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    Third Graders React to Children’s Books Written by High Schoolers in an LGBT and Ethnic Studies Course

    By Lyndsey Schlax–

    (Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts (SOTA) launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She still offers that groundbreaking class but is teaching Ethnic Studies this semester. The two subjects often intersect, so in this column her students share their thoughts about both Ethnic Studies and LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more.)

    Teacher Lyndsey Schlax: For the past several weeks, LGBTQ and Ethnic Studies have been writing children’s books that share what they have learned in this class about themselves, their communities and the power of transformative education. Last week, they brought their books to West Portal Elementary School and read them to a 3rd grade class, who reviewed the books for them. This column includes a selection of reviews of the experience, from Asawa SOTA high school students and West Portal elementary school students.

    Jasmine, 12th Grade

    Writing my children’s book allowed me to gain perspective and self-evaluation for myself and my identity. I not only learned more about who I am and where I come from, but also was given the opportunity to share those learnings with West Portal Elementary School’s third graders. Growing up in a flourishing world that is undergoing immense change, I believe it is important for our youth to engage in the big ideas that are causing this evolution. I hope more books about culture and identity are open to our future ambassadors of change.

    Danity, 3rd Grade

    My favorite book was about a Filipino girl who loved to swim and one time she tried to get a membership to a swim club. But she could not because it was just for whites. And, three years later, she was in the Olympics.

    Annais, 11th Grade

    In my culture, stories are told orally. Representation of myself was in the stories my abuelita told me. She created a whole series of stories for me, starring a little girl named Almendrita. When I was a kid, I had an identity crisis. People thought my white, blonde, blue-eyed dad had adopted me, but they thought that my cinnamon skinned, black hair, dark-eyed mother was my nanny. This was confusing to a little me, and I was questioning whether my parents were my parents for a while there, because it was true, I did not look completely like either. My abuelita told me stories about this little girl, Almendrita, who had two parents who looked very different from each other but had a daughter who looked at least a little bit like both of them. She explained to me that Almendrita did not need to look exactly like either of her parents for them to be her parents, but rather that she had gotten the best of both of them to create something new. The stories of Almendrita helped me to accept myself as the biracial product of my two contrasting parents, allowing me to stop trying hard to be either one or the other, and allowing myself to be both, and to love myself that way.

    Zachary, 3rd Grade

    Today, a class of high-school students came to the park with us and shared some mind-blowing books that they made themselves! Here are 4 amazing books that they shared with us:

    1. Hip-Hop to 5 Steps
    2. Hip-Hop to Women
    3. Blooming
    4. Bella in the Middle

    Read them, and they will blow your mind away!

    Katie, 12th Grade

    When we were told that we would be sharing our books with third graders, I was anxious. Children are some of the most brutally honest critics and I am not all that confident in my children’s book writing abilities. Furthermore, I didn’t know the extent to which the children would understand the concepts we had been learning all year in class. Would they understand the concepts of hegemonic culture and counterculture? Despite of all of my concerns, the children really enjoyed the books, and I think they took away some of the lessons we were trying to instill: openness, appreciation of difference and kindness.   

    Cody, 3rd Grade

    I liked the book Worms for Lunch. My favorite part was when everyone brought worms for lunch. That is why I like the title Worms for Lunch. One of my favorite parts of the book was when everyone got confused and they thought Cole brought worms for lunch. I like Worms for Lunch. It is a very good book.

    Brandon, 3rd Grade

    Today, the high school students came to read Bella in the Middle. I liked it because Bella made her own choices.

    Charlotte, 11th Grade

    This last couple of weeks, through writing a children’s book, I realized the importance of recognizing the complexity of issues involving social justice, but I also realized the great importance of the ability to simplify these issues in order to present them not only to children, but also to all who have trouble comprehending them. I believe that aspect of writing the book was the hardest for me, personally. My book was an attempt at explaining cultural appropriation in a simple manner through a metaphor, which was a much harder task to do than to theorize.

    Maryse, 3rd Grade

    My favorite book was Ingelica. I loved it because the illustrations are poppin. In my opinion, it should be a bestseller! Your (the student author’s) writing is also so great. I liked how you used special paper for writing. Your coloring looks so smooth and it looks awesome.  

    P.S. You should be an author. I will be your biggest fan. You got me sooo into it. I love it sooo much.

    Ryan, 3rd Grade

    I heard the best story ever, The Little Phone. It was so good because it was so complicated!

    Alasdair, 10th Grade

    Being able to sit down with a group of three to four 3rd graders and read them children’s books about empowerment and self-love was an amazing experience. Seeing the little light turn on in their eyes as we explained to them what it means to speak up for yourself was truly an invaluable moment. Although they were mostly interested in the candy handed out afterward, it was lovely to see how captivated the kids were by the stories being read to them. I definitely wish I had had this opportunity when I was a child.

    Makena, 3rd Grade

    Alex showed us a book about transgender people. She was very nice. I liked the theme. She makes a point that people should be able to choose who they want to be. Alex is also transgender.

    Sophia, 3rd Grade

    My favorite book was Blooming because it presents a good story and I liked the pictures. It has a good moral: Don’t judge a book by its cover and respect others.

    Max, 12th Grade

    It is quintessential to teach youth how to read. However, teaching them to read is half the battle. We need to teach kids to read and to identify with the characters, and we cannot do that if the books are not about them and their people. It filled me with pride to see these kids of various races identify with the stories and be entranced by these stories that they have never heard before. That is a problem. Kids should never have to be amazed at hearing stories about them. There should always be stories about them readily available.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/