NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- For several months, students from Norfolk Public School Booker T. Washington High School and the Norfolk Academy Literacy Fellows met and exchanged stories about moments that have helped shape their lives.
While the schools are only a few miles apart, it’s rare that the students get an opportunity to interact with one another.
Norfolk Academy English teacher David Kidd said the partnership was inspired by Colum McCann’s presentation at the ODU Literary Festival last September. McCann’s spoke about the work of his nonprofit Narrative 4.
Elizabeth Johnson and David Kidd, Norfolk Academy English teachers and Sharon Davidson-Cook, a teacher at Booker T. Washington High School, brought their students together to share and write the stories of the moments from each other’s point of view.
“It was really great to see their energy and see how excited they were to share their stories with each other. They had so many things that they all had experienced and they understood how those stories were transforming a part of their lives,” said Kidd.
Booker T. Washington teacher Sharon Davidson-Cook said the students met for the first time at Booker T. to ensure her students were not overwhelmed at Norfolk Academy.
Norfolk Academy is Virginia’s oldest independent school founded in 1728. It is a co-educational day school serving grades 1-12 in three divisions: Lower, Middle, and Upper. The school is also located on a 64-acre campus.
Davidson-Cooke said despite the students from the two schools coming from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the initial meeting went off without a hitch.
“As soon as the Norfolk Academy kids came in and they found partners. We didn't even have to say you go sit with this one, you go sit with that one. They just kind of gravitated to whomever. Just because they live in different neighborhoods or are from different socioeconomic backgrounds that's just one minor difference. But there's so much more that they have to share with each other that brings them together,” said Davidson-Cook.
Norfolk Academy Junior Tori Walker said initially she feared that she wouldn’t be able to relate to a student she was partnered with.
“I was afraid that our stories would be at completely different levels and luckily the first thing she said was my fear is public speaking and always has been. Once she started telling me that I was like okay, thank goodness, I can relate to this,” said Walker.
Walker’s fear completely turned around and she ended up developing a blossoming friendship with Kaia.
“I hope that our friendship lasts longer than it was expected for us after this project is over,” said Walker.
Out of this partnership came No One Can Change Me But Me, a collection of stories that the students wrote about their partners life-changing experience. It was published by Norfolk Academy’s in-house imprint, Catapult Press.
Whether talking about an anxiety of entering a new school, chronicling lessons learned on the athletic fields, or depicting a first experience with loss, these stories take readers to the joy and tragedy of teen life.
Davidson-Cook said the fact that these students wrote a book despite their differences shows we as people are better when we work together.
“Partnerships are very important, mentorships are very important because we all need each other. We are all interdependent. I can’t be all that I can be until you are all you can be,” said Davidson-Cook.
There will be a reading and book signing at Prince Books on Main Street in Norfolk. It will be held on Thursday, June 8 at 6 p.m.
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