by local school children and a feast of Mexican food. Jiménez’s life story, from his beginnings as a migrant farm worker’s child to his current life as a college professor, was inspiring.

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Robin Cody will discuss his book “Ricochet River” at various events this spring. In addition, Katherine Schlick Noe, author of “Something To Hold” (this year’s selection for younger readers) will talk about her book and the writing process on Thursday, April 25. Check with the library about all the upcoming events.

Though reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes, the same can’t be said for many of my students who struggle to crack the code and become readers. Unfortunately, their inability to read fluently can make learning in general a chore. Often these kids are viewed as less capable than their peers.

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One such little boy has taught me a lot this month about being a teacher. He is enrolled in our school’s Project PM after-school program. During the three-days-a-week program, he receives homework help and has an opportunity to participate in some enrichment classes. This session he is enrolled in Lego Robotics.

I’ve tried programming Lego robots to move through designated courses. It was a disaster — even the first-graders were better at it than I was. Not so for this young boy, who has proved to be a masterful programmer, a great team leader and a teacher. While other, “smarter” students are struggling to make their robots perform (and arguing with their teammates) this student’s team has succeeded. He’s reminded me that we all have skills. We are all smart in our own ways. We all have something to teach.

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