I was very lucky. For three school years, finishing in June 2013, I was the author-in-residence at the Michael J. Perkins Elementary School. This school is right in the middle of Old Colony Housing Project, which is right in the middle of South Boston. For those of you who don’t live in Boston, perhaps you remember the ugly fights our city had about desegregating its schools in the early 70s. Southie, primarily an Irish-American neighborhood at the time, was right in the thick of it. Others of you might have seen Clint Eastwood’s Mystic River; its story took place in South Boston. Ben Affleck’s movie, Gone Baby Gone, was filmed in Old Colony.
Old Colony still had the red brick institutional design that labels its residents, but that is changing too.
Stimulus money has helped bankroll two phases of the transformation, taking the sections of Old Colony down and constructing new green, energy-efficient housing in its place. Families have moved into the new houses. The new community center is buzzing. Hopefully the process can continue.
The Perkins School is literally across the street so its students have had the best seats to watch the show—to find out about construction and sustainability, to think about their community and their relation to it, to learn to write about it. Hence the blog, hence the author-in-residence, hence me. Some great things happened while I was there. Here are a few highlights:
When the kindergarteners read Mike Mulligan and his Steam Engine, they wondered what the workers on the site had named their machines. They were amazed–maybe a little horrified–when they realized those excavators and dump trucks were just called “it” or “they.” That’s when the Name That Crane campaign was born–the two kindergarten classes each nominated names, ran campaigns and voted for the name to call the huge crane that lifted the steel (they also learned the democratic process in the bargain, which made the author of a book on elections–See How They Run–very happy). Voting Day was very exciting, take a look.
Here are the kindergarteners at the naming ceremony–with the Big Giraffe, the newly dubbed 400-ton crane in the background. (A fine name, but I was personally rooting for Mr. Lifty! That’s democracy for ya–besides I didn’t get a vote.)
For National Poetry Month, one first grade class experimented with acrostic poems, which use the letters in a topic word to begin each line. Then all the lines of the poem relate to this topic. Given what was going on outside their class window, they used the word, CONSTRUCT. This poem above was one of my favorites.
One second grade class collaborated on a book about the day in the life of a construction worker and what these men and women must do to stay safe. For one week, they spent an hour a day observing the construction site and writing down what they saw.
Then they did interviews; two workers came to their classroom to answer their questions about safety. The kids got to touch and try on the equipment so they could really understand what they were going to write about. In other words, these young kids were learning to research exactly the way we professionals do. The results?