Monday, March 2, 2015

Opening the Door to Strangers

I love bringing authors and guest speakers into my classroom. It's selfish really, but I love learning from experts and writers. I am passionate about opening up opportunities for my high school readers and writers to ask questions of experts they might not have access to in their daily lives. Okay, I like to be able to ask questions of experts I might not ordinarily have access to outside the classroom. Today was no exception.

This morning Donna Nordmark Aviles came to speak with my tenth grade students about this history of the orphan train movement in the United States. In preparation for our visit from author Christina Baker Kline who is coming to speak about her book Orphan Train next week, Ms. Aviles shared the story of her grandfather, sent to ride the orphan train to Kansas in 1919 along with his brother.  Inspired by her grandfather's story, Ms. Aviles spent a number of years researching the history of the orphan train movement, one of the first social welfare programs introduced in the United States. Orphans from the large east coast cities, like New York City and Philadelphia where immigration populations exploded, were taken from orphanages and placed onto trains headed west where Midwestern families would either adopt the children or use them as extra labor on farms.

The opportunity to hear the real story behind the historical fiction story of Orphan Train was fascinating. Bringing in outside voices helps to build a greater sense of empathy, a greater sense of responsibility to bear witness to the lives and to injustice when and where they see it. As a teacher, I have the opportunity and responsibility to facilitate those sorts of introductions. I hold open the doors of opportunity, facilitate learning, and introduce students to possibility. I open my classroom doors to strangers in the hopes that all us become more acquainted with the voices in our community.
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