This educator says it’s time to shake up our school system and try something different
Have you ever spent a few hours in a small windowless room? What if you were left in such a room for several days? Or perhaps several months?
How would this make you feel?
Many people would feel trapped. They’d find themselves longing for something more.
In a small, closed-off room, a window is a source of hope. For many young people who feel stuck in a life they can’t control, education is a much-needed window and source of hope.
Their classes provide them with glimpses of the many other lifestyles, cultures, and experiences they can discover.
Every child deserves such educational opportunities. Most teachers recognize this. They strive to craft classes that inspire, spark young imaginations, and allow children of all backgrounds to see the many possibilities at their fingertips.
Despite these efforts, the National Center for Education Statistics says that in 2021, “there were 2.0 million status dropouts between the ages of 16 and 24” in the U.S.
Concerned parents and educators wonder why so many American high school students are dropping out. This also leads them to ask what school officials across the U.S. must do to have more of an impact on young learners.
Julie ColesJulie Coles, an experienced educator and author has a few answers in this regard.
“Throughout my career in education I’ve was a special education teacher, classroom consultant, vice principal, and headmaster,” Coles says. “But I am currently enjoying my seamless transition to writer and author.”
Her love of writing works in tandem with her deep appreciation for all things educational.
Coles says, “Having a fondness for thinking about, and implementing, innovative ideas to improve the quality of education, retirement has afforded me the time to write about new ideas for rebuilding America’s public education system.” Students who demonstrate impressive resilienceDuring her time as an educator, Coles worked hard to motivate her students. She also found that they inspired her.
“One student, who was diagnosed with diabetes and other medical complications associated with diabetes, required hospitalizations or home-care that led to lengthy absences from school,” Coles explains. “Having the ability to reserve her seat throughout each absence and provide home tutoring services, as needed, she succeeded in her determination to remain in school. What was truly amazing and deeply challenging was each physical, mental and emotional conquest she and her family endeavored to achieve throughout her tumultuous ordeal. The ability to concentrate on her education while participating in a grueling weight loss program, and also learning new routines to manage her diabetes was a true display of her personal resiliency.” When life exerts undue pressure on young learnersOther students faced complex emotional turmoil.
The alternative education program in my school welcomed a diverse population of young adults,” Coles says. “It was common for many to arrive with medical, emotional, social and family support issues. So often the real challenge for the entire staff was balancing the pressing demands of so many of our students’ lives beyond school with efforts to educate them.”
These youngsters had weighty responsibilities and stressors that children aren’t typically expected to shoulder.
She and her fellow educators tried to convince these students that in spite of life’s turmoil, focusing on school would be good for them in the long run.
Coles laments, “But too often it was difficult conveying the benefits of working hard and appreciating delaying gratification to needing relief from a current situation and the difficulty of refraining from being tempted by immediate gratification.
Why some students quit
She saw many students quit school, and she says it became clear why they chose to do so.
“Students who grow up in improvised neighborhoods and receive substandard education are at greatest risk of quitting. While many students are resilient or receive unyielding support of parents – mentors – positive influencers and others who regularly encourage them to remain in school, there are many who do not prevail,” Coles says.
In addition to not having basic needs met, some students feel that if they’ve failed in the past, they’re likely to fail again. This outlook is bleak, and they’d rather avoid it.
“Repeated academic failure is one of the greatest causes of students quitting school. For so many students having to experience ongoing cycles of failure is one of the greatest deterrents. Those who attend school on a regular basis, sit in classes making a sincere effort to understand what is being taught only to have their effort rewarded with failing grades understandably reach the conclusion there is little chance of me succeeding,” Coles says.
Anyone’s self-esteem would take a hit if wrestled with tough concepts that they just couldn’t seem to grasp, while colleagues seemed to have no problem understanding the new ideas.
“And we wonder how so many students develop apathy about attending school,” Coles says. “Think of it as being one of many passengers standing at the platform at the train station. When the train departs and the majority of passengers, or in this case one’s classmates, have boarded the train but you did not. Similar to passengers remaining behind while watching others board the train and then depart, many students are left behind because they feel totally clueless about what was shared during a lesson.”
But this situation need not continue, according to Coles.
She says there is a solution.
“School districts that promote school autonomy by placing responsibility into the hands of truly qualified and dedicated school leaders, is one of the most positive changes I had the pleasure of experiencing as a school leader,” Coles says. “When school leaders, staff members and a school-based governing board are free to assess and address the needs of the school, they have a greater chance of being taken seriously.”
Coles feels that while every school’s profile includes aspirations of achieving academic success, these aspirations may be hampered by restriction of districts that require uniformity of policies, teaching practices, allocation of funds, selection of curriculum and other educational resources that typically overlook the real needs of the student population.
Coles led an autonomous school, an experience that expanded her perspective on what student’s actually need and how those needs can be met.
How helpful are suspensions, expulsions, and failing grades?
One key change that Coles feels needs to be made in schools are very specific uses of shame as disciplinary and even motivating techniques. They’ve been used so often over the years that they’ve become synonymous with the American education system.
Coles names the techniques and suggests what should be done with them, saying, “All public schools should refrain from assigning failing grades, suspensions and expulsions.”
She adds, “Removing students who endanger the safety of themselves, or others is the one exception. But please, let’s dispense with calling it expulsion and respond in a more humane way. There’s no shame in needing counseling support. If the behavior is at the extreme level requiring psychiatric intervention, students would be better served receiving counseling services in a different facility while continuing their education.”
Coles believes that discontinuing the practice of assigning students a failing grade is fair because the students are not responsible for educating themselves.
She says, “Schools need to adopt the practice of errors being seen as revelations related to learning or instructional gaps. Detecting gaps in learning could be remedied with an educational plan. Providing additional instruction or a different method of instruction will lead to improved performance outcomes.”
She added, “But if absences, refusal to participate or make an effort during lessons results in students needing to be held accountable, receiving a No Credit (NC) will allow the student to take the course over again without enduring double jeopardy; particularly for high school students where transcripts are consequential in determining the fate of students with aspirations of attending college.”
Coles points out that the current system fails to consider the extreme changes in judgment students make between their freshman year and their junior or senior year.
“Failing grades due to poor judgment during their first year in high school should not be allowed to hinder their future aspirations,” she explains. “The maturational process over a four-year period needs time to develop. Retaking a class until a passing grade is earned is a more valuable lesson than assigning a failing grade.”
Coles says this is because most freshmen use entirely different judgment by the time they become juniors and seniors.
Help teachers, so teachers can help students
Coles also feels teachers require more school-based professional development training support. One of her most recent books, Cultivating Exceptional Classrooms, addresses her concern that schools need the support of parental and community-based organizations that can help promote equitable access to quality education for students.
Coles points out that teachers achieving proficiency in the planning of lessons that actively engage students in learning, delivering quality instruction, and advancing use of technology and STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) programs are needed in public schools currently lacking quality educational resources.
Coles says, “I hope students reading this article will get that is their right to receive an education that places greater emphasis on supporting the learning process and less emphasis on grades earned. Students can work collectively to request participation on school governing boards or request the establishment of a school governing board.”
In her experience, school based governing boards are more likely to engage in discussions about proposed policy changes.
She advises high school students to keep in mind that they can request an opportunity to examine Grade Point Averages (GPA) policies, saying, “Transcripts should allow for some grace in the early years of every high school student. Instead of GPAs being reflective of the times of not having used one’s best judgment, college admissions staff should have their attention drawn to the entire transcript to appreciate growth in maturity, usually reflected in the ascension of grades as well as the increased volume of passing grades.”
Coles adds, “In fairness to most freshmen, many are never made aware of the GPA system prior to entering high school. But the ones who discover what a transcript is and how the GPA system works when they meet with a high school guidance counselor for the first time are at a major disadvantage if the meeting occurs during their sophomore year.”
“We need a system that allows students to opportunity to grow,” Coles says. “Focusing on transcripts as an opportunity to rehabilitate their learning habits to improve their GPA instead of experiencing debilitating moments that will negatively weigh against them in later years will fuel a student’s motivation to not abandon their education.”
Coles doesn’t want any student to be left in a figurative small, windowless room. Instead, she hopes school systems across the nation will adjust standards to ensure every child has a window or educational source of inspiration and hope. To learn more about Coles’ proposed changes to school systems, visit www.imagineamorepromisingfuture.com
By: Bayou Trésors Staff
You might have fond memories of your parents reading to you as a child.
Those precious moments happened thanks to your parents and to the authors who wrote the books they read to you.
Where do these authors get their stories from? And what inspires them to go through the process of making them into books for children?
One author from Louisiana answers these questions and shares insight into her journey in the interview below.
Check out what Murlonda Janelle has to say about her series, Playing With Angels.
Q: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what was life like growing up?
A: My name is Murlonda Janelle and I am a local children's book author from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. My parents made sure we understood the importance of a great education and in my middle school years, my mom assigned me about 12 or 13 books to read before the summer ended. The summer was ending, and I hadn't read a single book. It was in the rush to complete the assignment that I discovered my love of reading.
Q: How long have you been writing?
A: I started writing in 2020. In the beginning I wasn't into it as much, so I hired a book coach to keep me accountable. Thanks to my book coach, Lorna Lewis, the story actually became published.
Q: What initially triggered your interest in becoming an author?
A: I was asked by my financial advisor, Joe Robins, my goals for the next five years. I played around and joked about becoming an author and he actually talked me through it. Being financially savvy, he made sure I had the business side taken care of first before getting into the talent portion.
Q: What inspired your most recent book?
A: My nephews. There are just not enough books for boys that have boy characters. Avid readers often find books that are interesting or relatable. Since there were not a lot of books that they could relate to, I made a book for them.
Q: What challenges did you face while writing and publishing your book?
A: Writing, staying consistent. Finding the words that I felt were important and excluding the rest. As a children's book writer, we keep it short. For publishing, the challenge was making sure the printed copy was nice enough to grab the attention of someone just passing by. People truly judge books by their covers when it comes to kids’ literature.
A: What do you hope people will feel after they read your book?
Q: I want people to feel heard and understood. I want people to relate to my books in such a way that they really feel like I'm telling their personal stories. Hence, why boys reading my books are so important.
Q: Now that you’re a published author, what is one of the most surprising things you’ve experienced about being an author?
A: When people say "I know a published author," it gets me warm and fuzzy every time! That feeling is indescribable.
Q: What do you love most about writing?
A: Writing stories that boys can relate to. I'll say it until the end of time, boys want representation just as much as girls. It's important!
Q: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an author?
A: Write, even when you feel like the words are crazy and it's not flowing. Actually writing things down will spark ideas and eventually the thoughts will flow.
Q: What is the first thing I should do if I want to become a writer?
A: The first thing to do is pick a genre and read books in that genre. Reading books when you want to write is more encouraging than people realize.
For more information about Murlonda’s exciting books for children, visit www.wordsinwebb.com!
By: Bayou Trésors Staff
Bayou Trésors was thrilled to sit down with Britt Smith, a New Orleans based photographer who specializes in portraits, and discuss her take on the craft. Britt explained what it takes to be a photographer.
She discussed the learning process, the ins and outs of owning a studio, and she even touched on how to get through burnout.
Budding artists, this interview is just for you!
View Britt's work at www.brittphotosmith.com
An interview with My Sherie Johnson
Since the 1940s, Americans have been watching television news to remain up-to-date on current events.
Every day, these audiences listen as television news reporters relay the latest information on topics related to crime, safety, health, education, politics, and a variety of other subjects.
So, what's it like to be a television news reporter? Is it a glamourous career? Or is it tougher than most people realize?
Bayou Trésors: How did you become interested in television news?
My Sherie Johnson: I’ve always been interested in the news, writing and media. English was my favorite subject in school and my mom would have the local news on every morning. She also read the newspaper every day. So, I was always exposed to news.
Then, when I got to high school, I joined a club called Louisiana Gear Up. It helped to prepare students for college by making arrangements for us to go to a college and experience dorm and campus life first hand.
The second time I participated in that Louisiana Gear Up activity, I went to camp at Louisiana Tech in Ruston and focused on journalism. That triggered my interest in journalism and after that week, I knew journalism was the career for me. If it hadn’t been for that club, I wouldn’t have gotten into journalism.
Bayou Trésors: What classes did you take to help jumpstart your career?
My Sherie Johnson: I’m from Central or “CenLa” as some people call it, in the Avoyelles Parish area and my high school offered dual enrollment, so that’s what I did my junior year. I took classes at LSU of Alexandria, and that gave me a jump start on college.
When I graduated from high school in 2015, I was still weighing my options. I’d been an athlete in high school, and so I received a scholarship for track and cross country at Louisiana College. I decided to go there and I studied Convergence Media, my concentrations were media production and Journalism.
I had very helpful mentors and professors there. One of my college professors, Mr. Al Quartemont, was the director at a local news station, KALB TV News Channel 5.
I also took a few PR classes with Dr. Elizabeth Christian and Mr. Jeff Young who taught Media Productions, they were both very instrumental in helping me to learn.
I’ve had several mentors and I feel like mentors are key anytime you’re learning something new.
I also interned at KALB, which was a local news station I’d grown up watching. I was really grateful to get my internship there, and then to eventually be hired from part-time to full-time at that station was like a dream come true. After my internship at KALB, I was hired full-time as a multimedia journalist and producer.
I also interned at a few local radio stations, which also gave me in-depth career knowledge and hands on experience.
Bayou Trésors: What were some of the challenges you faced as a reporter, and how did you overcome them?
My Sherie Johnson: It’s not an easy field. There are so many dynamics to it. You can plan for your day, but you never know what’s going to happen.
The main challenge I faced as a reporter was myself. I’m an overachiever and a slight perfectionist, and that really hindered me, big time.
I always wanted to do a good job and make everyone proud of me. To be honest, I never really overcame this challenge, but I learned to work around it.
I had to accept myself and the fact that whatever work I produced was my best.
Another challenge was pitching story ideas. I knew how to find story ideas because you learn how to do this when you’re in training.
But it can be challenging to find story ideas and present them as hard news in a way that makes sense.
I also had a struggle meeting my deadlines and presenting stories in certain required formats.
For example, when I started at Channel 5, my superiors started me off with simple things, but eventually they expected more from me. So, there were a lot of expectations to fulfill and though I knew how to do all of the work, I was lacking in experience when it came to producing video stories. In college, I’d focused more on articles and photojournalism.
That said, the first time I was required to present something in video story format, I nailed it!
To overcome my challenges, I had to work ahead, ask for help, learn to be open to criticism and be ready to change things on the fly.
Another challenge was to learn to leave work at work. Like, coming home and overanalyzing everything that happened during my day, especially any negative things related to work.
What helped with that was positive thinking, meditation, journaling, and setting strict boundaries. I had to keep reminding myself that I got the job done and did my best to avoid slipping back into old mindsets that were highly self-critical.
One saying that got me through that time is, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It’s good to have role models but it can become toxic when you compare yourself to others, including role models. You never know what a person had to do to get where they are. You can admire and emulate others, but your work will always be different from theirs because they are they and you are you.
Bayou Trésors: What inspired you to keep enduring during tough times?
My Sherie Johnson: My mom and my family’s support inspired me to keep enduring. They kept telling me they enjoyed watching my work and reading my stories. Also, it’s so important to work with coworkers who encourage, motivate, and mentor you. It was always great to receive validation from coworkers and supervisors who’d say, “Hey, you’re doing great.”
It was also nice to get praise from viewers. I don’t mean in an egotistical way. Honestly, I didn’t like being on camera. I wished I didn’t have to put my face on camera. If I could have avoided it, I would have! But there were a couple of times when people sent me cards or left positive comments on Facebook, and that was nice!
News is tough, but not every day is bad. News is a cycle. It’s like a river. Some days are rough and other days are smooth.
I decided to take a break from news in the beginning of 2021, and I’m not afraid to admit this.
While it’s okay to cry, when I found myself crying too much at work or even before I got to work I knew my mental health was suffering.
When you find yourself enduring physical reactions to work or mental issues that are work related- such as depression- that’s when you need to take a step back.
In my life, it got to the point where it was reflected in my work. My news director suggested I take a step back.
Knowing when to take a step back after facing multiple challenges takes knowing yourself. As a reporter, not only is my face always on the line, but so is my station. That's why I always want to give my best work.
If you need to step away temporarily, that’s fine. You can take a break, and then go back. Besides, no one can take away your education or your training you’ve received. The experience you’ve gained will be everlasting.
So, I took a break in 2021 and then I went back. I felt great knowing I was able to take a year off and then I went back!
Bayou Trésors: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to become a reporter?
My Sherie Johnson: For one, I’d suggest really thinking about your “Why?” Take a second to ask yourself, “Why do I want to get into television news?”
I can’t say that anyone’s answer to that is wrong. But I can say that I didn’t get into the news industry because I wanted to be on television, I went into it because I have a passion for storytelling.
Additionally, television news should not be about the pay.
So, I would suggest doing more reading about journalism and the field in general. That kind of work takes a lot. You have to go to strangers and get them to open up to you. So, you have to be good with people and you need to understand human nature. One book that helped me was The Four Agreements: A Guide to Personal Freedom.
The four principles that the book highlights are:
(1) Always do your best and know your best will change everyday
(2) Don’t make assumptions
(3) Don’t take it personal
(4) Be impeccable with your words
I’d also recommend reading other books about journalism that will teach you how to write for broadcast news. For me, I enjoyed writing for print, but it’s different when you have to write for the broadcast side of news.
One book that helped me in this regard is Write Like You Talk by Jeff Butera. Another book I’d recommend is It Takes More than Good Looks to Succeed at TV News Reporting by Wayne Freedman. That book explains that it’s not all about looking cute on camera, that’s maybe five percent of the job.
Another book that was very impactful was called Aim for the Heart by Al Tompkins. It showed me the importance of humanizing every story. Every story should reach the viewer’s hearts. Media already has a bad reputation in that some people think we’re bias or promoting fake news. So, that’s why we have to leave our opinions out of stories as much as possible and only state the facts.
I also suggest learning to listen more than you talk, and asking as many questions as you can. When it comes to asking questions, it’s often a good idea to prepare your questions beforehand.
A few other tips are to:
Bayou Trésors: Now that you’re a teacher, are there any aspects of journalism career that have prepared you for your new role as a teacher?
My Sherie Johnson: Yes. I currently teach fourth-grade science and social studies at my former elementary school.
I’m able to apply lot of the things I learned in news. I went into teaching without any serious training. But the things I learned in journalism, such as researching, asking questions, proofreading, and learning to leave work at work- I’m doing all of that now.
Having a career that constantly changes and you never know what the day is going to bring has helped me as a teacher.
My experience in asking people questions has prepared me to be equipped to answer questions.
Teaching science and social studies involves a lot of research. I don’t know everything, but one thing I can do with my students is show them how to research.
The kids are always so amazed at how quickly I write, but this is something I learned how to do, thanks to my training.
Bayou Trésors: Do you think you’ll ever get back into the news industry?
My Sherie Johnson: Now that I’m in a transitionary phase of my career, I’d say that I miss journalism and I would like to go back.
But you don’t have to go into television news to be considered a journalist. So, though I’m open to going back to a big station, I’m also open to doing my own thing in another aspect of journalism.
And in retrospect, the only thing I’d change about my experience is how hard I was on myself. I’m grateful to have served as a journalist and I hope the profession continues to be one that people will hold to a high standard.
My Sherie uses her experience as a journalist and photojournalist in the classroom and in her entrepreneurial endeavors.
As a trained photographer, she's become the driving force behind A’mour Media, a company that specializes in photography and videography for weddings, graduations, and other special events.
My Sherie says, “I’ve always been interested in photography, I grew up with a camera in my face. I’m my father’s only child and he was always recording our memories. When I got older, I got a phone and used it to take pictures. Around my friends, I was always known as the one who was taking pictures.”
Use the button below to learn more about A’Mour Media.
“We’re live in three, two, one.”
If you’ve ever worked on live television, you know what happens to the rhythm of your pulse when you hear those words. Most likely, you’re frantically trying to remember if you’ve done everything necessary to maintain your aspect of the live show.
But when you’re the producer behind the live show, the stakes are much greater. You don’t have only one aspect to manage, the entire show is your arena.
When a show goes well, the producer is often credited. But when something goes wrong, the burden rests on the producer’s shoulders.
Working behind the scenes as a television news producer makes for a nerve-racking, adrenaline spiking and slightly addictive career choice. The thrill of overcoming daily challenges to produce a great show comes with a nice high, but then there are days when a technical glitch that you have little to no control of sends black screens to televisions across your city, and you have to figure out how to handle the emergency.
Such is the life of a television news producer.
So, what kind of person makes a success out of such a career?
Khayla Gaston, a producer at a news station in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is known for her tenacity, confidence, and positive attitude.
She says that when things get a little crazy, she does her best to maintain a sense of humor and keep pushing forward.
Here’s what else she has to say about how she’s managed to succeed in a demanding industry:
Bayou Trésors: So, where did you grow up and did you have a big imagination as a kid?
Khayla Gaston: I grew up on the West Bank in Marrero, Louisiana. I was a creative kid and I did have a big imagination. I was into all kinds of creative things. I was involved in musical theater, other forms of acting, dance, just a lot of facets in that arena. My mother encouraged me to be creative. For example, singing rubbed off on me. I loved to sing.
Bayou Trésors: When did you first start writing?
Khayla Gaston: I love to read. When it comes to reading, what I really love about it is that it takes you to other universes to see different perspectives of life. And I discovered the art of writing when I was about sixteen. My English teacher was like, “Okay, this is actually really good,” after reading my work. So, from there on out I became fond of writing and just kept working to try and figure out my voice. Around my senior year, I was like, maybe I can try this TV thing. I like to talk to people, to write, and I love to read. So, that’s what I pursued.
Bayou Trésors: How’d you get into television news production?
Khayla Gaston: Well, it was sort of an accident. In college, I was part of the broadcasting department as one of the lead anchors for our entertainment show. So, when I graduated there was this conference about the news industry and I was like, “I’m going to put on my nice suit and go see what kinds of jobs are around.” Here’s the thing though, I’d just been accepted into a graduate school for fashion in New York. That’s my other love, fashion. But at the conference, I met a news director from Baton Rouge who offered me a position as a Production Assistant. I took it, and after I started I was almost immediately offered the role of Producer. Since being a producer is essentially being a writer, that wasn’t hard for me. Now, when it comes to learning the technicalities of it all, that’s been interesting.
Bayou Trésors: What exactly does a television news producer do?
Khayla Gaston: I would say that a television news producer puts out fires and avoids fires. A lot can happen in the span of an eight-hour shift, so you have to figure out a way to multitask and communicate effectively to multiple people all at the same time all while ensuring that you write your show and make the people around you feel valued and let them know you appreciate their hard work on the show. I accomplish all of that by trying my best to be positive. If you’re negative, you’re only going to attract more negativity. But if you’re positive, you just learn from your mistakes and you move forward.
Bayou Trésors: What aspects of your job do you especially appreciate?
Khayla Gaston: I appreciate the discomfort of my job because it forces me to grow. Experiencing difficulties has taught me a lot. In my opinion, you can either be afraid and run away from challenges or embrace them and apply yourself and figure things out. When it comes to learning from challenges, I look back at how I was when I first started working in news as a Production Assistant and compare that to what I know now as a producer, and I’ve grown. So, that gives me motivation and confidence for my new goals, which are to make the leap into reporting and anchoring.
Bayou Trésors: If someone wants to work in news as a reporter, anchor or producer, what do you suggest they do?
Khayla Gaston: I would suggest studying the field and figure out what market they should be in, as in what state they should be in. Also, there are different genres within news- there’s fashion, cooking, hard news, and other genres. So, they should analyze what’s interesting to them, and find their niche within news. For example, some people love community news. So, that’s what they focus on. Once you figure out your niche you can figure out what specific goals to pursue and how to pursue them.
Another thing to consider, and I say this as a Black woman, is if you’re a person of color, you have to figure out how you want to be perceived and how you want to express yourself as a creative. You’ve got to be real with yourself and figure out what you’re willing to compromise and what you’re not willing to compromise. Because you can figure out your goals, pursue them and then pave the path for other females in the industry. It’s all about what you’re willing to fight for.
Bayou Trésors: What mindset helps you to get through tough times?
Khayla Gaston: Humor. I tell myself to laugh things off, even when it gets uncomfortable, just laugh it off. You’ve got to find something funny about a messed-up situation. If you don’t, you’ll cry.
Another thing that helps me is to figure out my end goal. If you don’t have any specific goal that you’re working towards, you’re going to find yourself on a constant loop of nothingness. You need to figure out what makes you happy and how to work towards that happiness. That’s how you maintain your joy.
Bayou Trésors: Any advice for creative people with talents that they aren’t sure how to use?
Khayla Gaston: Yes, several thoughts. First of all, be you no matter what is happening. You never know what you’re walking into and why God placed you in that room. Secondly, if you keep finding that you have to shift gears and compromise, then it’s time to find another solution. And third, everyone’s not going to be your best friend. Sometimes you may have to find comfort in being on your own.
Khayla’s enthusiasm, confidence, and creativity bring a welcomed source of positivity to the newsroom and as a rising star in the industry, she’s definitely a talent to watch!
Click here to learn more about careers in news.
Your favorite vacation.
Your best friend.
The love of your life.
Did specific people or images come to your mind as you read the phrases above?
If so, this demonstrates the power of a few seemingly simple words.
These incredible communication tools can awaken muted imaginations, conjure emotions, and motivate us to tackle massive accomplishments.
In fact, words are so powerful that the ability to use and understand them is considered a treasure.
This is reflected in the title of a new children’s book by Ramona S. Thomas.
Ramona ThomasThomas’s debut book, On a Treasure Hunt for Words is centered around four-year-old Jetta, a curious little girl from Louisiana who becomes fascinated with words as she learns how to read.
Every new word Jetta learns expands her curiosity about life and the world around her.
Young readers will be enthralled as they follow Jetta’s literary journey because she turns learning to read into an exciting treasure hunt for words.
Thomas says she was a lot like Jetta when she was a little girl. Curious by nature and determined to learn as much as she could about life, people, and the way things work, Thomas grew up to become an avid reader and devoted educator.
Now, she’s eager to see parents read Jetta’s story with their children, encouraging them to ask all of the questions that fill their young and inquisitive minds.
But what inspired Thomas to write On a Treasure Hunt for Words? And what tips can help a person who is interested in writing their own children’s book?
Thomas was kind enough to answer these questions during an interview with Bayou Trésors.
Bayou Trésors: Tell us about yourself. Where are you from, and what was life like growing up?
Ramona Thomas: I’m from Oakland, California. When I grew up, kids played outside. We played games like tag, hide and seek, foursquare, or jacks with kids in the neighborhood. My father is from Louisiana and so are my grandparents. I also have Aunts, Uncles, and other family members in Louisiana. When I was a teenager and I visited Louisiana, I liked that a lot of the families were very close-knit and there was that famous Southern Hospitality in every house I visited. It made me feel welcomed and there was a nice sense of ‘belonging’ and ‘togetherness.’ It’s a very hospitable and friendly culture.
Bayou Trésors: How long have you been writing?
Ramona Thomas: Well, I’ve always had stories in my mind. But there were two times when I actually put them on paper. Once, in college, when I wrote a children’s book about nutrition. I wrote the book and one of my close friends illustrated it. And more recently, within the last two years, during COVID, when I wrote On a Treasure Hunt for Words.
Bayou Trésors: What initially triggered your interest in becoming an author?
Ramona Thomas: Several factors. For one, I didn’t see enough culturally diverse representation in children’s books. In addition to that, I've noticed that as the world continues to advance technologically, it seems that tangible books are not as present in children's hands.
Bayou Trésors: On a Treasure Hunt for Words is your first published book. What is it about?
Ramona Thomas: Yes, it's about a little girl named Jetta from Louisiana who spends a few weeks with her grandparents in Sacramento, California during the summer before she goes to kindergarten. Jetta is a very curious and enthusiastic little girl who loves words and wants to share all that she's learned with everyone else.
Bayou Trésors: What reaction do you hope children and parents will have after reading the book?
Ramona Thomas: I hope it will encourage parents to sit down and read with their children, and I hope it inspires children to want to acquire a larger vocabulary that leads them to want to go on a journey with Jetta.
Vocabulary and reading are so important.
My thesis dealt with the socioeconomic word gap among different populations in the U.S., and it cited research that claims children from more impoverished socioeconomic classes are exposed to significantly fewer words than children from more affluent backgrounds.
According to researchers Betty Hart and Todd Risley, authors of The 30 Million Word Gap*, “a child from a high-income family will experience 30 million more words within the first four years of life than a child from a low-income family.”
The study adds that, “This gap does nothing but grow as the years progress, ensuring slow growth for children who are economically disadvantaged and accelerated growth for those from more privileged backgrounds.”
So, it’s important that parents read books with their children and teach their little ones to pronounce the words. This helps children expand their vocabulary. For example, there’s the word "big." But a parent can also teach their toddler similar words such as “large,” or “enormous.” If a parent uses all of these words, it exposes their little ones to the word, and expands their vocabulary. If you use a word around a toddler, they’re likely to learn it.
Bayou Trésors: Writing a book is a journey. So, what are some of the most surprising things you’ve experienced during this journey?
Ramona Thomas: I didn’t think it would be a challenge to figure out how to end the story, but to my surprise it was. I had to figure out how to end it so that it wouldn’t be too long and make sure the ending would lead to the next book in the series.
Also, it was challenging to come up with character names and to find an illustrator.
Initially, I wanted it to be more of a picture book with fewer words. But Jetta had so much to say that it wouldn’t be easy to keep it as a picture book. So, On a Treasure Hunt for Words falls in between a picture book and the beginning of an easy reader.
Bayou Trésors: What advice would you give to anyone who wants to be an author?
Ramona Thomas: Carry a notebook with you so that when you have an idea you can write it down and won't forget it. You can also use a notes app or a voice recorder app on your phone to do that.
And make sure you have a mentor who can guide you along in the writing and publishing process, because it can be overwhelming, which might lead to procrastination.
But when you have a mentor who keeps you on a calendar or schedule and helps you on your journey to complete the book and publish it, that really helps. You don't feel so overwhelmed by the lengthy ‘to-do' list that comes with the territory.
People say, "You can just self-publish your book," but that takes time and many of us work multiple jobs. So, having someone mentor you along the way is a big help!
Bayou Trésors: Is there a website where people can learn more about you and your book?
Ramona Thomas: Yes. My website is http://www.ramonathomasauthor.weebly.com
Thomas’s book, On a Treasure Hunt for Words will be released on Amazon in the spring of 2023. Interested parents and teachers will also be able to request the book from their local libraries.