Florida Gulf Coast University will once again promote lifelong reading to children on Friday, Jan. 31 when it not only introduces students in Southwest Florida Title I schools to a real campus experience at the College of Education’s annual Literacy Festival, but also introduces them to real authors, many of them based locally.
One of those featured at the festival — which takes place from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on the lawn outside Wilson G. Bradshaw Library and in several classrooms — is Fort Myers native Jamilla Brooks, an author, speaker and spoken-word artist. A first-generation graduate, Brooks was named to the FGCU Hall of Fame while earning a master of business administration degree at FGCU, where she has worked as an adjunct professor in business and marketing. In 2016, she published “Beautiful You Are! Inspired Poems,” and has participated in the Literacy Festival as an author since 2017.
Brooks knows firsthand the impact the festival has on visiting public school students.
“At the 2018 festival, an English teacher shared with me how amazing it was that her three shiest students shared their poetry in my session with their own classmates and those from other middle schools,” Brooks said.
“When I first published ‘Beautiful You Are!’ it was because I was performing as a spoken-word artist and I wanted something to leave with people after my open mic performances,” she said. “It grew to my being able to participate in the literacy festival.”
This marks the fourth year of the festival, which began in a reading literacy course with FGCU COE teacher candidates conducting field work at Title I elementary and middle schools in Lee, Charlotte, Collier, Hendry and Glades counties. The teacher candidates found in their field experiences that students from Title I schools wanted to make a real connection with book authors, and the idea of a university literacy festival was born.
Dr. Dawn Martelli, associate professor of reading in the Department of Curriculum, Instruction and Culture, coordinates the daylong festival, building a team of faculty and students in a yearlong process leading up to the annual event. In 2017, she selected Brooks as an author to table, then introduced her as a presenter in 2018.
“ ‘Beautiful You Are’ is great for middle- and high-school readers, and at this year’s festival, Jamilla is really focusing on high-school participants, but some middle schools received her book, too,” Martelli said. “Jamilla’s book rotates around knowing and accepting who you are, finding your strengths and promoting growth within oneself.”
Brooks, who was a COE student assistant from 2006-11, elaborates. “My book of poetry takes subjects that are hard for us to discuss, like inner beauty, values and honor, and shines a light poetically.
“One poem, ‘Your Honor,’ takes place in a courtroom and focuses on how to respect your own body and respect and honor boundaries,” Brooks said. “It’s the most personal poem I perform aloud and creates an impactful moment for listeners.”
Leading up to and during the festival, the COE teacher candidates and the authors conduct read-alouds and interact with the Title I students with hands-on activities and discussions. That the festival enables students to hear the books read aloud is big for Martelli. “The biggest thing lacking today in schools is reading aloud,” she said.
Author presentations often encourage visiting students themselves to read their own work aloud, or collaborate with the authors on new work.
“I perform my poem, ‘BYA,’ a lot, and start by telling the students, ‘You don’t know this, but you’re all poets,’ and then they help me perform that poem,” Brooks said. The poem is about seeing personal beauty and worth even though an individual may be hurt or damaged.
“I’ll have stage time to perform ‘BYA’ at this year’s festival after my talk on the writing process,” added Brooks, who is working on her second book and will also be performing at several spring ArtPoems events.
Martelli says Brooks is hands-on and inspirational as a festival presenter. “Poetry becomes a very personal experience for the students in her sessions,” Martelli said.
About the festival
The Literacy Festival has grown to include more than 2,200 students from PreK through high school. It’s a free event open to the community with author signings and presentations, STREAM activities, digital literacy and tours of the campus and Wilson G. Bradshaw Library.
“The goal is to promote a love of reading to K-12 students and create a passion for reading in our COE students,” Martelli said. Among books featured at the 2019 festival was “In Time Butterfly,” created by FGCU alumnae Amanda Derrick, author, and Jessica Tukaj, illustrator.
Teachers can choose featured books for their own classes, which are free and delivered in the fall semester to be discussed with students prior to meeting authors and attending presentations at the spring festival. Martelli has published data garnered from the partnership with the schools, including how school librarians are seeing an increase in checkouts of books by festival authors.
Involved in this year’s festival are 120 COE students, with 40 of those participating in the field work and 31 staffing the festival as author assistants and STREAM activity and digital-literacy volunteers. The COE teacher candidates each choose two books from the full list that will be featured at the festival. They are well-versed on the concepts from each book and attend the author sessions for the books they choose.
Books featured at this year’s festival are available for purchase in the FGCU Bookstore.
“There is great support from FGCU that makes this event happen each year, and other universities are taking notice and starting their own literacy festivals,” Martelli said.
RESEARCH ON READING
Interested in the pedagogy behind a university literacy festival? Dr. Dawn Martelli’s research focuses on crucial issues surrounding the position of literature for children and young adults in teacher-preparation programs. Three scholarly articles on the FGCU College of Education Literacy Festival have been published:
- Martelli, C. D. & Johnston, V. (2018). A university literacy festival and its impact on teacher candidates, authors, and teachers and students from Title I schools. Journal of Literacy Innovation, 3 (2), 40-42.
- Johnston, V. & Martelli, C. D. (2018). Reaching out to students from Title I schools. The Reading Teacher, 72 (2), 514-518.
- Martelli, C. D., Johnston, V., Israel, C., Winston, S., Flake, S., & Bloor, E. (2019). A university literacy festival: Connecting authors and students from Title I schools. Multicultural Education, 26 (2), 40-42.