Students become published authors
Collegiate Avenue Elementary School students were beaming with pride last Thursday as they celebrated the official launch of their poetry book dedicated to Lincoln Alexander.
Every student contributed a poem to the nearly 200-page book entitled Deep See in honour of the former Ontario lieutenant-governor and first black member of Parliament, who loved to inspire children, especially when it came to reading and writing. Alexander died last October at age 90.
“I am so proud of all our students, our staff and our parents for their participation in the creation of this book. It is absolutely amazing,” principal Laurie Behr said. “I think Lincoln would be absolutely through the roof, he would be so thrilled. Literacy was what he stood for, what he wanted to see happen for students and this has been very inspiring for our students.”
The students’ masterpieces were published as part of the Book-in-a-Day program. The program, which empowers and teaches kids to write and publish their own books, was established in 2006 by American children’s author, poet and speaker Kwame Alexander.
Lincoln’s widow, Marni Alexander, came across an article in the newspaper one Sunday in May about the Book-in-a-Day program and its founder.
“I thought it was such an amazing program. Then I looked at the bottom of the article and it said Kwame Alexander,” she said. “He’s a tall, black man talking about literacy and his last name is Alexander…talk about signs. I thought, I just have to find him and bring him here.”
Marni contacted Collegiate Avenue teacher Mubina Panju. Panju’s father-in-law is a doctor who helped Marni when Lincoln was sick.
Panju then approached Behr about the program and possibility of bringing Kwame to the school to work with the students.
Behr and the teachers jumped right on board.
Students began learning about the different kinds of poetry and started writing their works in September in preparation for Kwame’s arrival in October.
Kwame spent a week with the students, conducting fun writing classes, offering encouragement and providing positive feedback.
The Grade 8 students proofed all the poems, came up with the book’s title, designed its cover and participated in all aspects of a real-world publishing experience on the last day.
Kwame left the school with a rough draft of the poetry book. Four hundred copies of the published book were delivered to the school last Wednesday.
Marni said it was amazing to watch the students take part in the entire process.
“The kids were on fire. The whole idea, my idea, was to help them gain confidence, to know that by reading they’ll have options, they can open themselves to options and even as parents, I think that they will look back on these days and realize that reading is the key to a successful future,” she said. “Lincoln used to say, ‘I did, you can, you will.’ When you tell kids that they can do it, they learn that they can do it and now they can just do about anything they set their mind to because they’ve had success – it’s been so heart-fulfilling to work with these kids.”
Behr said the experience would not have been possible without Marni’s sponsorship.
The Book-in-a-Day program is an “excellent” initiative, she added.
“I can’t say enough about it. The students, teachers, everyone had so much fun doing this,” Behr said, adding Deep See is the largest book Kwame has published with any school. “The students were so engaged and now they have that whole piece of ownership – this is their book. There’s a lot of Collegiate pride.”
Asked what Lincoln would think about the poetry book, Marni said, “He would be over the moon. He would say, ‘You kids are amazing. Thank you.’”
Deep See is available for purchase at Collegiate Avenue Elementary School and through www.amazon.com.