Author Visits: Weeks, Uwiringiyimana, and Hinton Visit Secondary Schools

The Chappaqua Central School District was fortunate to recently host three powerful author visits. Both Bell and Seven Bridges Middle Schools welcomed Sara Weeks and Sandra Uwiringiyimana. Weeks, one of the authors of the novel Save Me a Seat, met with fifth grade students while Uwiringiyimana, co-author of the memoir How Dare the Sun Rise, visited eighth graders. Both middle school author visits were made possible due to generous support and collaboration from the school PTAs. At Horace Greeley High School, Anthony Ray Hinton spoke to all students. Hinton is the author of the memoir, The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row. His presentation was made possible thanks to the ENOUGH Club, the Miles Chair Fund, and the Greeley PTA.

Fifth graders read Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan, one of the fifth grade culturally responsive anchor texts, with themes of friendship, acceptance, and identity. With this text, students developed a deeper sense of empathy and engaged in thoughtful discussions describing how assumptions about culture and identity can be harmful. Reading this book together was an opportunity for students to engage in a text that helped them to understand perspectives that might be different from their own.

Students were enthusiastic about Weeks’ visit and her discussion of her own writing and process. One student shared, "I really liked hearing about how Gita, the co-author, is a teacher and how they became fast friends when they wrote the book together. I liked hearing about the stories of how they bonded over their cultural differences.”

In the eighth grade, students read How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana and Abigail Pesta, a memoir that tells the story of how Sandra survived a brutal massacre in Burundi yet found the strength to overcome the trauma and loss she experienced. Her story presents windows into another country and culture but students also found mirrors in the text with opportunities to see themselves and reflect on their own culture and the social issues in society. ( . . .continued below)

Ms. Julich, an English Teacher at Bell Middle School, said, "Our students kept asking questions during the Q & A, going way over the allotted time. They were immersed in her story and could not wait to meet her and hear her powerful story in person."

At Greeley, Anthony Ray Hinton addressed all students thanks to the ENOUGH Club. Hinton survived for thirty years on death row for a crime he did not commit. With the assistance of the Equal Justice Initiative, led by attorney Bryan Stevenson, Hinton was freed in 2015. His story is featured in Stevenson’s Just Mercy, which all tenth grade students read.

Greeley Principal, Dr. Sandra Sepe, thanked the ENOUGH Club members for organizing this powerful event, sharing that the students were “determined to make a difference in our school with a speaker who faced grave injustice, hatred, and racism, yet told a story of courage, love, and forgiveness.”

Hinton called for students to talk with each other about race and to fight hate every day. He shared a message of forgiveness, reflecting, “I forgave the men so that I could sleep well at night. The forgiveness is linked to my own peace of mind.”

Our students are fortunate to have learned from these powerful authors. These visits are not only a complement to the literature in our English Language Arts curriculum, but they also provide meaningful opportunities to bring our curriculum to life and to continue to work towards our District’s goals around aligned curriculum, equity, and culturally responsive teaching.