Reeling from the horrific mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Tex., literacy specialist Kylene Beers took action from her perspective as an teacher and Texan. She emailed four friends to help process the devastating situation: former Young People’s Poet Laureate Naomi Shihab Nye, Newbery Medalist Matt de la Peña, novelist and retired therapist Chris Crutcher, and Book Love Foundation president Penny Kittle. They swiftly coordinated a free panel in support of heartbroken teachers, “Words Can Help Heal: Helping You and Students Through Trauma,” scheduled to air tonight (information below).
In times of crisis, readers often share Nye’s unvarnished, empathic poetry, including her meditative “Kindness.” Nye (The Turtle of Michigan), a Palestinian American author known for her nonviolent standpoint and collaborative work with children (This Same Sky), teaches creative writing at Texas State University.
De la Peña (Milo Imagines the World) told Beers he was eager to help, “not only because he wanted to support teachers but because this happened in a Mexican American community,” Beers said. Crutcher, too, signed on without hesitation. Beers—a past president of the National Council of Teachers of Education and the author of When Kids Can’t Read/What Teachers Can Do—knew that Crutcher's first career had been as “a child and young adult therapist,” she said, so she “wanted him wearing his therapist hat.” She shared that she and Crutcher “were speaking together at the American Library Association the day after the Columbine shooting [in 1999]. We had been asked to speak about bullying, which of course meant something entirely different the day we gave our talk to about 1,500 people.”
For a fourth panelist, Beers reached out to educational coach Kittle, author of Book Love and Write Beside Them. “Penny is always someone I turn to when I want to help teachers think about how to help students write,” she said, and Kittle brings more than three decades’ experience in public schools to the table.
Beers reflected that “this has been a terrible year for teachers, harder than the first year of the Covid pandemic.” Teachers dealt with tensions around masking and vaccination, debates over phonics and CRT, book challenges, and fears around the war in Ukraine. “And then, this tragedy,” said Beers. “Children and teachers hurt and killed once again as a gunman entered a school. No one had time to process the tragedy in Buffalo [the racially motivated mass shooting at Tops supermarket] before this happened.”
“Some in this nation want to ban books; I wish these same parents would take up the cause of banning rapid-fire assault weapons,” Beers continued. “While others are demanding that action, I can reach out to teachers. I can put together the folks who want to support them.” At a time of immense sorrow, she and the panelists will speak to collective grief from personal perspectives.
“Words Can Help Heal: Helping You and Students Through Trauma” airs Tuesday, May 31, at 8 .pm. ET on Facebook (@KyleneBeers) and on Zoom.
Correction: The elementary school in Uvalde is called Robb Elementary, not Ross, as this article originally indicated.