Starting over from the beginning, even the alphabet

Every winter we read SEEDFOLKS, by Paul Fleischman, about a fictitious urban community garden in Ohio.  Each chapter is written through the eyes of a different gardener.  The voices are filled with nails on a chalk board ethnic stereotypes but with a generous and eager energy to make their individual garden from a deserted dumpy block in a crummy forgotten neighborhood.  It’s an easy read and the men like it as they get to read aloud and the chapters are short.  This book always gets us excited to start thinking about our gardens sleeping under the snow, our seed order, the strawberries…  But…

Today I had only four men in the class, one English speaking, three Spanish. Without pride, I admit that my Spanish is none existent.  The men usually translate for one another throughout class but after reading a couple of chapters today it became clear this year we had to take a different course.  We put the books down and I grabbed a big pile of paper from the recycle bin, a roll of tape and a year’s worth of Organic Gardening Magazine.  Without scissors I ripped pages with gorgeous pictures of tomatoes, cabbage, peonies and herbs and all kinds of colorful plants and began to tape them to the paper.  I handed the paper to one  inmate and asked him to write what it was.  He said I don’t know how to spell tomato.  I handed him the dictionary and asked him to look it up.  He then said he’d never used a dictionary.  I sat down with him and we looked it up together.  He first had to decide where “t” came in the alphabet.  After successfully writing tomato we handed it to the next student who them wrote the Spanish equivalent tomate.  By the end of class we had destroyed all the magazines, laughed as we all tried our pronunciations and the class had gone from arduous and thwarted to gloriously energetic and refreshingly positive.

We are now going to start our own dictionary filled with colorful clippings and new words for all, essentially creating our own “community garden”ing book.

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