Beyond Books and Borders

On the eve of Passover, when we share our national story and reenact our journey, I share with you the story of one of our literacy volunteers and the deep connections she has fostered with her students through their shared life journeys.

In May of 1960, Marion Bank was 13 and living in Chile when she experienced the largest recorded seismic event to date. What became known as the Great Chilean Earthquake had devastating effects all over Chile, and continued to have ripple effects from Japan and the Philippines to Alaska. This experience left a lasting impact on Marion - one she would share over 55 years later with a group of fourth graders at the Stapleton Elementary School in Framingham, where – as part of a team from Temple Beth Sholom, Framingham - she tutors with the Greater Boston Jewish Coalition for Literacy (GBJCL).

Marion currently works in the fourth grade science class on Wednesday mornings. On this particular day, the students were learning about earthquakes and Marion was able to make the concept come alive with her story of trauma and survival from her childhood. The room lit up. The students asked questions: “What did you do?” “Were you scared?” “Did you have nightmares after that?” The lesson became much more than a routine science class and the students were able to understand the very real impact of earthquakes in a new way.

Marion, like many of our GBJCL students, immigrated to America when she was young. Her parents fled Nazi Germany in 1939. They got on a ship -not knowing where it was headed - and ended up in Chile. Almost a quarter century later, having survived the Nazi era, Marion’s family decided to move to America.

Marion’s connection to the immigrant experiences of others is a deeply personal one. As a tutor at Stapleton, she is able to connect with students who are new to this county and who are adjusting to a new life in a new place. One young boy joined the Stapleton class shortly after he and his family emigrated from Brazil. He was very shy about using English and did not feel confident writing when asked. Marion worked closely with him, engaging him in conversation about what he wanted to learn. She would then write down his answers and share it with the teacher.

That experience gave this student more assurance and, by the end of the year, he was a full participant in the class. Marion’s own experience of being a stranger in a new land allowed her to lend the support needed to build her young friend’s confidence as a capable student and an English speaker.
After learning Marion’s story about her family’s journey to Chile and then America, Lianne Manzella, the 4th grade science teacher, decided to design her immigration unit around Marion’s experience later this spring. Once again, the students will have the opportunity to learn from Marion’s first-hand experience. They’ll have the opportunity to understand her unique perspective as an immigrant and just maybe, to share their own immigration stories.

As we continue our GBJCL20 celebration, we are sharing stories that celebrate the impact the program has had on students and volunteer tutors. Our tutors are as diverse as the students we work with, coming from different backgrounds and bringing a variety of experiences with them to the program. Join us in celebrating the 20th anniversary of our literacy volunteer program as JCRC Celebrates on May 24th.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and a meaningful Passover,

Jeremy