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  • Susan Monk Kannard

Planting Seeds of Change: Everyone Has a Story to Tell

Updated: Mar 18, 2021

I'm pleased to welcome my first guest blogger, Susan Monk Kannard.

Susan has extensive experience as a Reading Specialist and has taught college and graduate-level courses throughout her career. She ventured to Alaska to teach multi-grades in Ketchikan. And in Silverton, Colorado, Susan taught grades 2-8 in a one-room schoolhouse.

Susan Monk Kannard

Join Susan as she shares the story of how a community and one special book helped change the life of one of her students:

Meet Josie

She is a 16-year-old parent, is way behind in her high school credits and struggles to be a good mother to her little girl.

Josie loves to laugh and have a good time but is now faced with caring for her child when she would rather be out with her friends. She really needs to make up her credits and the alternative setting might be the place she can catch up since she qualifies for the school’s day care center. This allows her to have lunch with her daughter and be nearby if anything goes wrong, but it also means she can’t leave campus with friends to go out for lunch.

Josie finds academics tough and wishes she’d worked harder in school before she got pregnant. Now, it seems that everything takes so much effort and she’s tired. But this place is her one chance to graduate, and she has to do that because she promised her daughter and her Grandma she would.

At a Crossroad

If Josie fails, there is only living at her Mom’s and maybe working in a fast food place in her future. Josie’s story is just one of hundreds that find their way into the alternative high school where I teach a Reading class.

The challenge is ever present in an alternative high school setting:

How do you engage students in reading when that’s the last thing most of them want to do?

How do you present learning objectives to a ‘required elective’ classroom of mixed grades 9-12?

Reading assessments consistently demonstrate the students’ reading abilities as low as Pre-Primer and as high as post high school with the majority falling in the 3rd-6th grade reading range.

Most of the students are disadvantaged economically, socially, academically, and feel disenfranchised – with good reason. Some live in abusive homes; some are homeless; some are teen parents; some are on probation or in mandated Grade Court; and, a small number are simply looking for a smaller, friendlier environment in which to complete high school.

Every Student Has a Story to Tell

A true educator knows that every student has a story to tell; that every student brings skills and talents to the learning environment; and, that every student wants to be respected and ultimately challenged to tap into their own potential. Many students can’t voice those truths and they often rebel against any activities that pursue those very tenets. Therein lies our challenge: how do we unleash the wonderfulness in every student who enters our classroom?

Paul Fleischman, a Newbery Medal winner, provides a fabulous platform for engaging students in SEEDFOLKS, a tale of 13 voices that weaves a story of diversity, tolerance, and the potential for change through an empty lot in the projects of Cleveland that is transformed by neighborhood members into a community garden.

SEEDFOLKS could provide the impetus for a community garden in your own town through a read-along at the local senior center, community center or Boys & Girls Clubs. Also, because the chapters are short and packed with ‘relationship stuff’ and cross generations, parents working with teens could take this gem of a book to the park or to an empty lot and start a garden!

Aware that my students would see themselves, a relative, a neighbor, or a friend in Fleischman’s characters, it was important for them to take note of those connections in hopes that understanding others would promote understanding themselves.

Josie identified strongly with the character of Maricela, who shares her Mexican heritage and is having a baby at the age of sixteen.

Capable of Change

I wanted the students to see others and themselves as being connected and capable of change. It was also important for my students to recognize their own skills set, resources and support systems as tools for change.

Giving students choices on how to demonstrate their learning is imperative in an alternative school setting. Students’ abilities and life stories are as divergent as the characters in SEEDFOLKS and one approach is not going to suit every student. So, students create the vocabulary list as we progress through the story, often bringing samples of terms to share with the class.

We had a collection that included binoculars that connected with the character, Ana, a locket for Virgil, a funnel for Sae Young, a pitcher for Wendell, and a thermos for Kim.