American Literature

Newsletter for Parents -- September 2015

Dear Parents,

We are off to a great start here at Patrick Henry Middle School and your scholars have already shown great strides in tackling the challenges presented to them. Before we move forward, I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you a little bit about myself and the goals I have for both parents and students this school year.

As you may know, I teach American Literature at PHM and I hold both a Bachelor’s Degree in Literature and a Master’s Degree in Education. My life experience and cultural perspective have also proven important to my education philosophy.

I am the first child in my family born in the United States and was the first to attend college. My mother fled the civil war in El Salvador and arrived in the United States during the ‘70s, only to find herself lost in classrooms due to language barriers. On the other side, my father entered the country from Panama to find a better economic future. While their experiences are not my own, I grew up listening to stories of their success and trouble as they navigated the school system, communities, and career paths.

“A primary responsibility of educators is that they not only be aware of the general principle of the shaping by actual experience by environing conditions, but that they also recognize in the concrete what surroundings are conducive to having experiences that lead to growth. ” ― John Dewey

It is with this knowledge that I design my lessons and classroom activities, so that all scholars can engage deeply with their writing and reading projects. I know that it is essential for lessons to draw on the specific experiences of the students represented to ensure scholars are thoroughly engaged. There is an extremely long list of talented Latino, African American, and Asian American writers who are oftentimes left out of textbooks. There is nothing like the feeling of connection as you read a story where you find characters and communities that mirror your own. This is why I have prepared supplemental texts from some of their writings as well context on who the authors were and the world they wrote in.

It is my goal this semester to make sure that all scholars are engaged in every assignment. To help this become a reality, I make it a priority to communicate monthly with parents. I also understand that your time is valuable, and so I will be sending a follow-up questionnaire so you can indicate your preferred availability and method of communication (phone, Skype, e-mail, or face-to-face meetings). These are informal conversations where you can understand the types of topics your students are reading as well as their progress in meeting or exceeding academic standards.

Next week, we will be reading from the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. This novel explores themes of cultural and gender identity, dreams for the future, and family identity. With this information, I hope you engage your scholar in dialogue and even share your thoughts on themes we’re discussing at the dinner table.

As a child, reading allowed me to better understand my identity on many levels and express this all on paper. It is my goal to help your scholars gain this same perspective as they explore a variety of American Literature, which will help them throughout their life, no matter whatever their career goals may be.

Together, let’s ensure the best chance of success for your child.


Ms. Cynthia James

American Literature

Patrick Henry Elementary School

Upcoming Reading for Students