Luis Rivera liked the part where the hungry soldiers returning from war tricked the peasants into contributing a hidden carrot, potato, and other good stuff to cook up, literally, a new culinary creation: tasty stone soup.
“Sometimes when we share, we get a bigger gift for ourselves,” Mayor Toni Harp said after reading Marcia Brown’s 1947 post-World War II kids’ classic Stone Soup Monday to a group of third-graders at the Mauro-Sheridan Interdistrict Magnet School.
School administrators invited the mayor to read for a special “unity and community day”—which incorporated part of the daily morning routine adopted this year in all classes.
Second-year principal Sandy Kaliszewski called the morning gatherings “restorative circles.”
“It’s about getting to know each other and the teacher early on [as the school year has just begun], forming a community within the class and the school,” she said as she escorted a group of red shirted third-graders into the library to hear the mayor read.
The circles, which are being implemented in varying forms across the district, feature kid leadership and participating in sharing and engaging and helping one another to address specific issues.
The idea of the circles emerged from Youth Stat, said the mayor.
Youth Stat, modeled on the police department’s data-sharing CompStat meetings, is a recent initiative connecting kids in each school with community resources and particular adults to intervene as early as possible to solve a smaller problem before it grows large.
Before the reading, fourth-year teacher Paige Jokl had held her Monday morning “circle.” As the kids stood by their desks, facing each other, they had their weekend “share out,” in which they described and rated their weekend.
One child gave a full ten on the one-to-ten scale for the high point of her weekend—her parents got married!
Because of the mayor’s imminent reading, Jokl then led the circle in connecting the themes of the book the class has been reading, Barbara O’Connor’s How To Steal A Dog.
Because that book’s heroine, Georgina, is “homeless but she’s not hopeless,” the question Jokl put to her kids was: What are the signs that someone you know might be homeless?
The kids contributed answers, like sleeping in class, which Jokl then formed into a list that she wrote on the board.
She complimented the kids on their list and then said one tell-tale characteristic might be missing: a homeless child’s clothes might be ill matched or rumpled. “A blue [reward] ticket for the word that describes that,” she said.
The child nearest to her raised a hand and proclaimed “unkempt.” The blue ticket was duly awarded.
So learning and caring were linked.
In the final five minutes before the kids formed lines to participate in the mayor’s reading, Jokl asked each to name someone they would go to if a problem occurred. The kids were encouraged to have at least five adults in their mental list.
Maya Akilotan said she’d go first to her big brother and Siniyah Grier chose her grandpa.
However, Alex Lowery said he’d go to his little brother, age six.
When a reporter pressed him with why he would go to someone even younger than himself, he replied, “He’d help me cleaning up my room and make me feel better when I’m angry.”
So these kids were ready to listen to Stone Soup as they took their seats in the school’s capacious library, and the reading began.
The mayor asked the third graders to provide sound effects. So when she read that the soldiers were trudging, the kids made trudging sounds hitting the carpeted floor with their palms.
They made stomach growling sounds when the soldiers said they were hungry.
And they applauded the mayor when she finished, and the principal presented her with a bouquet of flowers along with thanks.
The mayor said the restorative circles, by whatever name and form they take districtwide, are “a way we keep kids in school excited.”
She pronounced the morning reading experience an excellent way to begin the week. “I’m going to be [especially] enthusiastic today,” she said.