My Voice My Community
Talking about tough topics, and how books help

Encouraging children to open up through frank discussion and literature

Child abuse is a challenging topic. Even for adults. So it’s not surprising to hear a 4th grader say it’s hard to talk about it. But that’s what Jasmine William’s students at the Logan School are doing. And they’re doing more than just talking about it.

The class has expanded their knowledge by reading books and doing on-line research. For Maheem, the best part is when “We meet with community partners.” Representatives from the Department of Human Services (DHS), the Child Abuse Prevention Effort (CAPE), and Lutheran Children & Family Service have helped the students understand various aspects of the problem, including the range of causes and effects, as well as what’s being done to address the problem.

There’ve been surprises along the way. “My mom was surprised we were doing this --- but in a good way,” says A-jah-lai. “I taught her some of the stuff we learned,” she adds, with a pleased, sweet smile. Isis was surprised to discover it sometimes seems nobody does anything to help abused children.

But the youngsters in Room 305 want to do their part to change that. They’ll be working with a writer/producer to create a public service announcement to publicize the DHS hotline number for help with instances of child abuse. And they’ve written a play to share all they’ve learned about the problem and the resources available in their community.

Auditions are the next step, but the students are already clear about the desired outcomes. Brittany lays them out for us: “ We want the play to be good. We want people to show up. We want people to bring new books that we’ll give to children [with help from Lutheran Children & Family Service]. And we want kids to tell someone if they’re being abused.”

Books as service-learning springboards

With students returning from the winter break and PSSA’s looming on the horizon, January isn’t typically one of the more active months for service-learning projects.

But Ms. Williams, a member of NID’s Teacher Network Advisory Committee, knows you’ve got to keep students interested and energized. Since her class had chosen child abuse as their project focus several weeks before the break, she thought reading an autobiography about a young boy’s abuse by his alcoholic mother might be a good next step.

One day, with just a few minutes to spare before dismissal time, she decided to read a chapter from the book to her class. She was amazed how engaged the students were. Every young face was locked on her, the room so quiet you could hear a pin drop as you entered. Ms. Williams jokingly wishes she got such rapt attention for every subject.

“I figured the kids would be drawn to it, but never did I imagine they would be begging me to keep reading. It became a class ritual to ensure that our daily objectives were completed in order to allow time at the end of the day --- right up to dismissal – for reading this story.” As a result, the class has perfected the fine art of packing up for home in a record setting seven minutes!

“Reading the book was a wonderful springboard for examining our essential question and suggesting learning and service activities,” says Ms. Williams. “It was only a book but it proved to be a quick and simple recipe for reenergizing and refocusing Room 305!”