See letters below about how our programs change lives.
A letter from Dr. Ellen Bergman, Superintendent and Andrea Aitken, Clerk of the Board:
Once again, I am overwhelmed by the narratives produced by the MPB students under the tutelage of the Spoken Interludes authors. Through their writing, our students “give voice” to stories, thoughts and feelings that often have never been expressed before. Spoken Interludes gives the students the gift of empowerment that comes from self reflection.
While this was the third year, Spoken Interludes has brought writing programs to our children, this was the second Spoken Interludes session for several of the students and the change in the quality and content of their writing was remarkable. Last session, J. used the opportunity to describe the anguish he felt when his mother died. Having given voice to those feelings, he was able to begin the journey towards healing and this time wrote about walking, acquiring academic competence and his pending discharge from Blythedale Hospital. Similarly, E. a young lady with quadriplegia, always wrote in the third person. At this graduation she read a narrative that began:”I am pretty, I am kind.”
It was remarkable to see the various ways that students have learned to use writing as a vehicle to meet personal goals. G. used the opportunity to script her plea to her mother for a laptop computer. K. who is facing return to a community school, focused on the typical task of cooking on the weekend, a strategy to work through her anxiety and demonstrate that she is truly prepared for discharge to the “real” world. This year S., like J. at the previous session, wrote an open letter to her absentee father, expressing pain and anger at his failure to be present during nine serious surgeries.
As we discussed today, faculty as well as students have benefited from the Spoken Interludes program. The educators at MPB learned about the power of stories. In turn, we have shared our knowledge with faculty at Pace University and trainers in Narrative Medicine Columbia University medical school. In order to further advance the use of narratives in education, we are participating with these colleagues in a symposium for teacher training that will take place at the end of this school year.
I can’t begin to express my thanks and gratitude to you and your authors. Spoken Interludes has had a major impact on the entire MPB community.
I look forward to our continued collaboration.
Superintendent of Schools
A letter from Christine Casey, Ed.D., Director of Human Resources, Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Union Free School District:
I am writing to convey my sincere admiration and appreciation for the program you have brought to our high school. As you know very well, not many programs are successful with our very special population. We serve the children that society has truly “thrown away”. In their short lives our young people have sustained experiences and traumas that would bring many people to their breaking point. As a result, these youth are cynical and have put up walls to prevent getting hurt beyond the wounds they are currently healing.
I didn’t know quite what to expect when I came to the final readings. I hadn’t had the time to “drop” in during the learning process. And it was a bit frightening for us because we were in the middle of a state audit of our programs and the Regional Associate was invited and attended the final readings as well.
It turned out that I didn’t need to worry at all. I needed to have faith in the interaction between your caring and experienced staff and our young people. Scared as they are, our kids wanted to share their thoughts. The selections they read or the teachers read for them were transparent in communicating their fears, their hopes, their dreams, and their traumas. It was very moving.
If you knew their histories, you would be even more amazed at what they shared. We serve children who have witnessed murder, have been prostitutes at age 13 and have been forced into drug distribution as elementary school aged children. Every Friday or day preceding a holiday is a traumatic time in our residential school. Our children don’t know if they are welcome back to the chaotic place they call home. The only home they have. Or they may have to stay in the institution with staff that want to be home with their own families. It is so incredibly sad.
These and so many other emotions were so evident in their writings. Their stories conveyed tremendous strength and survival. I heard hope. I see that your program has provided a vehicle for them to put pen to paper as an outlet for this pent up frustration. I could also feel that the participants realized the power of their creative channeling. I just know they will take this experience with them and continue to write. They may never publish. But they may transcend. They may find their voice and their strength.
I couldn’t write this to you during the day to day craziness that exists in running a place like this. It took a weekend for me to digest the great meaning in the human interaction you and your staff provided. Our teachers are terrific. However, they are like parents. Too close and too tied to standards and responsibilities to elicit the kind of creativity your staff can pull from our kids. Your program is a perfect compliment to our regular offerings. You may not know that we are NOT funded for any after school activities like clubs that typical kids enjoy. That is another reason your program is so important to a place like our district.
Finally, I will share with you that the SED Regional Associate did tell me that she was also very moved by the presentations. As we all were. Thank you!
DeLauné, I hope we can find funding for another round of classes. I think the kids will line up at the door. The word has spread in the school.
Bless you and your staff for what you have done and are doing. You are providing a way for helpless young people to voice their pain and experiences. You are showing them ways to write in order to process their lives and this they can take with them and use in their future as a strategy. This is beyond therapy. It is self realization. And it is portable and not dependent on anyone else. Powerful stuff: writing!
I can’t thank you and your wonderful staff enough.
Chris Casey, Ed.D.
Director of Human Resources
Hawthorne Cedar Knolls Union Free School District
From Jim Morris – Group Homes Unit Administrator
I just wanted to tell you again how pleased I am with how this class has been going. The writer, Lynn, is fantastic and this is the best group of boys we’ve ever had. It is a perfect combination. Last week, I sat in on the last 20 minutes of the class and was blown away by the things the kids had written – such depth and expressed so poignantly and vividly. At times it even got a little emotional, yet there was such a sense of support and focused attention on each individual as they read their work. It felt like a group therapy session. I would imagine this is exactly how you envisioned your program to be. Last night when I came in with the pizza (10 minutes after they should have already been finished), instead of jumping up to get the pizza, they all just ignored me and kept on reading and critiquing each other’s work.
Thank you for bringing this to the boys. It is making a huge difference in their lives.
A letter from the Mt Pleasant Blythedale UFSD school superintendent about the students who went through our program:
MT. PLEASANT BLYTHEDALE U.F.S.D.
95 Bradhurst Ave., Valhalla, N. Y.
(914) 347-1800 Fax: 592-5484
April 1, 2009
Dr. Ellen Bergman, Superintendent
Andrea Aitken, Clerk of the Board
Dear Ms. DeLauné:
Your description of the Spoken Interludes project at the Special Act Coalition meeting last year sparked my interest. The opportunity to have published authors teaching my students was very exciting. However, I had no inkling of the profound impact the program would have on the very special seventh and eighth grade students at Mt. Pleasant Blythedale School.
Today we celebrated the achievements of the Spoken Interludes’ student authors and their mentors Marek Fuchs and Susan Stone. I’m sure you recognized the pride expressed in the voices and on the faces of the students. As patients at Blythedale Children’s Hospital, these adolescents have little control over their physical conditions. They have few opportunities to celebrate their individual creativity and bask in the admiration of their peers.
S. who has Cerebral Palsy is reluctant to speak in public. Yet with great pride he read his narrative describing his feelings about attending a recent concert featuring his favorite musicians.
L. who has Osteogenesis Imperfecta has strong feelings of nostalgia for her native country, the Dominican Republic. Spoken Interludes allowed her to give voice to those feelings and to share them with her peers.
D. has Hemophilia and resisted coming to school, preferring to stay in his hospital bed playing video games. Reluctantly, he attended one Spoken Interludes class and then another and now school attendance is no longer an issue.
J. has Guillan Barre and fatigues easily. He was angry about his illness and the resulting lengthy hospital stay. Spoken Interludes gave him the opportunity to imagine a world of strength and adventure, and regain some hope for his own future.
Thank you for giving all of the students at MPB experiences they will treasure long after their bodies heal. You have nourished their souls and taught them life affirming skills.
I hope that you will consider the students at Mt. Pleasant Blythedale UFSD as you plan for future Spoken Interludes programs.
Superintendent of Schools