Editor’s note: Vel R. Phillips Juvenile Justice Center School provides educational services to all Milwaukee County youths who are placed in secure detention by the Wisconsin juvenile court system.
Vel Phillips students have focused on reading this winter and spring. We built literacy skills while channeling emotions that drive decisions, thinking about actions and learning to act in ways driven by our reading experiences.
We read stories “Time & Place: In the Life of B & K” and “Time & Place: Keylanda’s Story,” both by local activist and author, Khalil Coleman. These books focus on challenges that many in Milwaukee face and things that we can do to support neighbors, help the community and remember those we have lost.
The books center around the themes of environment, lifestyles, opportunity, state of being, relationships and choices. The curriculum was created by Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL).
CLTL has project-oriented classroom experiences that motivate students to learn language skills so we can get involved in our communities. This includes self-reflection, commitment to work on a public campaign and steps to make community engagement a lifestyle.
The CLTL books are important. They give a look at life to know how it is in the hood and what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. The stories needed to be told and more people need to hear them. They were written for the whole nine but especially for the young people. The choices are “stay in school and stay alive” or “stay in the streets and die.” They also give people ideas on how to help those from the hood.
While reading these books, we discussed connections with Milwaukee. We wrote book reviews and shared these in class. We wrote our own stories and shared these in class. We chose an example of personal or community change and created a social media message explaining it.
‘The Other Wes Moore’ book read
We also participate in a weekly book read with Ms. Daniels, Ms. Giles and Ms. Cohen, reading the book “The Other Wes Moore” by Wes Moore.
“The Other Wes Moore” is the story of two men born in Baltimore with the same name. While one of them grows up to be successful, the other spends the rest of his life in jail. The book looks at the decisions that shape our future and how easy it is for our lives to take a different direction.
While reading the book, we regularly make connections with emotional regulation topics they are studying and practicing.
Unbound is a month-long readathon in February for students in secure settings. Students and adults at Vel Phillips participated in the challenge along with similar facilities around the country. It was sponsored by the Center for Educational Excellence in Alternative Settings.
Readathon allowed us to explore the power of reading at every opportunity — to read for pleasure, develop the habit of reading and learn to discover ourselves. Students kept track of how many minutes we read each day in February. The entire school kept totals and received rewards based on goals. We surpassed our goal by almost 100,000 minutes and read a total of 298, 478 minutes!
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