Students of Educational Based Incarceration; Deputies and Correctional Assistants of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department, and assorted non-profit administrators, functionaries, and English-teacher groupies:
My name is Yago Cura, and I am the English Language Arts teacher for John Muir Charter School. I would like to say a word or two about the students graduating today—the students obtaining their high school diplomas, the ones joining the millions of other high school graduates the world over. And, hopefully, the ones extending the trajectory of their education past the high school diploma, and into the territory of bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Ladies and Gentlemen, I know there must be professors with doctorate’s that have spent stints in jail, or run afoul of the law once in their lives. I have been the ELA teacher for John Muir Charter School since January of 2013, so I am still completely green. I do know this, though, John Muir Charter Schools is about second chances and new beginnings, but our students have to earn the privilege of being in our program by keeping at least a “C” average and exhibiting traits of mindfulness, self-knowledge, and confidence.
First off, I would like to assure you folks in the bleachers that if they were students in my English class, I made their lives very difficult by having very high expectations and assigning an inordinate amount of essays, quote response sheets, and journal entries. Students in my English class were inundated with at least five weeks of college-level vocabulary, and can rely on about 400 new words to their lexicons. Yes, sirs and ma'ams, just thinking about all the writing I assign to my students makes my Carpel Tunnel flare up. And, imagine, you and I get to use actual pens, not those horrible golf pencils.
Second, every morning from 8:00-8:30 our graduates were at their respective spider tables, reading a literary work in a sustained, silent manner. Our graduates were engaging with research conducted by Emanuele Castano and David Comer Kidd, two psychology researchers at the New School for Social Research in New York City; they found that "after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on tests measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking."
Third, all the students that have been through the literacy-bootcamp of my class can write a five-paragraph essay using a template that forces them to state a main idea or topic sentence, an example sentence, a sentence of analysis, and a sentence that links one body paragraph to another body paragraph. My students know they must always organize their ideas before putting pen to paper because writing is fundamentally a process, one that involves several steps. More importantly, my students have proved themselves to “readers” employed by the California Department of Education; they have drafted original essays that have served as currency for them to pass their California High School Exit Exam.
Now, maybe, you have a more elaborate idea about why we are so proud of our graduates, and why we are so keen on celebrating them with all the excellent folks of Educational Based Incarceration, and all the service providers that toil under the E.B.I. banner. And, now graduates, I would like to leave you with a couple of words by that sage, old, fatman: Buddha. Now, I am not a Buddhist, but in the Bhaddekaratta Sutta Buddha gives us a pretty good idea about his attitude concerning the past and future.
“You shouldn’t chase after the past/ or place expectations on the future./ What is past/
is left behind./ The future/ is as yet unreached.”
Please be patient with those things that you have yet to reach, and don't be too harsh about the things you fail to secure. The important thing is that you have the confidence to begin to reach for those things that have been "unreached" by you in the past, and in doing so, change the past you would have written had you lacked the courage to change. You should listen to that fat man and learn the secrets of his breathing.
A Spanglish blog dedicated to the works, ruminations, and mongrel pyrotechnics of Yago S. Cura, an Argentine-American poet, translator, publisher & futbol cretin. Yago publishes Hinchas de Poesia, an online literary journal, & is the sole proprietor of Hinchas Press.