Students Roll Out the Red Carpet for Reynolds

April 02, 2018

Jason Reynolds speaking with CAIS Middle SchoolA whole Zhang Heng (a Middle School class period devoted to special electives) this session was organized around preparing for award-winning author Jason Reynolds’ visit to the 888 Campus. Guided by Carroll Family Learning Center Coordinator Cassy Lee, 17 students read and discussed his books, made welcome signage, crafted and delivered an introduction speech, and prepared interview questions. Max W., Madison L., and videographer Ella E. interviewed Mr. Reynolds before his talk. (Enjoy a recording of the interview and additional information about Jason Reynolds and his work at the Carroll Family Learning Center PowerSchool page.)

Reynolds gave a dynamic and engaging talk to the entire middle school student body and faculty. He hooked the audience with hilarious stories of his childhood and poignantly underscored how not seeing himself in books as he was growing up deterred him from reading and writing. He noted how the poetry of rap lyrics sparked the lengthy process of finding his own writer’s voice, and eventually to engaging with the literature he had avoided as a kid and as a young college student. Candid about his failures on the way to his eventual success, he gave students practical advice about the work and value involved in finding their own creative voice. He emphasized that there are no shortcuts and that nothing is ever perfect the first time a person tries it. He advised that students connect to the works that speak to them and fan that ember to ignite their own creativity. He made a strong case for the discipline of just getting words down on the page and then editing and editing and editing to get it just right.

With characters based on real people and situations from his life, Reynolds’ books offer a window into the lives of African Americans in contemporary urban settings while speaking to young people from all backgrounds. During the Zhang Heng book discussions and the Q&A with Mr. Reynolds, CAIS students explored universal themes in the books that helped illustrate many of the concepts they have been delving into with the school’s DEI initiative. In particular, students are learning to combat implicit biases by seeing people as individuals rather than making stereotypical assumptions about them as representatives of a group.