Wilton Schools’ Companion Program for Wilton Reads Raises Honest Conversation About Race, Social Justice and Equity

Once again, Wilton Public Schools is partnering with the Wilton Library on the townwide Wilton Reads program. In this annual program, the library develops programming and events around a single book that members of the community read.

This year the Wilton Library has selected Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey as the Wilton Reads title. To support the selection, Wilton Public Schools will provide access to age-appropriate books, book talks, read-aloud sessions, and visits by four renowned authors including Jerry Craft, author of New Kid; Andrea Davis Pinkney, author of Let it Shine; Jewell Parker Rhodes, author of Black Brother, Black Brother; and Vanessa Brantley-Newton, author of Just Like Me.

In its third consecutive year, the partnership between the Wilton Library and the Wilton Public School District on this program is a natural fit, according to educators. The premise is built on the belief that the shared reading of one book drives deeper thinking about themes that matter and gives all members of the community, including students at various ages and developmental stages, an opportunity to learn and discuss an important topic based on a common book.

“This year, the topic is very timely and will provide us with another opportunity for members of our school community to have an honest conversation about race, social justice and equity,” said Fran Kompar, the school district’s director of digital learning.

She added that this year, the Wilton Library Association/Wilton Public Schools’ partnership supports ongoing work that Wilton teachers have undertaken under the guidance of Middlebrook teacher Michael Gordon, the district’s racial equity and inclusion chair.  Gordon also serves on the WPS Community Reads task force and offered an important quote from the Children’s Community School in Philadelphia:

“Young children notice and think about race. Adults often worry that talking about race will encourage racial bias in children, but the opposite is true. Silence about race reinforces racism by letting children draw their own conclusions based on what they see. Teachers and families can play a powerful role in helping children of all ages develop positive attitudes about race and diversity and skills to promote a more just future—but only if we talk about it!”

Wilton Public Schools Superintendent, Dr. Kevin Smith, said he’s thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate again with the Wilton Library on an important topic.

“The programming planned by the library and by the schools is rich and robust. Exploring race relations and racism through the lenses of different authors and hearing different voices will provide our students and community members opportunities to develop keen insights and deepen empathy. Wilton Reads is a wonderful expression of our vision and mission and represents the very best of who we are as a community,” Smith said.

Wilton Reads, School by School

At Miller-Driscoll Elementary School (Pre K-2), 2nd-grade students will have the opportunity to hear author Vanessa Brantley-Newton read from her book Just Like Me when she visits the school on April 29. In addition, M-D students will learn through stories and poetry about children from many different backgrounds and their life experiences. The students will also study authors and utilize technology like the Padlet and Flipgrid to share their ideas and deepen their understanding of the books they have read. Students will participate in read-aloud sessions and discussions about the important themes in books such as Hair Love and A Ride to Remember.

At Cider Mill School (3-5), Newberry Award-winning author Jerry Craft visited on April 1 (see photo below). Students in 5th grade will have the opportunity to participate in a book club during April and take a deep dive into the book Craft’s book, New Kid, led by Andrea Szabo of Wilton Library and Lisa Reilly, Cider Mill reading coach. In addition, all CM students will be treated to a visit and presentation by another award-winning author, Andrea Davis Pinkney on April 29.  A Wilton native, Pinkney is excited to return to Wilton to talk to students about her books Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters and Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down and connect with them about her craft and the theme of her books.

Author Jerry Craft with Superintendent Kevin Smith following Craft’s author appearance at Cider Mill for Wilton Reads.

At Middlebrook Middle School (6-8), the author Jewell Parker Rhodes will be paying a virtual visit on April 28. Rhodes will be reading from her 2020 novel, Black Brother, Black Brother. Students will have the opportunity to submit questions to the author in advance, and there will be a book giveaway lottery before her visit.

All Wilton High School (9-12) students will have the opportunity to engage with works by black authors during their English classes. The 9th graders will work with selections from Angie ThomasThe Hate U Give, and 10th graders will experience John Vercher’s Three-Fifths. The Wilton Reads title, Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir, by Natasha Trethewey, will be the common experience book Wilton’s 11th- and 12th-grade students. Trethewey’s early lived experience was as a child with a white father and black mother, born when interracial marriage was still against the law in the state of Mississippi. The book is a loving remembrance to her mother who was tragically murdered in 1985. It is an important story told in astonishing prose by a Pulitzer-winning poet. Wilton Library is hosting a virtual author’s visit on April 15.

A curated collection of books will be on display in each school’s Library Learning Commons (LLC) and accessible through each school’s website.  Details on all of Wilton Library’s programming can be found on its website. The school district’s programming details may be found on the Wilton Public Schools Wilton Reads 2021 webpage.

School officials thanked the PTAs at all Miller Driscoll, Cider Mill, Middlebrook and Wilton High Schools for their generous support of this program. “Without their support, we would not be able to provide our students with such a rich experience including visits from well-known authors of the books we are highlighting,” Kompar said.