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HCS Diverse Literature Initiative (#DLI)

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Staley McIlwain
Jason Gaston

HOOVER - By some estimates, only a little more than a quarter of all children’s books published in recent years featured characters of minority backgrounds.  As a school system with a wide cultural makeup (52+ languages), Hoover City Schools’ leadership has engineered a roadmap to ensure diverse literature makes its way into classrooms. 

chris robbins and dianna minor The Diverse Literature Initiative (DLI) is a pilot group of HCS teachers, librarians, administrators and coaches who have come together to explore this issue.  These educators have assessed current inventory, researched titles, and worked to further diversify reading options across the district. 

Berry Middle School Reading Specialist Dianna Minor serves on the DLI committee and has seen a very positive response.

“We couldn’t get the books in the hands of the pilot teachers soon enough,” Minor says. 

Minor sees a lot of interest among students as well - a good and obvious sign that DLI continues to move in the right direction. 

“The students are excited because they know we are giving them a huge platform to have a voice in the curriculum decisions going forward.” 

teacher holding book Lindsey Brooksbank, a first-grade teacher at Green Valley Elementary School, is participating in the pilot group this year. She says her students love selecting and reading literature featuring characters with which they can relate because of their cultural backgrounds. 

“They like reading a book and seeing a character who looks like them,” Brooksbank says. “They can relate because they see a character doing something they might do at home or school and it helps them connect to the text better.” 

Being apart of the DLI inspired Brooksbank to write a PTO (Parent-Teacher Organization) grant to add even more diverse titles to her classroom library. 

“I just want my students to be exposed to as many diverse titles as possible.” 

Hoover City Schools Director of Curriculum & Instruction Dr. Autumm Jeter leads the Diverse Literature Initiative.  Her efforts have built upon a smaller district program that began years ago called “Cover to Cover” - a voluntary, district-wide faculty book study that explored diverse works.

“I wanted to take it deeper and get diverse literature into the hands of our children, not just our teachers.  And that is a good goal. Our students need to understand other cultures,” Dr. Jeter said. “(DLI) is not a book club; this is embedded in our daily curriculum.” 

New DLI titles include “As Brave As You” and “The Boy in the Black Suit” (Jason Reynolds); “Just Mercy” (Bryan Stevenson); “Homegoing” (Yaa Gyasi) and more.

“They’re culturally relevant books. They’re fun, light-hearted. Not all of them are heavy - though, in non-fiction some of them are.  We want a representation of our school system in our literature,” Jeter said.

Hoover High School teacher Reed Lochamy couldn’t agree more.  He was a part of “Cover to Cover” years ago and is pleased to see the Diverse Literature Initiative expand in scope and purpose. 

“I [am excited because it’s] the natural progression from where we started -- to starting to think about, ‘...ok, how do we put these texts in front of students and have them interact with them in meaningful ways?’” Lochamy said. 

Lochamy plans to teach “Just Mercy” in second semester to his 12th graders.  There will be daily readings, student-led discussions, and a written literary analysis of the text to conclude the study on this particular book, which largely focuses on injustices and imbalances in America’s judicial system.  Examinations of such literature, Lochamy says, present new opportunities for students. 

“Unfortunately there’s a problem - and it’s a longstanding problem - where much of our literature comes from one particular perspective and one particular voice.  And there’s such a breadth of work that is outside of that perspective.” 

What about other teachers who want to get involved?  “Phase II” planning is well-underway, Dr. Jeter says.  The planning includes evaluative assessments of the program and a partnership with UAB’s School of Education on culturally-responsive teaching.

“I really want our students to engage in in-depth discussions with their teachers about their personal beliefs, and what’s written in the stories - and hopefully cross-reference those opinions or ideas with other students of other backgrounds, of other cultures," Jeter said. "In the end, we believe they will take away a deeper understanding of how others operate and a new respect for one another."

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