Sunday, January 31, 2010

Goodbye Friend

Camille and Bill Cosby's son Ennis would greet those he met with the friendly salutation "Hello Friend".

After his devastating murder in January 1997 the Cosby's established the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation to continue his dream of providing an education to students who tend to fall through the cracks in our schools.

Ennis himself was dyslexic and struggled his whole life with learning differences. This challenge ignited his passion to teach children to overcome dyslexia and come out of the shadows. He wanted to cast off the shame and despair these children felt and replace it with self esteem.

In addition to creating awareness with the powerful video Ennis' Gift: A Film About Learning Differences and providing classroom libraries for under resourced classrooms, the Foundation also united in a partnership with Fordham University's Graduate School of Education in 2000 to create the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Certificate Program.

This is an 18 credit, intensive series of teacher training classes in language development, beginning reading instruction and early childhood literacy. The core of which involves a year long, twice weekly, hour long session of one to one supervised tutoring. Each 'Cosby Scholar' works with a struggling first grade student to develop their literacy skills.

I was fortunate enough to graduate from this program in 2004 as a member of Cohort 3. What I learned during that time changed my teaching for the better. I continued to stay involved, first as a mentor and then as an instructor. I taught the incoming cohorts during the annual summer literacy institutes as well co-teaching the tutoring practicum.

Sadly, this past week the final cohort of Cosby Scholars joined together to celebrate the completion of the professional development program for "Young Readers at Risk". Due to financial woes the program has (hopefully only temporarily) folded.

During the ceremony, which was attended by Camille and Bill Cosby's daughters Erika and Erinn, I delivered a short speech with a fellow Cosby graduate (from Cohort 1) and my co-teacher in the program Cayne. Cayne wrote the following speech for us...

We open with a quote from Alexander Graham Bell "Sometimes we stare so long at a door that is closing that we see too late the one that is open".

Early last year Dr. Uhry told Gary and I that the Foundation may not be able to fund another cohort of Cosby Scholars. We were stunned and saddened by the news and to the possible end of what we believed was a unique and profound experience that has forever influenced how we teach and those we teach.

We found ourselves continuing with our responsibilities of teaching the cohort and supervising the practicum but continued to stare at this door that was slowly closing. As ten incredible years of the Fordham University Ennis William Cosby Program come to an end it is within this quote we find the hope to continue the legacy that has been established. So we look to the open door.... whether that door manifest itself as a leadership position within your school, continuing your studies in education, providing tutoring to a struggling student or sharing what you have learned with a colleague.

With the end of the Scholar program also came the end of the immensely resourceful Hello Friend Website. For those of you that do not know the website once offered resources for teachers and parents in regard to literacy. Information about the foundation, and other great offerings like the Ennis' Gift video. However, as you know in this digital age nothing is temporary on the Internet (for better or for worse). With the help of the wayback machine (it is really called that) one can easily access old or discontinued web pages. So it is with the help of the wayback machine that we bring you a short essay written by Ennis posted to the Hello Friend website back in 1997.

Goals and Criteria for Learning

By Ennis William Cosby

When I work with students who learn differently, my goals may be slightly different than the goals of the regular education teacher. My principles and goals are the following:

I should be a teacher who can motivate students toward increasing their self-esteem and confidence. Most students who are diagnosed have very little confidence or self-esteem.

I must come to class well prepared and I also must be prepared for change. Students may have personalities that will alter the whole lesson plan of the day. My preparation motto is, "Try to be ready for the best and the worst."

"Quitters never win and winners never quit." I have always tried to listen to positive feedback from other special education teachers. Most of them have warned me about how students can damage a teacher's pride and ego to the point where a teacher contemplates quitting. "Never take things personally," one teacher recommended to me. This is probably the hardest theory to live by. I have promised myself that I will never quit. Instead, I will try to create the best solution for every problem I face. 

The students' overall performance and behavior will be my tools for measurement. There must be gradual improvement.

With the closing of an era may today’s final cohort 9 go forward having benefited from the program, incorporate Ennis' Words and principles in their teaching, may those at the Hello Friend Foundation look back upon the program knowing how revolutionary it was in professional development and literacy instruction, may the Cosby family look back upon the program and know how many lives Ennis touched and continues to influence, may Fordham look back upon the program as a successful collaboration that was the catalyst for so many scholars to strive for advanced degrees in literacy. And may we all look back open the door that opened all other doors.

With much gratitude to the Cosby Family, the Foundation, and Fordham University Cayne and I thank you and to Cohort 9 Congratulations and Good Luck!

Photo taken from the children's book Friends of a Feather: One of Life's Little Fables by Bill and Erika Cosby.


Lynda said...

I'm so glad you were able to participate in this program. What an honor to speak at the last Graduation.

Sorry I haven't been a regular on the blog. I'm back and will continue checking regularly.

Love reading about all your adventures on "Follow Your Bliss."

Barbara said...

One more indication that our priorities in this country are sadly out of line when a program like this ceases to exist. I'm sure you will carry on with the guiding principles whether you are funded to do so or not. Sometimes I wish you headed up the Dept. of Education!

willow said...

Sad that some of these wonderful programs are often the first to be cut.

Arielle Lee Bair said...

Sounds wonderful!

Arielle Lee Bair said...

^ The program, I mean...not that priorities are askew. I'm glad you were able to be a part of it.

Gary said...

Lynda -Glad to see you back on FYB!

Barbara - Of course, you are right. I use what I have learned in the Cosby program each and every day with my students. It is amazing to me how this knowledge is not taught in teacher training programs and if it is it is not given in-depth. I suppose that is because those classes must take a more general approach. I am still hopeful that funding will come through but the forecast is looking bleaker as the days pass.

Willow - It is sad that the program has ended but I keep remembering that open door.

Arielle - Haha, I figured you meant the program. I feel very privileged to have been a part of it.

Cayne said...

Gary great final post for the Program! It has been an awesome ride. Now let's get these PhD.s completed!

Barbara said...

What a wonderful program for you to have been a part of...
Your children are very lucky to have such an experienced teacher:)
Happy February!!

Steve said...

I hope this program continues one way or another. I remember when Ennis Cosby died -- so tragic!

MarmiteToasty said...

Im sitting here with tears...... and I want to explain something that came out this week, but its a tad before midnight here and Im totally knackered and need to crawl into bed, so I will explain tomorrow why this has so moved me beyond measure, whether here or in an email......

fank you Gary for being YOU..


Gary said...

Cayne - I do hope that the program will rebound and there will be many more posts about it. We'll see. As far as the must be thrilled that yours is just around the corner. I am just looking forward to completing my last three classes so the real work can begin. EEK!

Barbara - As are yours.

Steve - I hope so too. I also remember when Ennis was murdered and at the time I never could imagine how his life would touch my own. It is a terrible, terrible tragedy but something wonderful sprung to life as a result. Of course, one can't really compare with the other but Ennis' legacy is a good one.

MT - Get some rest and fill me in when you can. This has been a difficult week for me so your kind words are much appreciated.


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