Monday, June 19, 2017

"Official" Summer Reading: How Dare the Sun Rise

Synopsis from Greece Athena Library school handout for one
summer reading option.
Our school's summer reading program (as part of a district wide expectation) is mixing things up with this year's assignment. Last summer we offered ice cream treats as the carrot for reading a single text during the summer months (a half-sheet with basic information needed to be submitted as evidence), and this year's final product will be participating in a book talk regarding the text read using notes kept on a more extensive work sheet depending on whether the text is fiction or non-fiction. Numerous staff members have also elected to read the same title will also be completing the task and participating in the conversation.

I signed up to read the recently published How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta. The synopsis shared with students (above) prompted quite a bit of interest on the part of my current eleventh graders as well as my teaching colleagues. With my task clear, I picked up a copy (available only in hard cover so not inexpensive) from the local Barnes and Noble and very quickly made my way through it. (A quick check of the local library online card catalog informs that there are 22 copies within their system, too.)

How Dare the Sun Rise is an incredibly engaging and honest autobiography of Congolese refugee Sandra Uwiringiyimana and her family finding their way from a satisfying existence in Africa though a series of hellish events (thus the subtitle Memoirs of a War Child) until finding a purpose and sense of acceptance in the United States. A traditionally structured autobiography, it is the conversational tone and the manner in which Uwiringiyimana uses the differences between the two cultures to shed light on the strengths and weakness of our American culture that elevates the text. The journey Uwiringiyimana and her family take is powerful. Despite having read and taught numerous immigrant experience works ranging from Upton Sinclair's muckraking classic The Jungle to Francisco Jimenez's short story "The Circuit," How Dare the Sun Rise presents a compelling voice that is underrepresented among the genre. The first person perspective of the Congolese refugee experience is fresh and informative. While I have taught students in my classes who have themselves shared a similar set of circumstances, the trauma likely experienced precluded too much sharing. As many good reads do, however, it raises more questions as it answers others...

As interesting as Uwiringiyimana's odyssey to (and through) the United States is, I really found myself drawn into the unique perspective of the author's veiled social commentary on facets of American culture that most are frequently not meaningfully discussed in many classrooms.  Issues such as obesity, modern segregation in the American public education system, as well as subtle racism within the larger American black community are woven into her story. A clear emphasis on the significant power of education is key to the author's story. That this belief is ingrained in her by a feminist father (the author's words), who himself was a product of patriarchy, is in stark contrast to the apathy illustrated by some American students observed by Uwiringiyimana as a public school student here in America. Consistent with her articulated goal in sharing her story, the author clearly hopes to spark conversation among young people regarding these issues and others.

I look forward to discussing How Dare the Sun Rise by Sandra Uwiringiyimana with Abigail Pesta upon returning to class in September. My hope is that even those students and staff who had not previously signed up to read this title will do so in addition to the others: Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Scoutin' Routes: Flower City Half

Over the past few weekends, Fleet Feet Rochester has offered course previews for the fast approaching Rochester Regional Health Flower City Half Marathon. While this is a run I have participated in two years ago, I would have liked to have attended these tours, not because I am likely to get lost (there will be plenty ahead of me) but because I like having a familiarity with the course prior to "racing" it. Unfortunately, I could not make it, though if Twitter pictures are accurate, a good time was had by those who did.

USATF Course #NY13101KL:
Certified Course Map.
With Spring Break this past week, I decided to preview the course myself, doing so in parts rather than in a single long run. Rather than running it, which would give me a stronger sense of the layout, I have opted to bike and walk it. A stretch of the course runs directly through my neighborhood (and as I sit here typing, flashes of my experience last year return).

Despite a great affection for USATF's certified course maps, they feel like a sort of runner's folk art, I used the 13.3 mile run map created by YellowJacket Racing. This course offers quite a bit for both participants and spectators to take in visually as the course flows through a variety of Rochester neighborhoods. As I biked the course over two days (in 6+ miles increments, Parts 1 and 2 on Monday, April 17, and Parts 3, 4, and 5 on Friday, April 21), these section breakdowns began to take shape in my mind. For myself, it will help me to get a sense of pace and distance to consider the half marathon as a 5-part run.

Part 1: Westside Start (Approximately 2.4 miles)
The race start is located at the western end of the Broad Street Bridge directly next to the Rochester Blue Cross Arena at the War Memorial. From here, the course heads immediately west. Rochester can be thought of as having two sides: East and West, the line of demarcation being the Genesee River. This first section covers quite a few visual treats in a fairly short distance.

Part 2: Eastside, Represent! (Approximately 3.5 miles)
The course then heads back east passing once again over the Genesee River on Main Street. This part of the course takes one through downtown, along East Avenue, into the heart of the Park Avenue neighborhood before heading South along the edge of the South Wedge.

Part 3: Highland Park (Approximately 1.5 miles)
This third section is the important as it begins the second half of the run and, for my money, is the most challenging. The first half of the race is fairly favorable relative to any changes in topography. I can recall in years past feeling really confident passing over the expressway on Goodman. This, of course, can be dangerous. I often fall victim to getting too far ahead of myself and this part of the course will punish you (as it has me) if you lose focus...

Part 4: Mt. Hope Cemetery (Approximately 2.5 miles)
For some reason I always envision this part of the race as being toward the finish, but it's really not. This is among the most beautiful areas the course runs through and it is rife with deceptive challenges not the least of which is the mistaken impression I have that once your through the run is nearly done... it's not. Friends of mine who have also run this race point to the Mt. Hope Cemetery as being their least favorite (or most difficult) aspect of the overall course. I can see why as the initial beauty of the area quickly seems repetitive as the course gives way to follow a serpentine trail of paved, empty roadway.

Part 5: Genesee Riverway Trail to Finish! (Approx. 3.2 miles)
"Only" 5k to go. The water station immediately inside the gate of the cemetery you've just left is a good time to re-hydrate (again) and prepare for the last leg of the half marathon which takes you through another picturesque part of our city (yes, there really are many of those) along the Genesee River and past the University of Rochester. This last 5k provides lots to fuel positive thoughts...

As I bicycled the course over two days, many of the turns and views came back to me from my last go at the course in 2015. Out of proximity, I also run many sections of the course forwards, backwards and sideways during the course of any training cycle, so for me, like many other local yokels I suspect, there is a familiarity with the land. Fortunately for someone like myself, who gets lost on most trails (and in my head), given the layout and excellent job YellowJacket Racing does with the courses, getting off-course is not even a likelihood, should one even try (often at mile 10 I briefly wonder how I might successfully drop out and hide my shame until my wife can secretly picks me up in a car).

An added benefit offered by our friends at YellowJacket will be pace runners in short increments from projected finish times of 1:40 and up. Having fallen in with one of their pacers in the past, if you have a target finish and need some support, I would definitely look for them at the start and join their respective entourages. With those involved in the race, the course and your fellow participants, whether racing, running or spectating, Sunday (and Saturday for that matter--there are other events on that day as well) should be an excellent time!