Seventh-graders are busy learning about the significance of names and writing vignettes about their own lives as they read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros in their writing classes.
“We encourage students to push themselves and think deeply,” seventh-grade writing teacher Lauren Yavor said. “Students are writing pieces about their own lives that are beautiful, authentic, and mature. Their vignettes about their own memories demonstrate they’re able to reflect on what’s important to them and use the poetic devices we’ve been learning about.”
The novel is composed of a series of vignettes about Esperanza, a young Latina girl growing up in a poor neighborhood in Chicago. She’s struggling with her identity and who she wants to be.
In one of the vignettes, “My Name,” Esperanza reflects on her name — where it comes from and how she wants to invent a new name and identify for herself.
To discuss the importance of the meaning of names, PreK–12 Equity & Social Justice Coordinator Alegria Barclay modeled her own name. She showed students how her last name reflects her father’s Scottish heritage, and how her first and middle names reflect her Vietnamese mother’s desire for her to have a name that would allow her to fit in in America.
During another lesson, Equity & Social Justice Associate Teacher Alison Williams discussed cultural elements of names, why parents give their children individual names and the meaning behind them, how people receive their names, and how names shape culture and heritage.
Williams also talked about the history behind her name. She talked about how her last name doesn’t connect with her heritage — her dad is black and his name reflects the name slave owners gave his ancestors.
“It’s an awesome opportunity to have our social justice teachers come in and discuss how the social justice issues presented in the book might be applicable in our students’ lives and history,” Yavor said.
After hearing these demonstrations, seventh-graders explored the meaning of their own names. They were asked to consider “What is the story of your name?” “How does your name connect you to your family history, your cultural history, and your sense of self?” “In what ways does your name represent you? In what ways does it not do so?” and “If you could choose your own name, what would it be and why?”
They also wrote practice name vignettes that incorporated the poetic language they’re studying in the novel before writing a final series of three vignettes about memories that hold special meaning for them.
“Some students find it hard to reflect on themselves and the name is an accessible topic for everybody,” Yavor said. “It’s a way to get everyone thinking about themselves and their history.”
October 14, 2016