By Linda Nathan, Director, Perrone-Sizer Institute for Creative Leadership at Hale (PSi)

Recently, I traveled to Lawrence, MA (actually Andover) to witness Rebecca Iyore’s PSi Capstone Project in action. PSi Capstones focus on ways that schools and community organizations can work together effectively to improve outcomes for youth and families.

Rebecca working with her students

All year, as Rebecca has participated in the current cohort of PSi, she has deepened a partnership between Lawrence High School, where she is Dean of Curriculum and Instruction, and Andover Bread Loaf, a program that promotes literacy and educational revitalization through the lens of social justice.

I drove up a short dirt road and parked at a log cabin. A yellow school bus was the only indication that there was actually a school group inside. Lou Bernieri, founder of Andover Bread Loaf, came to the cabin’s door. “Are you here for us?” Lou had been a teacher at Phillips Andover—the elite private school that hosts the organization—when Ted Sizer was the headmaster. Ted, one of PSi’s namesakes, believed in private schools with a public purpose. Andover Bread Loaf has been fulfilling that vision, working with public schools locally and nationally for over three decades.

Lou Bernieri, founder of Andover Bread Loaf with faciliators Nurilys Cintron, and Yaneris Collado and Rebecca Iyore

Inside there were several long tables filled with Lawrence ninth- graders scribbling in composition notebooks, responding to the prompt: “I am the one who…” Some of their poems and prose were funny, some sad, all honest. A few tables had a hard time concentrating, but Nurilys and Yaneris, the two Bread Loaf facilitators, had an easy rapport and way of helping the young people engage. Most of the teachers were immersed in writing, too. Only a few seemed more occupied with their cell phones. (I would learn later that they were using them to write). Rebecca moved among the tables, checking in with students, too.

Students working on their poems

There were two more prompts: “Ego Trippin’” and “Recipe/ Prescription for a Good Life.” For each prompt, students had about 10-15 minutes to write. Before each prompt, Nurilys or Yaneris shared one of their pieces, just to give the students some ideas about ways to approach their writing.

Then came open mic time. “I need two people to line up,” Yaneris, a facilitator, challenged the group. Two young women slowly came to the stage. Then three more. Then some teachers. Then more students lined up. Some students wanted the facilitators to read for them. That was fine. The point was to share and be appreciated. A tenth-grade student, who is a facilitator-in-training, jumped up MC for the ninth-graders.

The day’s experience was one of risk taking—trying on something new, learning a new skill, being kind to peers, showing appreciation (snaps and clapping when someone reads), and having fun. In fact, that was one of the rules:

  1. Be kind
  2. Write in any language or style
  3. No judgment
  4. Speak your truth,
  5. Share only if you want
  6. Have fun!
Nurilys reading her poem

Andover Bread Loaf and Lawrence Public Schools have been working together on and off for many years. Rebecca, as a PSi participant this year, and as an alum of the Bread Loaf program, has made it her mission to bring this collaboration back to center stage for ninth-graders and teachers at LHS. “The students need to experience the freedom and joy of writing. They have so much to say. So do the teachers.”

Today I saw the power of partnerships and how a true collaboration might change both Lawrence High School and Andover Bread Loaf. The nonprofit grows and learns from the young people at the high school. The teachers and students learn new skills they didn’t know they had. The young people from Lawrence left today knowing that they had something to say, and that others would listen to them. The day was filled with learning to trust again after a very long pandemic, and to believe that one’s recipe for a good life might be attainable. It was a day in which humor and joy played a strong role. Rebecca’s leadership shone brightly as she insisted that school was more than studying for tests. School has to be a place where young people can experience their own brilliance and share that with others. “Ego Trippin’” was proof of that!

Students close out the day with pride
Students close out the day with pride