I was thrilled when my friend, Leslie, Education Coordinator at Ada Jenkins, let me know that the kids created a book about the history of the school/center. When I saw the book I was blown away! They did such a great job bringing the story of Ada Jenkins to life with their words and illustrations. The 4th and 5th Grade LEARN Works Students are talented and now, they know it, all because of the leadership of their teacher, Ms. Kenzie.

Here is our interview with Ms. Kenzie about the project…


Tell us a little about yourself!

I am a senior at Davidson College, where I am an Education and Community Studies major. While I’ve grown to love Mecklenburg county, I am originally from Asheville, North Carolina. 


How did you connect and teach with LEARN works at Ada Jenkins Center?

I started working at the Ada Jenkins Center in the fall of 2016 as a classroom volunteer through the Federal Work Study program at Davidson College. During my Freshman and Sophomore years of college, spending time each afternoon with the kids in the LEARN Works after school program was always my favorite part of my days. Last fall, I took a semester off of school for financial reasons. I was in need of a job and the LEARN Works program was in need of an instructor for the 4th and 5th grade classroom. It worked out perfectly.


How did this book project come about?

During the Spring semester, I decided to use my Friday “enrichment” day to learn about “History Heros” with my students. Each Friday we would learn about a new hero. Some of our favorites were Katherine Johnson and Frida Khalo. The students loved learning about new historical figures, and I began integrating our history heros into what we did during our literacy activities the other days of the week. At one point, I had a conversation with one of my students and realized that she did not know that Ada Jenkins, the namesake of the Ada Jenkins Center, was an actual person. I decided Mrs. Jenkins should be one of our History Heros. In all honesty, I am not sure exactly when the idea went from just making a poster on her, like we had for our other heroes, to writing a full on book, but I know once I thought of the idea I could not get it out of my head. Luckily, the kids and my supervisors were as enthusiastic about the idea as  I was. I was able to apply for some funding to publish the book through the college, and financed the rest through pre-orders on kickstarter.  


How long did it take you and your 4th and 5th graders to complete the book- idea to print?

We spent about seven weeks learning about our “History Heroes” and studying different ways of writing about the past (biography, autobiography, historical fiction, narrative nonfiction, and timelines). Then we spent three weeks doing research on Mrs. Jenkins. As a part of our research, we went on a field trip to the Davidson College library to meet with Nancy Grifith, a local historian who wrote a book for adults on the history of the Ada Jenkins Center. We also hosted a panel with four community members who attended the Ada Jenkins School who were able to tell us what it was like to be a student. After compiling our research, we spent two weeks working everyday to write, edit, and illustrate our book. 


Have you taking on a project like this before?

Never! While I had done several extended projects with my students in the fall, I certainly had never led students through a project of this scope before. I also never participated in a similar project in school myself. It was quite the learning experience.  


What did you learn about this story that surprised you?

I knew the building still held important significance in the community, but I loved having the opportunity to talk to former students about just why the Davidson Colored School/Ada Jenkins Elementary/ Ada Jenkins Center continues to be such an important community site. While the book is just about how the community worked together to build the school, there were lots of things that happened between the building of the school and today that I had no idea about before my students and I began talking to community members. It was especially cool to hear stories about one of the teachers who used to teach in my classroom. She was apparently very strict, which made my students realize I wasn’t quite as strict as they thought...


What does the story of Ada Jenkins mean to you?

To me the story of Ada Jenkins illustrates the importance of schools to their communities and vice versa. I hesitate to call the Ada Jenkins story inspiring, because the fact that the 

African American community of Davidson had to raise the money to build a new school building was deeply unjust. I think it is dangerous to paint stories of people having to crowd source to fund basic human rights, such as access to education and health care, as inspiring. However, while I would not call the book inspiring, I believe that the book celebrates the agency and resilience of the African-American community in Davidson during the Jim Crow era.


What was the hardest part about getting the book written and published?

In all honesty, for me the hardest part was doing anything BUT focusing on the book. During the Spring semester I was a full time student again myself, but I was way more invested in my students and the book project than my classes. There were definitely several nights I spent formatting and editing the book that I should have spent working on my homework. While figuring out the funding to  pay for the book was stressful, actually creating the book with the kids was a blast!


What did the writing process look like?

After finishing our research, as a class we brainstormed what the plot of our story would be, and unanimously decided we should focus on Mrs. Jenkins’ role in fundraising for the Davidson Colored School building, which today houses the Ada Jenkins Center. After we choose a plot, the kids got to apply for jobs on one of three writing teams-- the story team, the biography team, and the authors team. They filled out job applications where they ranked the three teams, then explained why they thought they would be a good member of their chosen team. After they turned in their applications, they each had a brief “job interview” with me. Once the teams were announced, they got to work on their teams specific task. I gave each team detailed instructions on what was expected of them-- for instance, the story had to be ten pages, with 2-3 sentences per page, and they had to include at least one metaphor and one simile. The teams had several days to work together (with the support of one of our wonderful classroom volunteers) to write their section. We then spent a day editing and reading over the sections of the other groups. Each student was then assigned one of the pages to illustrate. 


Did you find emerging leaders or future writers or illustrators?

For sure! Each of the kids is talented in a different way, and it was incredible to see them all find their niche. Something that you might not know just from reading the book is that each student in the LEARN Works program was at least one grade level behind in reading at the beginning of the school year. These are kids who are not used to being considered the smartest or most talented kids in their classes. For me, the most important part of this project was helping my students to see themselves as the future leaders, writers, and illustrators I already saw them as. More than anything, I wanted to print hardcopies of the book so that we could donate copies to the kids’ elementary school libraries, so that my students have a tangible reminder in their schools that they are capable of doing really cool things. The most powerful moments were not actually watching the kids write the book, but watching the confidence with which they shared their work with the wider community. Two of my students were invited to read the first draft of the story to the Northern Mecklenburg Historical Society during a meeting focused on the legacies of the community’s three Black schools. Another one of my students, a fourth grader who reads and writes at a first grade level, turned out to be an incredible salesman. We had a meet the authors event at Davidson’s town day celebration in May, and this student sold single handedly sold eight books in about forty-five minutes just by walking up to families with young kids. I was so proud to see him come out of his shell and have confidence in showing off his illustration and the “About the Authors” section that he helped to write. 


Do you have any future plans for books?

Not at this point, but as someone planning to go into teaching, I hope to do similar projects that connect back to the local community  with my numerous future students. I think writing about local history is a really powerful way to help kids understand the importance of community and develop good research skills.


What will you take with you after completing this project?

The knowledge that kids will rise to the expectations you set for them.


Thank you, Kenzie, for all you do!


If you want to add this book to your collection, go to our shop and purchase your quarterly subscription, prepaid yearly subscription, or Back To School Box before the end of September, when orders close for this quarter.

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