Thursday, June 21, 2018

"Can I Read This?": A Teacher's Dream Comes True

Today is the official first day of summer but technically I am about halfway through my summer vacation!  We report back to work on August 6; I'm not quite ready to think about that yet, but what I'm really thinking about a lot is my classroom library project.

After twenty-three years of teaching, I'm starting a classroom library.  I've written about it on this blog here, here, and hereI've done a lot of reading and research about this and while we have an excellent school library, research also shows that having a classroom library sends a message of literacy and a love of reading to students.

From the National Council of Teachers of English statement on Classroom Libraries:

Classroom libraries—physical or virtual—play a key role in providing access to books and promoting literacy; they have the potential to increase student motivation, engagement, and achievement and help students become critical thinkers, analytical readers, and informed citizens As English language arts educators, we know that no book is right for every student, and classroom libraries offer ongoing opportunities for teachers to work with students as individuals to find books that will ignite their love for learning, calm their fears, answer their questions, and improve their lives in any of the multiple ways that only literature can.  
 For these reasons, we support student access to classroom libraries that 1) offer a wide range of materials to appeal to and support the needs of students with different interests and abilities; 2) provide access to multiple resources that reflect diverse perspectives and social identities; and 3) open up opportunities for students, teachers, and school librarians to collaborate on the selections available for student choice and reading.
Read the entire statement here.

I've always had a bookshelf in my room with old paperbacks on it, but one day in March one of my reader-students was peering at the shelves longingly.  She found a Stieg Larsson book that wasn't too beat up and pulled it out, asking if she could read it.

"Of course you can!"  I said.

She beamed at me with a radiant smile and stayed after class to talk about books she had read that she really liked and every book she had read, I had not.  That's when I realized I needed to up my Young Adult (YA) reading game.

How had I been so clueless?  So focused on tests and curriculum that I had missed for all these years this very obvious way to connect with my students?

That student read the Stieg Larsson book, brought it back, but didn't find another in my old, beat up mass-market paperbacks with their crumbling, yellowing pages that interested her.  Why would she?  Those books were years out of date, in poor condition, and of subject matter that did not connect with young people today.  They were cast-offs nobody wanted.

I started culling books and what I ended up with to retain was pathetic.

The Classroom Library Project was born.

I started researching.  And reading.  And begging.

And just from my readers of this blog and from my personal friends, we have collected about 125 brand new or very gently used books that will totally engage almost all of my students!  I've been amazed at the response!

"Amazed" isn't the right word.  I've been brought to tears by it, really.

Books donated for the Library!  Love!

This project has obsessed my thoughts; I stay awake at night thinking, "I really need to get those soccer books; those boys would read those," or "Do I have enough graphic novels?  I think I only have one or two?" (Note to self:  add some Spanish language books!)

I've spent two weeks in my classroom after the end of the school year doing a decoupage project on a
Pages from To Kill a Mockingbird cover this shelf.
donated bookshelf, and painting another donated bookshelf, so I can properly display these books in a way that will encourage my students to read them.  I've laminated hardback book covers to protect them, and covered softback books with clear Contact paper for protection.  I've entered every book in a database and I've put book pockets and cards in the back of every book.

And I keep updating my Amazon Wish List weekly so I can be certain that I'm covering every subject, every topic, every level of reader, because even though I get new students each semester, I know my kids and I know what they want to read.  I also know what I need on those shelves to pull in the kid that has not read a book since elementary school.

Let me share with you a conversation with one of my classes which took place about three days before the end of the school year.

I'd been gathering books, covering them, and stowing them in crates until the new school year.  One of the books on my desk was one I was reading because I'd heard so much about it on social media in my ELA Teachers Group; the book is The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

The book is amazing.  Now, I'll admit, I'm ah avid reader but I've never read much YA lit.  But this book?  Wow.  The basic plot as described on Amazon is this:

After Starr and her childhood friend Khalil, both black, leave a party together, they are pulled over by a white police officer, who kills Khalil. The sole witness to the homicide, Starr must testify before a grand jury that will decide whether to indict the cop, and she's terrified, especially as emotions run high. By turns frightened, discouraged, enraged, and impassioned, Starr is authentically adolescent in her reactions. Inhabiting two vastly different spheres—her poor, predominantly black neighborhood, Garden Heights, where gangs are a fact of life, and her rich, mostly white private school—causes strain, and Thomas perceptively illustrates how the personal is political: Starr is disturbed by the racism of her white friend Hailey, who writes Khalil off as a drug dealer, and Starr's father is torn between his desire to support Garden Heights and his need to move his family to a safer environment. The first-person, present-tense narrative is immediate and intense, and the pacing is strong, with Thomas balancing dramatic scenes of violence and protest with moments of reflection.

True Confession here:  I avoided reading the book for a while thinking, things like "that's not what
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
kids need to read about..." or "that will only encourage and incite divisive thinking...".  Boy was I wrong.  I could not have been more wrong.  And I can't tell you how hard it is to admit that I thought that way.

So, back to that classroom conversation. I was about halfway through the book when one of my girls saw it on my desk and asked me about it.

"What is that book?" she asked, based on the cover.

I stopped whatever material I was covering and picked it up.  I paged through it a moment and then turned the cover to the class and asked, "Have y'all read this?  Have y'all heard about this book?"

Not one had.



I said, "Oh my gosh, y'all have GOT to read this book!  It's amazing!"

I started to tell them about the characters, about the story.  I talked about how Starr is a black girl but her parents send her to a white school that is safer and provided a better education.  I tell them about how her friend Khalil gets shot even though he did nothing wrong.  I tell her about Starr's friends and their parents who won't let them spend the night at Starr's house because she still lives in 'the bad part of town'.

As I talked, every kid was listening.  Everyone that had been staring at a phone, tuning out my discussion of Macbeth, looked up at me.  They asked questions.  Some wanted to hold the book and look at it.  They wanted to read it.

They wanted to read it.

Is the book Macbeth?  Of course not.  But a classroom library with a diverse selection of books enables every kid's voice to be heard and enables those conversations to be held in the security of the classroom.  I'm stocking my library with their voices and their stories. It gives us a chance to have these very important conversations with kids.

I'm stocking this library with everything from urban fiction to classic literature.  I want there to be something on those shelves for every single kid.

Consider this statement on the diversity of your classroom library from Education Week (emphasis mine):

Literature should be a window into possibilities beyond our own experiences. But it should also be a clear and vibrant mirror. As things are, a talking rabbit stands a better chance of seeing herself reflected in children’s literature than a child of color does. Roughly 73 percent of the characters in children’s books published in 2015 were white, according to researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Cooperative Children’s Book Center. This appalling statistic should make every one of us angry.  
 What can we do about that profound problem? First, we need to find books that reflect the identities and experiences of our African-American, Latino and Latina, Asian-American, and Native American students. There aren’t enough of those books being published by the industry, but they do exist. 
If you have even one student of color in your class, she needs to see herself reflected in the books you put in her hands. White students need to read books about characters of color, too—in a world where neighborhoods, churches, and schools tend to be largely segregated, books can be a portal into the experiences of children whose lives are very different from those of the reader.

And scripted curriculum or not, I'm going to find a way to make certain that we have time to read in class, for pleasure, for fun. It's that important.

So here at this halfway point in my summer, I'm not quite halfway to my goal of 500 books by August 6, when school starts.  I have a really great start on it, but I'm not stopping until I get there.

I'm not stopping.

I'll be hitting thrift stores, garage sales, and shopping Amazon sales.  I'm applying for grants, entering contests,begging for donations, and sharing my Amazon Wish List every chance I get.  And I'll be spending a lot of my own money.

I hope some generous philanthropist will see it somewhere on social media and say, "Hey, let me help this lady! This is a great cause!" and will buy up everything on that Wish List!  (Hey, I can dream...).

Anyone know a generous philanthropist you can share this with?

Really, I do want to thank all of you who have sent books!  You're making my dream come true and you are helping kids that you don't even know and it doesn't get any better than that.  It's about kids, really.

And I'll be sharing their love of these books with you once school begins.

Read on!

Further Reading:
Four Steps to a Magnificent Classroom Library (Education Week, June 2018)
The Hate U Give Enters the Ranks of Great YA Novels (The Atlantic, March 2017)
There's a Sad, Empty Bookshelf in M205 (SIGIS 5/11/18)

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

OwlCrate Review: Unboxing my First OwlCrate

OwlCrate: June 2018
I love subscription boxes!

One of my favorite box services is Stitch Fix because I hate shopping; if I can get a personal stylist to send me five new pieces in a box upon request, what's not to love?  Send back what doesn't work, keep what does - it's a win-win for me.

This month I picked up a Kong box for my dogs and you've never seen two more excited dogs.  It's like they knew it was for them the moment it got off the truck.  Subscription boxes are a huge business and you can get literally anything you can imagine (and some things you can't...) in a monthly box.

Since I started this classroom library project last month, I've done lots of research trying to find grants and places where I can get books donated or other book-related swag like bookmarks and things that will get my students excited about reading for pleasure.  One of the companies I found, although not for donation, was OwlCrate - a subscription service.  Sign me up.

OwlCrate boxes are for Young Adult (YA) readers and the company describes its product this way:

We spend months reading hundreds of early manuscripts of upcoming young adult novels, and only select the very best books to include in our boxes! Each box will contain one brand new hardcover Young Adult novel, as well as 3-5 other bookish keepsakes to help set the mood for your literary adventure. Every box will be built with a super fun and creative theme in mind, and will also include special goodies right from the author!

The company began in 2014 in Portland, Oregon; the founders ran the company in "a basement suite" which they quickly outgrew.  It is now a full-time job for them and has been very successful and has taken them to book festivals around the country.

Since I'm trying to tune in more with the YA reader, I decided to give this a try.

So here is my first OwlCrate:

The OwlCrate box.

I was a little surprised by the box itself: the word "crate" had me expecting a larger box, but once inside my reservation vanished.

The box is jam packed with goodies!  Each box has a theme and this month the theme is "Summer Lovin'."

There is a pretty card on top depicting funky pink beach scene with a Ferris Wheel in the background.  Love the mood setting here!

What a pretty card!

Flip the card over and there you can find all the details about what is in the box.

The details...

I'll read that later [setting aside] - let me see what's in here...


What's in that box?  And look at that cute pin!  It's the Ferris Wheel from the pretty card!  I love it!  And what's in that plastic bag?

A beach towel!

The plastic bag holds a colorful microfiber towel with a summer theme and "My Summer is all Booked" on it by Stella Bookish Art.  It's full beach towel size, too!  Love it!  I will definitely use this.

Next, that box.

Mason jar mug designed my Michelle Gray and the OwlCrate team.

Well look how cute!  A fun, summery mason jar mug; it's about 5" tall and has a handy lid.  It says "Book Worm and Proud" on the glass!

Digging deeper into the box I find these goodies:

Wooden bookmark, pin, keychain, pen, and tea!

Here we have a super cool, wooden bookmark from Ink and Wonder Designs.  I'm a bookmark collector so this is a treasure for me.  I love bookmarks and pick them up wherever I go.  I love them.  I'm kind of afraid to use this one because I don't want anything to happen to it.  There is also a cute cactus pen from BC Mini.  It's a super fine point pen which is awesome.  Then there are nifty apple and peach blend tea bags from Riddle's Tea Shoppe which will be fun to drink out of my mason jar mug!

Wasn't this a book subscription box?!

Oh, yes!  There's a book at the bottom of the crate. The book each month is of course related to the theme of the box.  For June 2018 the book is From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon.

From Twinkle, with Love

Obviously I haven't read it yet, but the story centers on Twinkle Mehra who is an aspiring filmmaker who is offered a chance to direct a short film for a summer film festival.  There's a little romance and a love triangle ahead and is "a story about finding love in unlikely places, growing into who you're meant to become, and finding your tribe."  That sounds like something teenagers can get in to so this will find a nice spot in my classroom library - after I read it, of course!

Even better?

It's signed by the author!

Tucked inside the book is a letter from the author:

Letter from the author

There's also a booklet in the box with info about all the products and the companies that provided them, which is nice.  It includes an interview with the author, a puzzle, and other book recommendations as well as a preview of the July OwlCrate theme (Strange & Unusual).

And finally we've reached the bottom of my first OwlCrate.

OwlCrate says "Enjoy your adventure!"

Overall, I'm excited about the box.  The boxes are a little pricey - $29.99, and then shipping pulls it up to $37.  Breaking it down, you can order the book itself for $15.19 on Amazon.  The mug is an OwlCrate exclusive but you can order a set of six on Amazon for about $20.  The wooden bookmarks go for about $9 each at Ink and WonderRiddle's Tea Shoppe is sold out of everything on Etsy, but you can buy tea in a grocery store for a few bucks.  Beach towels at Stella Bookish Art are about $38.

For me, I think the box is a pretty neat deal; the value is definitely there and the fun is priceless.  Having a themed box filled with not just all the goodies but a five-star YA novel autographed by the author is a pretty neat thing.

The OwlCrate company also offers OwlCrate Jr for younger readers.

I'm going to keep my subscription for a while because it's just fun!  Some of the things I'll keep (like that wooden bookmark) and some of the things I will share with my students.

If you like subscription boxes and have an interest in YA lit, I'd say give OwlCrate a try!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"I could hear them screaming": Problems at BCAC Must Be Addressed

KTBS broke a disturbing story last night out of Bossier City Animal Control in which two shelter workers, (one a volunteer and one a paid employee) report inhumane euthanasia practices:

Brandy Cornell quit working at the shelter Friday after she said she witnessed dogs and cats euthanized with the heart sticks by untrained technicians.  
"I could hear them screaming," Cornell said about the cats when they were being euthanized. 
Technicians are required by law to train in Baton Rouge once a year. Cornell provided KTBS with a letter, which you can see in the video above. In that letter Dale Keeler, who oversaw Cornell at the shelter, said that all heart stick practices would "cease" as of May 8 "until a technician is trained in chemical sedation." 

 Under Louisiana law, heart stick, or IC,  is illegal unless the animal has been sedated by a trained professional and can feel no pain.

"I could hear them screaming."

So to be clear, here is the law on euthanasia in Louisiana:

C. Euthanasia:  
(1) Euthanasia methods and procedures must conform with recommendations outlined in the report of the American Veterinary Medical Association on Euthanasia, dated July 1, 1978, or as revised except as provided in Paragraphs (2) and (3) of this Subsection.
(2) Euthanasia by carbon monoxide gas chambers on cats and dogs shall be prohibitd beginning on January 1, 2013 and thereafter. 
(3) Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic. 
(4) Euthanasia personnel shall attend the Humane Society of the United States Academy on Euthanasia or an equivalent program within one year of date of employment. 

 The KTBS story ended with former shelter volunteer Brandy Cornell asking,"Why would he [Keeler] tell them they would cease euthanasia until they got a sedation class? Why would he even say that if someone was already certified to do it. That doesn't make any sense whatsoever,"

She raises a good point.

Question:  Every certified animal euthanasia technician (CAET) at BCAC had to sign Keeler's May 8 mandate that "all intracardiac heart sticks will cease."  Why would you sign something like that if you aren't actually doing the procedure? 

What is heart stick?  If you Google it, you'll get headlines and images you don't really want to see so let me quote from the Human Society of the United States Euthanasia Reference Manual:

Intracardiac Injection (IC) (Injection of Sodium Pentobarbital Directly Into the Heart) 
An intracardiac (IC) Injection involves the injection of sodium pentobarbital directly into the heart, where it is quickly transported to the brain.  Injection into a conscious animal's heart is excruciatingly painful, even if the technician is able to locate the heart chamber on the first attempt.  For this reason, IC Injection must never be administered to an animal unless the euthanasia technician has confirmed that the animal is fully unconscious.  Many states and municipalities have laws dictating that animals must be fully unconscious before an IC injection.
The Humane Society details specific measures to ensure that the animal is completely unconscious before such a procedure.

This is a very effective way to euthanize an animal that is unconscious, but if not, it is torture.

"I could hear them screaming."

Finding the heart chamber is difficult, even for a trained and experienced technician.

A Certified Animal Euthanasia Technician (CAET) is trained to administer euthanasia, but not sedation, and a CAET must renew their certification each year.  A CAET can only do heart stick euthanasia (IC)  if the animal is totally unconscious from trauma or sedation and sedation must be done by a veterinarian according to Louisiana law:

§1209. Pre-Euthanasia Restraint
 A. Euthanasia by intracardiac injection on cats and dogs shall be prohibited unless the animal is unconscious or rendered completely unconscious and insensitive to pain through the injection of an anesthetic. Such prohibition is applicable to animal control shelters and their animals located on site as well as their animals which may be transported to a veterinary clinic for euthanasia. Temporary transfer of ownership of the animal to the veterinarian by the animal control shelter for euthanasia by cardiac injection is a violation of the law. The performance of euthanasia by intracardiac injection in violation of this section by a CAET and/or veterinarian is sanctionable.  
 B. A CAET (lead status or otherwise) shall not use any drug for purposes of sedation, or any form of anesthesia, since sedation is beyond the permissible scope of euthanasia practice for this certificate holder. However, Acepromazine, Rompun (xylazine), or Domitor (medetomidine) which are non-controlled drugs, may be legally used by CAETs for pre-euthanasia restraint of feral/fractious animals. If an animal control shelter’s animal must be sedated/anesthetized pursuant to Subsection A above, then a LA licensed veterinarian must perform this service.

Question:  What sedation drugs are on site at this shelter that are used prior to the IC procedure?

 This should all be recorded at the shelter and monitored as controlled substances.  There ought to be a paper trail.  If not, that's a big problem.

Question:  There is no vet on staff at this shelter; who orders and administers the sedation drugs required by law before IC Injection?

Question:  Who on staff is sedation certified and for how long?  How many animals were put to sleep before that certification occurred and by what method?  Are the annual certifications up to date?  Do the medication logs align with procedures?

I think what we will discover is that there are no required sedatives on site at this shelter and no one certified to deliver said sedatives.

I hope not.

That aside, it is a terrible and inhumane procedure which has been outlawed in many states.  It should be a last resort procedure -- not the option of choice for euthanasia.

The whistle blowers in this case are both respected members of the animal community and have excellent reputations.  I don't say that to insinuate that anyone else does not have an excellent reputation; I only mean that it is difficult to question what these whistle blowers are saying.

It is clear that there are many, many questions to be investigated in this story.

The Humane Society Reference Manual on Euthanasia defines euthanasia this way:
Euthanasia involves more than ending an animal's life.  It is a process that combines compassion and scientific consideration while providing each animal with a death that is free of pain and stress.  Along with the technical skills required, there must be compassion and a sense of solemnity, reverence, and respect for the animals.
Shelter employees and volunteers are to be commended for the work they do; it is a job that is emotionally draining, without a doubt.  We must applaud and support the whistle blowers; when an injustice is done it must be corrected and in this case, when the public's trust is compromised it must be restored.  Best practices must be in place and full confidence in the shelter restored.

It is incumbent on the investigators to do this.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Let's Clear Up Some Rumors about CPAS

On May 5, 2018,  I wrote a post encouraging the local animal community to support Travis Clark as director of CPAS, knowing that he's not going to be able to come in with a magic wand and save all the animals.  It is not a no-kill shelter after all, and to be fair, Mr. Clark inherited an absolute mess.

One of the key points in my post was this:

It is important to remember that a shelter can't lower those euthanasia rates without help from the community; when so many people refuse to spay and neuter their pets there will naturally be too many unwanted animals.

There is literally nothing in the world Mr. Clark will be able to do about the endless intake at CPAS.  It is an open-intake shelter: they have to take everything that comes through the door.  People in this community need to spay and neuter their animals.

Mr. Clark has been on the job for two weeks and today Facebook began melting down when some in the animal community fired up the negativity train once again. I'm not about spreading rumors on this blog so I reached out to Mr. Clark to see what was true and what isn't.

Here is his response, in his own words:

Hello everyone: 
 Please feel free to share this information as it has come to my attention that some people are being misinformed about changes occurring at Caddo Parish Animal Services. I would like to say thank you to my supporters. To the people that are consistently negative and spreading false statements, you are definitely not into animal welfare for the betterment of this community. I will not allow a handful of crabby, bitter, unhappy and disgruntled people deter me from responding to social media alerts, tags, questions, etc. responding to post is one of the reasons the citizens entrust me with this position, they know that I look into their concerns. So I will address some instances that have taken place since starting in this position 16 days ago.  
On my 3rd day in office, a dog was attacked by another dog leaving it severely injured. A rescue came to transfer the dog and I was the blame. I was being called out for failing the community on my 3rd day in the position. When I respond to the situation, naysayers move on to other post.  
During my second week, I observed animals that have been in this environment since January 2018 which is unacceptable when you have 5-6 dogs in a kennel designed for 1 dog or 2 at the most with the guillotine closed. I made the decision to have staff contact rescue partners in hopes to help some extended stay animals get a positive outcome. I was criticized for that. 

Also during my second week, a dog that has been in the facility for months that has documented behavioral issues was selected for humane euthanasia. This dog was in an outside kennel to himself while multiple other kennels housed numerous dogs which resulted in fighting and injuries. Being questioned about one dog with behavioral issues followed suit.  
Today, supposedly 56 animals have been humanely euthanized in the past few days.
I can see how such an alarming title could cause a stir. What you do not see is the amount of animals that come into this Shelter daily for whichever reason. I intend to house animals as safely and efficiently as possible. I am open to all whom want to visit the Shelter. A great time would have been this past Saturday at the Open House. One of my highly touted critics was there and I appreciate him coming to the Shelter because in my presence, he understood who I was and understood that my vision is on the path to industry standard.  
 Also, there is a untrue statement that CPAS isn't partnering with Rescues for transports which would not benefit the animals in this facility. I have no issues vaccinating and providing health certificates for any animal being transported. If anyone has stated that they have heard otherwise from me, ask them for documentation or proof. I have said when animals are tagged by a rescue group, it would be best for the animal to be removed from the Shelter for space concerns. Also if a group has tagged an animal which stays at the facility it can cause more work for staff to explain why an adopter can't have this animal because a rescue wants it. A rescue can come into CPAS adoption room right now and take every animal in the room altered or intact because I have 24 more to replace the entire room and I will have another 24 after that. There is no animal shortage here. Will I directly alter an animal for a transfer, no. Altering animals for transport is not industry practice. If an animal is altered at the shelter, has no adopter and a rescue wants it, that's great. It would appear unfair to alter animals for one group and not the others. If this was a practice that was being done prior to my arrival, I'm not here to disrupt the relationship but I will make recommendations as I see fit. This field is not cut and dry or black and white, every situation is different.  
It seems as if I am being villainized and I have not done anything warranting such angst from the community (at least a handful). There have been a lot of positives during my first 2 weeks and there will continue to be positives. I will show you why I was selected for this position in due time. There is only a few names that are reoccurring with the negativity and I appreciate you. You too will be #TeamCaddo eventually.

There you have it.

I'll stand by Travis Clark and by my original position: give him a chance.  Two weeks is not long enough.

And for crying out loud, if you have an issue with Mr. Clark, reach out to him in a positive and respectful manner.  He wants to be part of the solution.  We should help him.