Hawk families at Cordley Elementary share diversity through inclusive reading groups and stories – The Lawrence Times


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A new set of picture books this school year at Cordley Elementary will be used to bridge age and experience gaps. Multi-age groups known as Hawk Families were started for monthly meetings aimed at highlighting the unique lived experiences and diversity of Cordley students and families.

Just before the dismissal on Wednesday, members of the Hawk family gathered in their groups for the first time this school year to read the book “What I Am” by Divya Srinivasan.


The story opens with the narrator, a brown-skinned Indian-American girl, recounting how she was once asked, “What are you?”

She explains: “I didn’t know what to say. So I didn’t answer and they left. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. »

She tells readers that sometimes she is kind and generous; and sometimes she is mean and selfish. She likes to be with friends, and she also likes to be alone. She exposes the contradictions in herself and sums them up by stating, “What I am is more than I can say. I am part of the world. I am part of the universe.

Ellie Villalobos, a fourth grader, loved the first meeting of the Hawk families, as well as the book.

“It really said a lot about me. Sometimes I’m shy. Sometimes I’m not shy,” she shrugs.

After reading the book, the “family members” were asked to choose a word to describe themselves. They put a marker on paper with the younger students getting help from their older pals, then they shared the words they chose to describe themselves. Examples include nice; funny; unique; great, good friend; cool; and beautiful, good dancer. The slips of paper will eventually form Paper Chains, connecting each Hawk to the entire school.

Both fourth-grade students Valerie Rodriguez and Hazel Stoppel called the experience “amazing.” Valerie enjoyed the introductions, while Hazel said the book included “lots of words to describe people”.

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Ellie Villalobos (left), Hazel Stoppel and Valerie Rodriguez

With so much of the educational day divided by age groups, this project helps students from kindergarten to grade five overcome these age barriers. Using a colorful picture book as a starting point, the stories promote conversation and help students not only see themselves, but also how they connect with their classmates.

Out of this process comes mutual understanding, said fourth-grade teacher Kellie Magnuson.

The books are also accessible outside the monthly readings. Each class received a set thanks to a grant from We need miscellaneous books, a non-profit organization that describes itself as promoting “literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people” and their diverse experiences. Teachers also receive an age-appropriate activity for each story.

“We tried to get a range of books that really represented a variety of experiences or ethnicities or racial identities of students to really help people. All of our kids see themselves in the books,” Magnuson said as he stacked some of the books.

Derrick Barnes’ “I am Every Good Thing” was at the top. In it, Barnes, formerly of Kansas City, and illustrator Gordon C. James weave a stimulating story of a black boy with big plans for his future. Below, “Just Ask” by Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic woman appointed to the United States Supreme Court, recounts her journey with type 1 diabetes, which began at age 7.

Learning coach Christina Smith said Cordley’s proposal was one of 35 chosen from nearly 600 submitted. A survey administered by the school’s equity team last year asked staff: “When you think about your need for support in racial equity work, what do you think would benefit you the most?”

A large percentage of staff wanted more guidance on how to check for forms of bias in their teaching materials in order to create an anti-racism classroom. Smith said the selected books represent a range of perspectives: LGBTQ+, Indigenous, people of color, gender diversity, people with disabilities, and ethnic, cultural, and religious minorities. She hopes the result will be a “far reaching and lasting” impact.

“We believe this opportunity for our teachers and students has the potential to transform beliefs and behaviors. Our goal is to equip our students with understanding, empathy and knowledge to navigate and effect change in the real world,” Smith said in an email.

Becky Reaver

Principal Becky Reaver, now in her 22nd year at Lawrence Public Schools and her second as principal at Cordley, said school staff wanted to start the year with “a greater emphasis on best practices.” education that reduce disparities”.

Leading a predominantly white staff, Reaver estimated that nearly half of Cordley’s students this year identify as non-white, with multiracial students comprising a large portion of students of color in the community.

Cordley also received a scholarship from the Zinn Education Project, which will support the participation of 15 Cordley educators in the year-long professional development program, Teaching for Black Lives. Self-reflections, readings, conversations and national webinars will help teachers identify the impact of racism in schools and how to interrupt these patterns, Reaver said.

“It was just the next right thing to help staff get what they need in terms of knowledge and take a step towards Black Lives Matter in schools. I think a lot about “How can we involve parents and families even more than we currently do?” And I feel like there’s just more work to do.


Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Marcos Espinoza Vera (4th), Owen Schumock (K), J’Cion Mims (4th), and Jazz Johnson (2nd) participate in circle time at Cordley Elementary with their Hawk family members.
Lawrence Times/Tricia Masenthin Cordley’s fifth-grade student Hunter King shows a link stating, “I’m nice.”
Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Fourth-grade teacher Kellie Magnuson grimaces while reading the book “What I Am” at Cordley Elementary on September 28, 2022.
Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Cordley’s first-grader Maddy Van Slyke holds a description of herself during a Hawk Families activity on Sept. 28, 2022.

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Tricia Masenthin (her), Equity Reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more about his work for The Times here. Check out his staff biography here.

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