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News from Pine Ridge

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This is sad news about Pine Ridge Reservation:

Mr. Wilson is one of 5,000 young men from the Oglala Sioux tribe involved with at least 39 gangs on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. The gangs are being blamed for an increase in vandalism, theft, violence and fear that is altering the texture of life here and in other parts of American Indian territory.

This stunning land of crumpled prairie, horse pastures turned tawny in the autumn and sunflower farms is marred by an astonishing number of roadside crosses and gang tags sprayed on houses, stores and abandoned buildings, giving rural Indian communities an inner-city look.

Groups like Wild Boyz, TBZ, Nomads and Indian Mafia draw children from broken, alcohol-ravaged homes, like Mr. Wilson’s, offering brotherhood, an identity drawn from urban gangsta rap and self-protection.

For more on Pine Ridge and its current predicament – the last issue of Harper’s had a powerful article about it, with some excellent photos:

Ghosts of Wounded Knee

This is Pine Ridge Reservation today: somewhere between 13,000 and 40,000 Oglala Sioux spread across an area the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined. Unemployment is 89 percent, the few jobs in the tribal bureaucracy or the Prairie Winds Casino. More than half the population lives below the federal poverty line. The youth suicide rate is ten times the national average. One in three women is a victim of rape. Life expectancy is roughly equivalent to Somalia’s. Plagues of alcohol, drugs, domestic and gang violence. Pine Ridge is as profoundly damaged a place as exists in America.

If past is conclusion, is enough distance from history to gain perspective, there is no past in Pine Ridge. To grow up here is to be forever aware of what was lost, or to bludgeon oneself into forgetfulness.

PDF link

If that doesn’t work for you, try this (PDF warning):

http://www.scribd.com/document_downloads/24099037?extension=pdf

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This is the library that you helped to build

We recently received this letter from Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 (emphases added):

When I came to the Pine Ridge Reservation two years ago, most of my students hadn’t ever finished a book. It wasn’t that books were too hard; most had never tried to finish a book. Their teachers hadn’t pushed them, and there weren’t many books to read even if they had. And that’s where ephblog stepped in.

In under six months, I have received box after box of books from ephs and friends of ephs–roughly 2,000 books in total! I started with three bookshelves and now I have nine. By the end of the summer I will have eleven. What was once an afterthought of a classroom library has become the most frequented library of any sort for at least thirty miles.

While I sadly won’t be returning to Crazy Horse next year–I will be going to law school in the fall–our books will be back, and I know that students and community members in Wanblee will be reading from this library for many years to come. One student asked me if she could be the librarian when I was gone. Another has been looking up quotes about reading and writing them on sentence strips to hang above the library [see picture below]. One of my older students got so excited by the book drive that she wrote her relatives in Oklahoma who donated ~50 books in a mini book drive all of her own doing! I know that when I leave, my students will be in the right place–hooked on reading with enough great books to last for years.

As an English teacher and an English major, I am rarely at a loss for words. However, I really can’t begin to express my gratitude for the generosity shown by so many of you. Thank you to everyone who helped organize this book drive, and to everyone who donated books. Your books will continue to serve this community for years and years to come.

Pictures and comments from Noah follow. Read more

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Books for Pine Ridge Students

As Noah Smith Drelich ’07 works to improve the literacy of the children living on this impoverished reservation (scroll through these posts for previous updates), he knows it is more than simply raising this year’s reading test scores (which currently average five years below grade-level).

Noah has begun inspiring his students to love to learn and love to read. The looks on their faces as they open the boxes is priceless. As he finds himself needing more shelving for his library, Noah is inspired by his students and those who are sending the books. As the students take on new reading challenges, it is important to provide the students with a variety of interesting and challenging books to keep up the momentum. Who knows which of these students will be inspired to come to Williams because of your generosity?



Challenge 2,000

As Wick notes, “200 is a great start. Let’s go for 2,000.”

Some guidelines/suggestions in selecting books for Noah’s Library [thanks to an anonymous Williams parent for helping to compile this guide]:

  • Books for middle and high school girls and boys
  • Reading levels: from second grade (easy chapter books), lots clustered around middle school level, through books typically read in high school English classes
  • Books can be New or Gently Used
  • Hardcover books will last longer than paperbacks, but paperbacks are welcome.
  • Used books should be in Excellent Condition. (Please, no torn or yellow pages; cover intact, no writing, spine in excellent condition.) Please no magazines and no text books.

If you are unsure what to send, you may want to check out the books listed on these sites for some ideas:

American Library Association – Best Books for Young Adults
A Children’s list (pdf)
Booklist Editors’ Choice List for Youth

Books should be sent to:

Noah Smith-Drelich
PO Box 293
Wanblee, SD 57577

Or, if you need a physical address:
Noah Smith-Drelich
Wanblee, SD 57577-0293

Here are Amazon wishlists compiled with the help of a wise parent. We will update and revise as needed. The nice thing about the wishlist is that it will allow you to make sure that the books you are purchasing have not already been purchased by someone else.

Fiction

Fiction Wish List for Pine Ridge



Non-Fiction

Non-Fiction Wish List for Pine Ridge


There are also some widgets to the left sidebar – they will stay there for the duration of this book drive and hopefully remind you to think of Noah and the kids on the Pine Ridge reservation every time you check EphBlog. Books purchased through the links above or through the sidebar will be automatically shipped to Noah (you can obviously use any other bookseller if you like, and if you think of other books that would be appropriate, go ahead and send those too!).

UPDATE – we just got, from Noah, these comments from students in his class:

“Thank you for the books you gave us. It means a lot to us.” –Carl

“Thank you for the books you have sent us. We appriciate it. We were really excited to read different books. Thank you very much for these neat books.” –Danielle

“I would like to say thank you for donating books to our class. Now we have many books to choose from and it will help us be more of readers. We really appreciate it.” –Torey

“Wopila Tanka [Lakota for thank you very much–Noah] for the books!” –Ty

“I just want to say thank you for the books. When I first came to Crazy Horse School, I didn’t like reading that much, but since I came to Mr. Drelich’s room, he pushed me so even though I said no, but after he pushed me to read. Now I can’t stop reading. I read almost 10 books since the school year started. Now when I grow up I want to start my own library. So thank you.” –Tiffany

[post edited by Ronit 04/29]

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Book Update

noah5

Via Wick Sloane ’76, here is an update on EphBlog’s efforts to send books to Noah Smith-Drelich ’07, in his second year with Teach for America on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

We have gotten box after box of books from generous Ephs (and parents/friends of Ephs). I have to say, this is quite the impressive display of the Williams alumni network; in total I would estimate that we have received over 200 books, many of them ordered new from Amazon!

That said, my favorite part of this whole process so far has been watching my students go through the boxes. We had almost a week straight where I was getting one or more box every day, and my students started coming into class early to go through the books before class! I’ve gotten so many Sherman Alexie books that I now am able to devote an entire shelf to Sherman Alexie alone. I also now have a shelf entirely of other Native American authors, as well as a shelf entirely of Native American books by non-Native authors (before, all of my books by or about Native Americans fit on to one shelf). In fact, I am in the exciting position of needing another bookshelf for my library–six just isn’t cutting it anymore.

If you know of someone who donated books and did not receive a thank you card from me, please let me know.

As Wick notes, “200 is a great start. Let’s go for 2,000.” See here for Noah’s address.

More pictures below the break.
Read more

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The Good Eph(Blog)

Sometimes I’m reminded of the good, non-squabbling aspects of EphBlog.

Wick Sloane ’76 brought Noah Smith-Drelich ’07 to our attention a few weeks ago in this post. You may remember that Noah teaches English to 7th-12th graders on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is trying to build up a library.

Several readers offered to send books to help his effort, and I was happy to send some as well. It totally made my weekend to find a thank you note from Noah in my mailbox today with some pictures of his students unpacking books. But the most thrilling thing for me (and totally unexpected) was him mentioning that several of the books I sent were checked out by the next day!! I was surprised at how happy that made me.  It’s great to think that another high school student might also enjoy one of my favorite books of all time (The Bean Trees), and that these students will have access to more books.

Lest you think this post is just about me feeling good about doing good, I wanted to put in a plug again for people to contribute to the library.  If you want to send books, you still can. As to what you might send, Noah leaves the door pretty wide open:

Books-wise, I would especially love young adult novels. My students seem most excited by the more recent ones (Twilight, Harry Potter, Fat Kid Rules the World, anything by Sharon Draper, the Chicken Soup…books [ugh], etc), and haven’t gotten as into what I consider to be the “classics” (Huck Finn, Lord of the Flies, 1984 etc), although of course there are exceptions to that. I think the more “old-fashioned”-sounding language turns them off. In particular, I’m constantly short of books by Native American authors or about Native American subjects; I have two of every Sherman Alexie book ever published, but that’s not nearly enough, and I have far fewer by just about every other Native author. My students range in reading level from 2nd to 12th, but most are clustered around middle school reading levels. Hopefully by the end of this year that will have changed (we’re going full steam towards two years of reading growth but it’s too early to see if we’ve hit it yet). I really do believe that a good book is a good book, and given that my kids got really into Shakespeare last year, I don’t think you can go wrong in donating.

And his info:

PO Box 293
Wanblee, SD 57577

Or, if you need a physical address:

Noah Smith-Drelich
Wanblee, SD 57577-0293

I wanted to post about this, because I think helping out a fellow Eph who is doing something amazing is a positive result of EphBlog (like getting to meet and become friends with some of my favorite commenters and touring the great swimming holes around Williamstown and learning about the tunnels and hidden spots on campus).

After the…tense…series of posts over the last week or so, I know that I needed a warm fuzzy so I thought I’d share it with all of you.  Happy weekend!!

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Remember Noah and Books

The success of Ephblog means that posts roll down quickly.

Please remember Noah Smith-Drelich ’07, in his second year with Teach for America on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Poverty is deep at Pine Ridge. Noah is building a library and needs all the books we can send him. Many already have.

Do any Williams students, faculty or staff read this? Are there boxes around campus for Noah? I made this suggestion to a Senior Official. If not, Noah has requested in particular Sherman Alexie books. Alex, according to sophmom here, was a Williams Reads topic.

Would students, faculty, staff reading here colleges those for Noah? Why not leave them in the lobby at Hopkins, and I imagine the Powers that Be will be happy to ship to Noah. Even just a one-day collection at Williams for Noah would bring a lot of books, I think. It’s nice to think of a photo of the Hopkins lobby crammed with books for Noah.

Noah’s address for those not in Williamstown:

PO Box 293
Wanblee, SD 57577

Or, if you need a physical address:

Noah Smith-Drelich
Wanblee, SD 57577-0293

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Book Request

noah2End Users of Williams degrees –

Noah Smith Drelich graduated from Williams in 2007 and is in his second year of Teach For America on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where the poverty is deep. Noah needs books for the library he is building. Used is just fine. Shipping address is at the bottom of this note. This is a fine reason to clean out our bookshelves and to take advantage of the second-hand deals on amazon, where the books can be practically free, plus shipping.

This is already a good story about a virtual Williams society of alumni. Professor Eva Grudin sent Noah my way, on e-mail, and we have been talking about teaching and education. Noah connected with Mitch Besser, ’76, who is doing innovative AIDS work in South Africa. They have been talking about constructive activism. Last week, Noah connected with Hardin Coleman ’75, who this year because dean of the Ed school at Boston University. The BU Ed library is sending Noah, as a start, six feet (this is library talk) of duplicate books Noah could use. Hardin is paying the postage himself.

Over to Noah:

I teach 7th-12th grade English out here and have noticed that reading levels in the school and the community as a whole are incredibly low–my students begin my class an average of five years behind. At the same time, everyone is receptive to the idea of reading, and I’ve had an enormous amount of success getting people books that they’re excited about. As you know, probably the best way to become a better reader is to read a lot, so I’ve been doing my best to feed everyone’s excitement with books.

Books-wise, I would especially love young adult novels. My students seem most excited by the more recent ones (Twilight, Harry Potter, Fat Kid Rules the World, anything by Sharon Draper, the Chicken Soup…books [ugh], etc), and haven’t gotten as into what I consider to be the “classics” (Huck Finn, Lord of the Flies, 1984 etc), although of course there are exceptions to that. I think the more “old-fashioned”-sounding language turns them off. In particular, I’m constantly short of books by Native American authors or about Native American subjects; I have two of every Sherman Alexie book ever published, but that’s not nearly enough, and I have far fewer by just about every other Native author. My students range in reading level from 2nd to 12th, but most are clustered around middle school reading levels. Hopefully by the end of this year that will have changed (we’re going full steam towards two years of reading growth but it’s too early to see if we’ve hit it yet). I really do believe that a good book is a good book, and given that my kids got really into Shakespeare last year, I don’t think you can go wrong in donating.

PO Box 293
Wanblee, SD 57577

Or, if you need a physical address:

Noah Smith-Drelich
Wanblee, SD 57577-0293

Or
noah.smith.drelich@NOSPAM gmail dot com [email munged –93kwt]

Go Ephblog: An Update since this post appeared –

Of course the first quick posts from Ephbloggers reported shipments of books. The most recent report of a gift posted is from a wonderful organization, Reader to Reader. Based at? Amherst College. The gauntlet is down. I e-mailed Morty, proposing that Williams put out drop boxes for books around the campus, which the college can then ship to Noah. Knowing Morty, that’s already underway. Reader to Reader, as you’ll see, is a formidable outfit.

Just in from Noah:

Wick,

Thanks so much for everything. I didn’t even realize that BU was donating books until I saw it on Ephblog! Really, I can’t tell you how much this means to me, and how much it will mean to my students and the community once the books start coming in.

Noah

P.S. Perhaps Ephblog would consider tabling the video screen/softball coach debate for a moment? To get books to Noah? It’s not campus life folks who decide on bulk purchases of plasma screens or even softball coaches, anyway, it’s the trustees.
http://www.niemanwatchdog.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=ask_this.view&askthisid=00326

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