Reviews for Road Out : A Teacher's Odyssey in Poor America

ForeWord Magazine Reviews 2013 - Spring Issue: March 1, 2013

If all teachers today had the freedom and ingenuity to create an engaging and challenging educational program for their students similar to the one in this book, then more of our country's poor children would receive the exciting and dignified learning experience they desperately deserve.

Educator Deborah Hicks tells the story of an after- and summer-school literature program she created for a small group of poor eight-and nine-year-old girls in Cincinnati, Ohio. The author came from a somewhat troubled working-class family herself and shares poignant stories of the girls' home lives and their journeys together as she tries to illuminate the road that was her own salvation: education.

Readers learn that Hicks is a wonderful educator, creative and relentless in her drive to teach, regardless of the fact that her students are continually confronted with supersized versions of social troubles that would leave most adults stuck in their tracks. Hicks's program is supplemental to regular public school and strikingly distinct from it. Aside from her class being small, all female, and voluntary, her knowledge of her students' lives does not come from documents, social workers, or teacher-parent conferences, but through personal interactions, writing, group discussions, and vists to their homes and neighborhoods. Their shared experiences explore the students' lives in deeply revealing and necessary ways that are sometimes taboo in today's increasingly restrictive classrooms. Also included in Hicks's curriculum are some of the perks readily available to other children: a trip to a French cafe or an excursion to a bookstore to meet an author. When writing of her pupils' talents, personalities, and gifts, Hicks's reflections take on the gloating tone more commonly heard from parents or relatives of her students' more affluent peers.

Whether any or all of the girls featured find an educational "road out" cannot be wholly credited to, or blamed on, the author's efforts. But at the very least, Hicks introduced to them the notion of their entitlement. This touching book is sure to inform and remind its readers of all the difficulties faced by an increasing number of children today, and of what is lost and missing in their education and their lives.

2013 ForeWord Reviews. All Rights Reserved.

Kirkus Reviews 2013 January #2
A moving memoir depicting a teacher's experience leading a literary workshop for gifted young girls from a forsaken neighborhood in Cincinnati. "Though I grew up in small-town Appalachia and my students were coming of age in an urban ghetto," writes Hicks (Program in Education/Duke Univ.), "we were connected." Her students were descendants of Appalachian migrants who moved North for jobs that have since vanished. In 2000, while volunteering as a teacher, Hicks decided to experiment with an after-school and summer program that emphasized literature and creative writing for a small group of girls over time. Most of the girls in the class "had lost their mothers to drugs, neglect, and the debilitating effect of poverty," while fathers tended to be abusive or absent. Yet Hicks found them responsive to books and authors that explored the world via working-class or female protagonists (as well as the transgressive release of horror fiction, which the girls loved). She describes mentoring a core group of eight girls from ages 8 to 12; she reconnected with them at 16. Her carefully constructed memoir fleshes out the girls as characters, capturing their inner ambitions and innate creativity; yet this makes the economic forces stacked against them at their young ages even clearer, giving this tale a grueling, ominous undertone. "I began to realize... that there exists a shadow system of high school education for young people living in the margins of access and opportunity," writes Hicks. In the epilogue, she asserts that even though "the lives of poor and working-class whites have come under increased scrutiny in the media," a post-secondary education remains both challenging and vital for those looking to escape poverty and achieve social mobility. A valuable look at the intellectual lives (and fragile potential) of girls buffeted by American social realities, and an excellent reflection on the challenges of teaching. Copyright Kirkus 2013 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2013 April #2

Educator Hicks (education, Duke Univ.) relates the intimate story of her experience teaching a literary workshop to young girls in a poor Cincinnati neighborhood. She explores the quotidian question of how to improve the results of public schools serving impoverished communities by focusing on seven initially third- and fourth-grade students in whom she invested four years of extracurricular literature and writing instruction to infuse a passion for these subjects that would produce a desire to learn more. As a mentor to girls whose backgrounds in many ways mirrored her own, Hicks started by explaining how literature has the power to expand one's horizons while she simultaneously focused on literature that depicts troubles all too familiar and that helped her students to make sense of the outside world. Hicks observed that a sincere desire for education could not alone guarantee that students would avoid truancy or earn a high school diploma. VERDICT By illuminating this schism and depicting her students as vividly in words as in the included photographs, Hicks offers a testimony to the "teacher experience" and contributes a valuable resource to the national discussion on school reform. Highly recommended for educators and others studying American public education.--Marianne Orme, Des Plaines P.L., IL

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