Emotions Matter

Happy New School Year!

No matter what district you are working in, the start of the school year always seems to bring about new school and district initiatives.  This year our Administration highlighted two goals during our first professional development days – emotional wellness and raising SAT scores.

Rigorous Independent Reading can help meet a variety of district wide initiatives. Teachers who incorporate voluminous reading into their curriculum will have an easier time addressing mandated goals without having to resort to scripted, canned programs.  I stand by my belief that through literature, most of education’s problems can be solved.

Marc Brackett, Director of the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, presented to the faculty some of his findings connecting the mental health of students to their learning. From an online survey of more than 22,000 students, Brackett reported that approximately 75% of students felt negative emotions when attending high school.  

How can teachers help students feel positive emotions like hopeful and inspired?  Safe and comfortable? Empowered?  

Psychologists at The University of Sussex studied the connection between reading and stress levels and found that reading for as little as 6 minutes per day lowered stress by more than two thirds.  

In addition to reducing stress, reading fiction also helps students to become more empathetic.  

Literature provides students with the tools to deal with their emotions.  There is nothing better than being able to provide a relevant book to a student who is struggling with an eating disorder, or who is feeling lonely because they are at a new school.  Books connect us. Books help students answer:  Who am I?  Where do I want to go?  How can I get there? Having the tools to ponder these questions help students feel purposeful and confident – both positive emotions.

These thoughts bring me to my summer reading list.  The following are some titles that will help adolescents continue growing their muscles to better handle life’s obstacles. Please put them in the hands of your readers and give them the time to engage in some meaningful reading.

Love Letters to the Dead:  A Novel by Ava Dellaira

“It begins as an assignment for English class: Write a letter to a dead person. Laurel chooses Kurt Cobain because her sister, May, loved him. And he died young, just like May did. Soon, Laurel has a notebook full of letters to people like Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Amelia Earhart, Heath Ledger, and more — though she never gives a single one of them to her teacher. She writes about starting high school, navigating new friendships, falling in love for the first time, learning to live with her splintering family. And, finally, about the abuse she suffered while May was supposed to be looking out for her. Only then, once Laurel has written down the truth about what happened to herself, can she truly begin to accept what happened to May. And only when Laurel has begun to see her sister as the person she was — lovely and amazing and deeply flawed — can she begin to discover her own path” (Amazon).

Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson

“High school senior Tyler Miller used to be the kind of guy who faded into the background. But since he got busted for doing graffiti on the school, and spent the summer doing outdoor work to pay for it, he stands out like you wouldn’t believe. His new physique attracts the attention of queen bee Bethany Milbury, who just so happens to be his father’s boss’s daughter, the sister of his biggest enemy, and Tyler’s secret crush. And that sets off a string of events and changes that have Tyler questioning his place in school, in his family, and in the world” (Amazon).

I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka and Martin Ganda

“The true story of an all-American girl and a boy from Zimbabwe and the letter that changed both of their lives forever. It started as an assignment. Everyone in Caitlin’s class wrote to an unknown student somewhere in a distant place. Martin was lucky to even receive a pen-pal letter. There were only ten letters, and fifty kids in his class. But he was the top student, so he got the first one. That letter was the beginning of a correspondence that spanned six years and changed two lives. In this compelling dual memoir, Caitlin and Martin recount how they became best friends –and better people–through their long-distance exchange. Their story will inspire you to look beyond your own life and wonder about the world at large and your place in it” (Amazon).

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

“Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met” (Amazon).

How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon

“When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white. In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth. Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down” (Amazon).

The Truth by Jeffry W. Johnston

“When Chris wakes up in a dark basement tied to a chair, he knows that he’s trapped-and why. Eight nights ago a burglar broke into Chris’ home. Eight nights ago Chris did what he had to do to protect his family. And eight nights ago a 13-year-old runaway bled to death on his kitchen floor. Now Derek wants the truth about what happened that night. He wants proof his little brother didn’t deserve to die. For every lie Chris tells, he will lose a finger. But telling the truth is far more dangerous…” (Amazon).

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