The students will begin reading The Skin I'm In, by Sharon Flake, which is the first core novel and they will discuss the role that the school community has on the main character, Maleeka. The students will discuss how her classmates bullied her instead of supported her because of the color of her skin. The students will also explore how Maleeka reacts to the teasing and taunting and to her own situation. They will notice how the community secludes her, and forces her to seek out her own way to stand up for herself even if no other classmate is willing to stand by her. This is a very powerful book to teach because the students immediately feel empathy for the main character and the reactions that the students display immediately sparks student discourse about the power of relationships and the effect they have on the classroom both positively and negatively.
In the second book, The Great Fire, by Jim Murphy, the fate of Chicago is built upon the communities' support for each other during the disaster of 1871 to rebuild the city from its ashes. The book was based upon primary resources (survivors of the fire) and shows how the people's support for each other and the rebuilding of its town reunited them with the hope that they needed to recover and ban together in unity and strength. Here, the portrait of community is positive. The students watch as the characters reacts to the fire and face the disaster with courage. The students will look for connections between today's disasters and this disaster and think about what would happen if the community did not ban together to help one another. What would be the outcome? The team building goal is based on the same idea, if students in the classroom did not learn to help each other out, what would happen to the environment of the classroom?
In the third book, No More Dead Dogs, by Gordon Korman, the school community is split between the drama club and the football team. The main character, Wallace, must choose which community he belongs to, if not both. He must decide where he fits. This is a hard task for most of us because we tend to go with where people want us to go, not where we really want to go. Wallace likes his new drama club and steps back from the football club, and now his classmates shun him. The students will tend to focus on the relationships that Wallace built with the drama club and watch how negatively the football team treats him because of his decision. This is an interesting book to get the students to think about the community in which they belong to in school, and whether or not their own communities force their peers to be placed where they don't really belong or feel comfortable in.
All three of the books force the students to view the role of community differently and ask themselves what community means to them. There will be writing prompts with an opportunity to share responses as well as meaningful opportunities to explore the definition of community as it relates to the characters of the stories and themselves.