A blog about the amazing things teenagers do, about writing for teens, books for teens, and occasional forays into my world and the world of publishing.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friendships Bridging the Pacific: Exchange Students at Chinook Middle School

Today our Japanese students attended American school for the first time. They went to Chinook Middle school and spent the day shadowing an American student. For most of the students, they spent the day with their host brother or sister. Those who didn’t have a host brother or sister at Chinook were assigned a “buddy”.

There are many differences between Japanese schools and middle schools in the United States. In a Japanese school, the students usually wear uniforms. They are in charge of cleaning up their own buildings, (what a great idea!), and instead of the students moving from class to class, the teachers move. (Except for classes like PE, Science, or Music).

One of the most interesting questions I heard was, “In America it’s okay if boys and girls hold hands? The teachers don’t do anything to stop them?”

I love watching the Japanese students and the American students interact with each other. Often the language isn’t there to communicate easily, but they find a way. I saw smiles on both sides, and the Japanese teacher reports that the students are happy here. He praised Chinook for the friendly atmosphere. I have felt and appreciated it to.

Today during “House Time,” (an advisory class), the students at Chinook watched a power point presentation to learn more about Japan. Because of their connections they are forming with that country through the exchange, the Chinook students wanted to learn more.

Although our Japanese students are from Southeastern Japan and unaffected by the earthquake, the Chinook students still wanted to do something in response to the tragic earthquake and Tsunami. The leadership student decided to have a penny or "lose" change drive to raise money to give to the Red Cross to help with the victims of the earthquake. This fund-raiser is a competition between the North, South, East, and West Prides, (divisions within the school).

Principal Kirsten Rae said in the meeting for her house, “I would like to see every student contribute something, even if it’s just a nickel."

Cultural Homestay International, the non-profit organization that has organized this group has offered to match Chinook’s contribution.

I am so happy to be a part of this cultural exchange and to see teens on both sides of the Pacific learning more about each other and becoming friends.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I Like Adventure. So I am Here: Japanese Exchange Students Arrive

Today we welcomed our Japanese Exchange students—26 teens, ranging in age from 13-16 and their Japanese teacher. My life has been busy with book stuff and church stuff and all the activities that my kids are involved in. And insanity of insanity, we chose this weekend to redecorate my daughter’s room—her thirteenth birthday present—so we had paint mess and moving furniture and…Well I wasn’t feeling particularly prepared for the students' arrival. I found myself wondering more than once, why I had signed up to do this again.

It took one moment, the moment when I saw the students; jet lagged, excited, nervous, but ready to begin their adventure, before I remembered why I love this so much. As I greeted them and struggled to learn their names and understand their broken English, I thought about the other students who have come into our home and the other host families I've worked with. I remembered the friendship and understanding that was achieved in a short time. I remembered what a wonderful tool the exchange student program is for international goodwill. Then I knew that this was worth all of the effort. I'm so happy to be a small part of this.

We took a few moments at the airport to greet each student individually and to help one student who had gotten sick on the 8 hour flight from Tokyo. Then we boarded a bus to take us to Lacey, Washington, and the student’s host school, Chinook Middle School.

When we arrived the students were oriented by the Japanese teacher who came with them, and with my friend, and co-coordinator, (she does all the hard work), Christie Carlson. I introduced myself and then went to get pizza. When they found out where I was going, the hungry students sent me off with cheers. (Apparently the word “pizza” translates just fine among teen cultures.)

While the students were in their meeting, the host families began to arrive. The students had left their suitcases in the cafeteria, but there were no other signs that they were here. The host families, especially the kids, were full of questions, “Are they here yet?” “When do we get to meet them?” "What do they look like?" "How well do they speak English?"

Finally, the meeting ended, and the Japanese students lined up at the doors to Chinook’s cafeteria. One by one, we introduced them to the families who are sharing their homes for the week. (Although, by that point, I wanted to keep them all.) Then we sat down to share a potluck lunch, pictures, and smiles.

While we ate, we were entertained by traditional Japanese music provided by Joe Sokolik, Chinook’s orchestra teacher and his wife, Naoko who is from Japan. The Sokoliks are hosting their second Japanese student this year. After sharing a meal, the families took their students home to spend their first weekend in the United States.

Our student is Haru. This is the fifth time we’ve hosted an exchange student. Each time, they have somehow fit with our family almost immediately. Haru is full of energy and has very good English. She was immediately swept off to a girl’s activity with my daughter. They did crafts and played games. I was worried because of the time difference and long day’s journey that Haru would be tired. When I asked her if she wanted to go home to rest she said, “No. I like adventure, so I am here.”

As I think back on the days of craziness that Christie and I spent in preparation for this group, the interruption of daily life that each of the host families are experiencing now, and the whirlwind of culture shock and simple differences that each of our students is going through, I can only think about Haru’s statement. “I like adventure. So I am here.”

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bridge to Peru--Teens Doing a Great Things

This bridge connects our community with the children of Chincha Alta, Peru. In 2007, Chincha Alta was ravaged by an earthquake. Today many families still live in tarp-covered shelters and struggle to meet basic needs, yet the children are as ambitious, as enthusiastic, as intelligent as children anywhere.--Bridge Project 2011 Program.

Nothing makes me so proud to be an Aspire parent as watching the Bridge Project. For the second year in a row, Aspire middle school students have reached out with their with their talents, with their voices, and with their hearts to raise money for those devastated by natural disaster.

Last year the Bridge Project was for victims of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, this year it was for a sister school in Peru. This project was especially close to the heart of some Aspire Spanish students because they had visited the Grocio Pado School in Peru over the summer. According to Norma Sasson, Aspire Spanish teacher and the trip's organizer the visit was for two reasons: an intercultural exchange of music and dancing and the chance to deliver books, food staples and clothing to children who are still living in makeshift houses. (Quote from Aspire's district webpage. (See the Aspire Spanish blog for details and photos of that trip.)

For three days the Aspire students shared their talents through band and orchestra performances, choir, dance and drama. Their were many individual and small group performances including original songs written and performed by the students. They had put in hours of practice. Every number was very professionally performed. The enthusiasm the kids have for this project shows in their faces and in the quality of their performance.

The Bridge Project also included amazing guest performances by two artists from Lima Peru, Angie Portaro and Marcelo Portaro.

The goal of the Bridge Project was to raise money to purchase computers for Aspire's sister school in Chincha Alta, by the conclusion of the project they had raised over $2,000. For more information on the project or to donate contact Mrs. Sassone at nsassone@nthurston.k12.wa.us or call Aspire at (360) 412-4730.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Exchanging Courage, Friendship, and Compassion,

Along with much of the world, my heart and my prayers have been with Japan this week and with the friends I have there. The earthquake and tsunami have especially hit home because I as a teacher/coordinator for Cultural Homestay International, I'm preparing for the arrival of 26 Japanese exchange students and their Japanese coordinator next weekend. (See my posts about the group that came last year.)

The students are coming from Southeastern Japan, away from the earthquake and tsunami zone and far enough away from the nuclear plants that they are relatively safe. Still, I have received many calls and e-mails from last year's and this year's host families who are worried about their students. A common theme I've seen is they're looking for a way to help. Even after they find out that their students are safe they want to know what they can do.

I love the exchange student program because it shows us we're not so different. The kids are only here about a week, but in that time they become an integral part of our families, and we learn to love them. When tragedy strikes on the other side of the world, it's no longer something bad happening to strangers and foreigners far away, it's happening to people we care about. Getting down on a personal level with kids from a different country makes the borders between nations not so concrete.

My heart and my prayers are also with an American teen who was visiting his grandparents in Japan with the earthquake hit. Although they were in the middle of the quake zone, he and his grandparents are okay. Now radiation leaks have forced them to be evacuated, but there is no gas and no way to get him to Tokyo so he can come home to the United States. As you can imagine, his mother has contacted every possible lead to try to get him home, from churches to the U.S. Embassy. But here's the sweet irony in this story. He doesn't want to come home. This kid who's only 14 wants to stay to help his grandparents and his 90+ year-old great-grandmother. He's worried about them if he's not there. This is just one example of wonderful spirit and courage of kids and teens, not just here, but around the world.

I've seen this same spirit and courage in all the kids who come as Exchange Students and in the kids who are their host brothers and sisters, no matter what nation they're from.

The Japanese students who are coming next weekend range in age from 12-16. They'll spend a week living as American teenagers, and get to meet and associate with kids their own age. There will be language barriers and cultural barriers, but within the first day they'll have fast friends here. (Trust me, I've seen it happen again and again.) When they leave, the rising generation from both countries will have a better understanding of each other. The world will be a little smaller. And when bad things happen in another part of the world these kids will have more compassion and understanding for the people who are suffering. I think that's a pretty important lesson to learn.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Professional Reviser

I was in the middle of another round of revisions courtesy of my amazing editor, Mary Kate Castellani, and I had a thought...

Wait, didn't I have a blog?

So I dug my way out of the 300 + pages I was working through and I discovered that yes, my blog is still here, and waiting for me are my loyal blog followers, wondering why I hadn't posted for so long. The answer can be summed up in one word...


I remember a while back reading a Nathan Bransford post about being a professional reviser, and I'm beginning to see what he meant. It reminds me of the time several, (more than I want to think about), years ago when I was in college, being trained as a disc jockey for a student radio station. Now being a dj in college sounds cool, but when I was being trained, the guy training me told me that really, I was just a glorified button pusher. He was right, one button turned on the music, one button played a commercial, one button played the news. And if I was feeling really brave, there was even a button that put my voice out on the air for all of campus to hear. (Or the dozen or so listeners our little station had. Hey, that kind of reminds me of my blog... but I digress.)

My point is, saying I'm an author sounds a lot better than saying I'm a reviser, but if you're an author, you know that writing (as in first getting the story on paper) is just a small part of the process.

I'm on my third round of revisions with my editor. Before that I had at least four different drafts that I did on my own and with my critique group. Then I had a couple of rounds with my agent. All of that, (I've since learned) was just the tip of the iceberg.

I'm amazed at what I have learned in this process with a professional editor.


The first lesson (that I thought I had already learned) is:


I have never strained my brain, or tried to keep my thoughts straight, or worked my imagination harder than I have in the last couple of months. I've learned so much about plot and pacing and character building and setting. It's been hard, but I'm so grateful for the guidance of an editor like Mary Kate. She comes up with plot holes and questions and ideas that I hadn't ever noticed or thought of. She has been patient and supportive with my trial and error. I feel like I'm taking an intensive writing course with a private tutor.

The second lesson I learned:


As hard as it is, I love going back to visit my characters and my world. I love finding out how much my main character can take. (Are all authors sadistic by nature or is it just me?) I love rearranging scenes and chapters and making the plot stronger. I'm going to have a hard time letting go of this story and these characters and calling the book done. (And no, I don't see a sequel anywhere in this.) The journey has been incredible.

Some things I've learned along the way:

Seeing the big picture helps. I followed a Laurie Halse Anderson revision tip and outlined my entire story in a way I could see it. Instead of using a big piece of paper, like she suggests, I laid the whole manuscript out over my living room. (My family was banned from that room for a few days.) I wrote down the main part of each chapter, what important things happened, and whether the tension increased, decreased, or stayed neutral. I stacked the pages in terms of mini-story arcs. With it all in front of me I could see better what could be cut, what could be combined, and what could be rearranged. (I also used a story map that my lovely editor had provided for me.)

Seeing everything laid out helped my brain keep track of 331 pages of characters, plot twists, story arcs, and especially pacing.

I'm happy to say I'm down to what feel like minor edits. It's been a long process, a hard process, a fun process, and above all a learning process. Thanks to the revisions I've done on this manuscript I feel like every story I write will be stronger.

I'm heading back to my revisions. I'll miss all of my loyal followers. Hopefully it won't take me so long to make it back to my blog again.

What about you? How do you revise? Are you a visual revisionist, a hold-it-all-in-your head revisionist, or a seat of your pants revisionist?