As the news of the December shooting at a Newtown elementary school exploded, Dr. Bryan Ripley Crandall was reminded of a day in his own high school when a teacher read a book aloud to the class. It was a children’s story about the struggle of two caterpillars, and how their difficulties eventually result in the emergence of something more hopeful – butterflies.
“The book is called Hope for the Flowers, and it’s an allegory for difficult times that contains an optimistic message,” Dr. Crandall, the director of the Connecticut Writing Project-Fairfield, says. “I know the story resonated with me all those years ago, and throughout my teaching whenever I have had a student who was struggling, I would get that book for him or her.”
Anyone who has met Bryan Crandall knows that when the light bulb goes off, he kicks into action. “I contacted the book’s website and shared that the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield has several teachers who work in Newtown schools and in surrounding districts. I wanted to purchase 30 copies to share with teachers in our network.”
Minutes later, however, Dr. Crandall received a phone call from the author, Trina Paulus, who was “touched and excited” about being able to help. A space was created on the Hope For the Flowers website to receive donations for the book project. The publishers, Paulist Press, donated the first 120 books, and Dr. Crandall shared his idea with the National Writing Project, a community of 70,000 literacy leaders across the nation. “We envision a larger goal, now, of 600 copies to be available for teachers, students, and youth agencies in southern Connecticut. Trina Paulus would also like to host a butterfly release ceremony in the spring,” he says.
To date, contributions have reached a total of 400 books. Most recently, Crandall was able to distribute the book to several teachers, counselors, and administrators at a community event organized by Drs. Emily Smith and Paula Gill-Lopez, also faculty in the Graduate School of Education and Allied Professions.
“Newtown is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support and donations and we have to be sensitive to their needs,” he notes. “But I’ve talked to teachers in surrounding school districts who have been encouraging students to process the event by writing or talking about it, and I’d like to get copies to these teachers, as well as to counselors and psychologists in the area.”
Dr. Crandall’s mentor, a retired English teacher in Kentucky, always reminded him “there’s no learning outside of a relationship.” Adults need allegories to help young people and “to begin a conversation about life’s journey.” While at a Bridgeport high school Dr. Crandall observed a teacher hosting a conversation about Sandy Hook and school violence. “He could have really raised the level of discussion if he had the book to work with students,” said Dr. Crandall.
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