A+ Educators: Mrs. Rowley & Ms. McCormack

Behind every student is an educator who inspires. 826LA is honored to work with such amazing teachers and educators.

826LA had the immense pleasure of working with two amazing teachers, Mrs. Kate Rowley and Ms. Grace McCormack, during this year’s Young Authors’ Book Project. In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles Uprisings, students reflected on their great city — and their journeys in it and to it. On April 29, 1992, Los Angeles was aflame. These students’ stories are what has risen from the ashes.

Over the course of four months, students in Mrs. Rowley‘s English Language Development class and Ms. McCormack’s 12th grade English class took a journey with 826LA. Every Tuesday and Wednesday we were invited into their classroom. Volunteers and staff got to know these students and teachers — and admire them. We hope you do too.

Read about the project, the students, and these inspiring teachers: 


Mrs. Rowley


Ms. McCormack

Through the process of YABP, how have the students changed as writers? As people? As students?

Mrs. Rowley:
As writers, my students are now better able to get to the heart of their stories. I think that in the first semester of our school year, they would give a very general overview, but now the students are going into the details of what really happened and how it happened and more importantly,
why it happened. I’m seeing them qMX2A9709uestion things they didn’t question before and really investigate surrounding details. I think it’s really interesting that we are living in a time that may or may not be post-truth. My students now are more intimately concerned with the truth, details, and verification. It’s amazing that just talking to an adult for an hour can really bring these things to the surface.

As people, all my students speak English as a second language and this is their second or third year in American schooling. Their confidence now is incredible and inspiring. Their ability to communicate with people in English in an academic setting is exciting. This is such a cool learning experience for them because they aren’t just talking about big things for a fake audience. They are talking to a real fluent English speaker right there in front of them and it’s made them so much braver and more invested. They are writing letters to their Senators and the President. And they are doing this all in English.

Ms. McCormack: There have been a few students who have been incredibly closed and this project has really allowed them to open up. I’ve been able to finally see their stories and see their strengths. There is also too just such excitement in telling their stories and they are learning how their own stories can be really exciting and important. This project is getting them to reflect.

Why is it important for the students tell their stories? Why these stories in particular?

Mrs. Rowley: I think that now more than ever the stories of students who live in poverty or who have come as refugees or who have disparate schooling circumstances have to be told. These students have never been less safe and they have never been more poorly represented by our government. We need to humanize their presence and their faces and their stories against the scary, awful generalizations that exist about what it means to be a person of color or what it means to come here as a refugee (many of my students have refugee status). They have these stories and they own these stories in ways other people couldn’t know. The fact that they are children carrying these stories makes it all the more apparent than ever that we need to step up, do the right thing, be a better democracy and better people because these kids didn’t get a choice and they don’t get to choose where they were born.

Ms. McCormack: In my class, I preach to my students (I nag really) that you have to find your voice. And part of finding your voice is knowing yourself and knowing where you come from and where you are going, knowing how the past affects your presen32390264540_cc1a98e94c_ot and how that affects your future. It’s all interrelated. Once they have confidence in their stories and say, “Oh yeah this is my story. This makes me how I am,” that makes them more able to speak up and have a voice not just for self-advocacy, but also for them to be able to enter into important conversations. That is something super important for me because I want my students, when the leave me, to be able to go to a collegiate setting and hold their own. That is my main goal. And I think that them doing this project and getting more in touch with themselves can help them be more confident in their own voice.

How does studying about the history of their community change their relationship to their communities? Why it important for them to study the history of their community?

Mrs. Rowley: I think my students are realizing that they things that things that they are seeing now in their own communities aren’t new. They use to write essays that said, “Racism happened from 1950-1960.” But now they say, “Okay so we have these social inequalities and this is not new, but how we respond to them is.” They are starting to make connections between historical wrongs and historical responses. Their little bits of activism are starting to reflect that. And just how they treat each other. It’s a diverse class and I have never seen students have so much empathy and kindness for each other.

In your years of teaching, what have the students taught you?

Mrs. Rowley: I’ve been working in urban schools for about a decade. I think that the amazing thing about teenagers that we often overlook is their incredible potential. What you see on the surface at this very moment on this very day doesn’t have to be the end of the story.

“With young people, you get to see them emotionally and cognitively grow. You realize that humans have an incredible potential to grow and change and become better.”

I have seen young people who should not have survived the trauma that they experienced go on to live happy and successful lives. I think it is so easy to look at someone and say, “Oh that’s just how it is. I’m not going to be able to change their mind.” With young people, you get to see them emotionally and cognitively grow. You realize that humans have an incredible potential to grow and change and become better. It makes me hopeful because it is very easy to look at adults right now and feel incredibly pessimistic. 

 But when you acknowledge the potential for change and growth and when you see it here everyday — it’s hard to feel cynical.

Ms. McCormack: Priorities. It makes me want to cry. I almost broke down — they have to deal with so much. One of my students was shot and killed this semester. Another one of my students almost got mugged. To me, those situations, even though they happen all the time, they are eye opening when they happen to my students because I am reminded that these students are here every day, plugging away, trying their hardest and are prioritizing school.

Each year, 826LA works with a different LAUSD high school to give a group of students an apprenticeship-like experience in writing and publishing through the Young Authors’ Book Project.

For more information about 826LA’s In-Schools Program and the Young Authors’ Book Project, click here

Photos Courtesy of Alex Rapada Photography.

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