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School Celebrates Vermont Reads with Family Trees, a Quilt, and More

Image of Carole Renca and Amy Cudney

Carole Renca (left) and Amy Cudney gathered books about the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Migration to help Edmunds Middle School teachers lead Brown Girl Dreaming projects.

“I love Jacqueline Woodson’s novels,” says Edmunds Middle School Librarian Carole Renca. So she was excited when then-principal Bonnie Johnson-Aten suggested that the Burlington school make reading Brown Girl Dreaming a school-wide project. Woodson’s memoir is the Vermont Humanities Council’s book for Vermont Reads 2017.

Students frequently come to the Edmunds school library to ask for books in poetic verse like Brown Girl Dreaming, says Carole, who believes that such works can offer the pleasure of “unraveling a puzzle on every page.”

Apply for Vermont Reads by June 2

Apply to host a Brown Girl Dreaming program in your town by June 2 for priority consideration.

Carole inspired Edmunds teachers to weave key themes from the memoir into their lesson plans. To help students understand the 1960s and 70s, when Woodson grew up in South Carolina and Brooklyn, Carole and Library Assistant Amy Cudney gathered books about the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Migration of African Americans from the rural South to northern cities. Teachers used these materials in their classrooms, and developed projects for their students that reflected the lessons from Brown Girl Dreaming.

In art class, students made mobiles of their family trees, inspired by Woodson’s poems about family names and stories. A student describes the family tree project in the video below.

Social Studies teachers assigned students to make picket signs that addressed issues from the Civil Rights Movement on one side, and contemporary issues on the other. The kids took all their signs and they marched down Church Street. It was almost 300 students marching with their signs,” said Carole. “Teachers loved it, kids loved it, and people on the street loved it.
Image of Edmunds students marching

Carole and other educators discovered that many students at Edmunds could identify with how Woodson shuttled between New York and South Carolina at a young age to visit and live with family members. “A lot of our students are from immigrant families and they travel back and forth,” said Carole. “Grandma and Grandpa often don’t live here in the United States.”

The Brown Girl Dreaming protest signs, artwork, and poetry created by the students are displayed in a gallery at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington. The centerpiece of the display was a quilt that was also inspired by the Woodson’s memoir. Carol Lafayette Roach, sister of Maria Jones, a paraprofessional at Edmunds, made the quilt after reading Brown Girl Dreaming; its panels depict characters and scenes from the book. A raffle to win the quilt raised about $200 to help Edmunds purchase library materials about diversity.

Carole notes that some parents of Edmunds students—and other adults in the Burlington area—have read Brown Girl Dreaming as part of book groups, and that a community-wide reading project like Vermont Reads opens unusual opportunities for making connections and sharing experiences.

“Getting to understand one another and appreciate the humanity in all of us are what mean the most to me,” she says. “When you read a book alone, it’s not quite the same.”

Windham Foundation Grants $10,000 to Vermont Reads program

The grant will be used to further the reach of Vermont Reads Brown Girl Dreaming, which to date has included 48 participating community organizations across the state.