Jews across the world are preparing to sit down with their families and read the Haggadah this Passover. Although this is annual experience, it is never exactly the same as the year previous. In fact, for those attending a Seder at someone else’s home, there is no telling what the reading of the Haggadah will mean to their hosts, and they likely won’t know until the Seder begins. Reading the Haggadah can, after all, mean decoding the Hebrew words, or speeding through the text and getting right to the meal, or long discussions that allow us to better comprehend the story, or discussions around how the texts apply to our lives and current events.
But whatever the interpretation, at its core Passover is a holiday that revolves around a story (the Exodus), a book (the Haggadah), and a concept (freedom).
For many Jews, literacy is a priority. Many congregations across the South champion the cause of literacy in their community. We shake our heads in disappointment and sadness when we talk about children who don’t have someone to read with them regularly. But, when we talk about literacy, we are talking about a few dimensions: decoding, fluency, comprehension and application. Decoding refers to associating sounds with letters and blending them to create words. Fluency refers to the pace of reading and the ability of a reader to read a word without forgetting the words that came immediately before it. Comprehension is the level at which a reader understands the meaning of the words. Stronger readers will also apply what they read to their life’s knowledge and experience. They will determine whether it is consistent with what they know and have experienced in the past or whether it speaks to something new.
When we read with children, we might know how advanced their reading abilities are. However, particularly with struggling readers, it isn’t always clear. In fact, there are times when as adults who have been reading for a while, we wonder whether our time reading with children is productive, whether we made them feel badly because they couldn’t read as well as we had hoped they would. But, we can learn a few tips that help ensure that both the child and the adult have a positive reading experience. There is a lot of information out there but the proven tips are usually gleaned from research by individuals with the specific expertise of teaching reading. This is just one resource with reading tips, and you can certainly find some more by searching the internet for “research based reading tips or interventions.”
I wish all who will read the Haggadah this Passover, a meaning-filled Seder. I would also like to wish us all renewed energy as we continue to battle illiteracy in our world and particularly in our communities. After all, the ability to read brings not only stories and books to life – but also brings readers a very real freedom.
T.A.P. (Talk About the Problems), the ISJL’s peer mediation program, trains students to help their peers resolve conflicts peacefully. The peer-led-model is really important to us, but even when the youth are leading, they are not alone. There are many partners in making T.A.P. successful – and one of the greatest recent elements is the way we’ve been connecting legal professionals with the project.
There are many benefits to involving legal professionals in community engagement programs like T.A.P., but two stand out for me. The first is that legal professionals can be role models for the students – or, as we sometimes say now, the aspiring lawyers! Here in Mississippi, as in many places, it is not uncommon to find middle school students who have never met a law school student, a lawyer or a judge—particularly students who live in neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Meeting a legal professional can inspire students to explore the possibility of entering the field of law, and can make the profession more accessible to them; all the more so when we have volunteers who are relatable, because they share the same race, or gender, or background and life experiences. Another benefit is that students see legal professionals engaged in peaceful conflict resolution. TV programs and movies often portray lawyers as adversarial and aggressive; real, live legal professionals can emphasize that mediation and finding a more peaceful solution are their daily working goals.
Last week, Judge Carlton Reeves helped us launch T.A.P. at Whitten Middle School. The mediators had completed a training conducted by members of Mississippi College School of Law’s Black Law Student Association. To recognize the students’ achievements and to signal the start of their responsibilities as mediators, Judge Reeves administered an oath during which they committed to, among other things, maintain confidentiality.
Judge Carlton Reeves helped set the tone for the program by encouraging the students to utilize the program and take it seriously. By administering this oath, Judge Reeves demonstrated his commitment to peaceful conflict resolution and showed students that they too can enter the legal profession as a lawyer and perhaps even as a judge.
After all, like the students, Judge Reeves grew up in Mississippi. He attended college and law school before going into private practice in Jackson, Mississippi. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed Judge Reeves to serve as a federal court judge, making him the second African American to be appointed to the Federal Court of the Southern District of Mississippi.
Having the Judge “preside” over our ceremony at Whitten Middle School put a face to the notion of potential for these students, and to the notion of community engagement for us all.
Who are some of your role models? Do you see yourself as a role model for others?
Does your community want to do something in honor of Jewish Youth Service Day, AKA J-Serve? Repair the World is willing to help! They’re currently offering micro-grants for education programming in connection with J-Serve 2013. I’m excited for the Southern communities I work with to take advantage of this, and it’s also applicable wherever you are:
The Micro-grants range from $500-$1,000, and you can download an application here. This is a great chance to develop a project to aid your local community, address the problems surrounding education inequality for students, and create a way to solve them.
Some examples could include:
- Starting a book drive and creating vocab flashcards
- Make simple math flashcards (basic arithmetic, multiplication, subtraction and division problems) and then create an event where you and volunteers use them with young people in after school programs
- Rally your friends and community to start a peer-to-peer mentoring program
- Work with a local school to create playground graphics on the blacktop to teach letters, numbers, colors, etc. to youth who attend that school
Your options are limitless! The grants will be awarded to creative programs that help address education challenges including but not limited to literacy rates, math deficiency, and lack of mentorship.
Applications will be accepted until February 28, 2013. If you’re submitting a project, let us know – we’d love to hear about it and cheer you on!