North City Book Project: Listen To Our Voices

North City Book Project: Listen To Our Voices
By Kaitlin Dauner

Relationships. The thing that drives me, challenges me and motivates me every single day. My first year of teaching, I was always striving to do more for my students and uplift them in ways a classroom could not provide. Not until my second year did I experience this opportunity with the North City Book Project.

When I hear of a crazy, incredible, and outright impossible idea but worth doing, I am always ALL in! My MTLD at the time, Nikki DeLeo, approached our cohort with an enormous project idea she wanted us to implement together in order to allow our students to present the positive picture of their North City St. Louis community. So, naturally I was in! That impactful experience I had longed for in my first year of teaching, I felt like this could be it!

I distinctly remember meeting with our MTLD group for the first time to bounce ideas around, and thinking that our students would be involved with something truly special. With a chance to really talk about society’s perceptions of them and how to paint a different picture, I saw the six students I had involved come alive.

At the Writer’s Workshop, students had the opportunity to work in groups to discuss the positive things they knew to be true about their community and the negative perceptions they heard so often in the media. It had always been my understanding that students were proud of where they come from; that had been my truth up to that point with the students with whom I had worked. For the very first time, I saw groups of students divided on their opinions: some were extremely passionate about how their community has impacted them in incredible ways, while others had deeply internalized the negative perceptions they frequently heard. They hadn’t been given the space to appreciate, value, and love the community in which they were growing up. I was brought back to a story I heard from a different MTLD, who bravely shared about one of her high school students at Induction. She had encouraged the student to be more and get out in the world to do something important. However, when approached by a fellow educator who questioned her message to the students about “getting out” she had inadvertently sent them the message that they needed to abandon their community roots. I remember hearing that story at Induction, but felt like I was hearing it for the first time all over again at the Writer’s Workshop. I had been told time and time again to affirm and value my student’s identity and background, however didn’t necessarily internalize the importance until that moment. Another one of these “ahh-ha” moments happened at the cultivating Book Launch event in May, where I saw the importance in playing a role in getting my student’s unique and individual voices heard in order to feel valued.

After the students’ hard work on their pieces, the North City Book Project Launch happened! It’s hard to remember the days leading up to it because it was such a whirlwind! Community members from everywhere showed up to the event to support the students. One moment in particular throughout the entire event stuck with me. When honoring all the student authors on stage, Nikki told them: “You are loved. Look at all the people who love and care about you.” All the students were on stage, and their facial reaction to these simple words was breathtaking. Their faces showed hope, optimism and determination for this message to ring true for future groups of students. Their smiles could be seen from miles away! And in that moment, I was again brought back to the importance of giving our students a voice, not just hearing our own.

Kaitlin Dauner is in her third year of teaching 6th grade at Farragut Elementary School. This year marks the second of the North City Book Project.  Read more about the project here.

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