“Black Stanley” takes Hong Kong

Flat Stanley turned out to be a dud this year but “Black Stanley” had a grand time making memories in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year holiday. This post has been a long time in the making. I started writing it at least a month ago but have traveled to several places since and began writing on other topics soon to come. Finally, I set my sights on finishing this post so here it is.

It never fails, my students always ask me why I color all of my people brown and my answer is always the same. “What color is Ms. Smith’s skin?” So as expected, my students recently inquired why my Flat Stanley was brown. One of my other students answered for me this time, “Because Ms. Smith is Brown; she’s an African American.” A new word they learned during Black History Month. This “brown skin thing” is a revelation and mark of progress for them because at the beginning of the school year there was no convincing them that my skin was not actually black. They now agree that my skin is brown only after extensive research and plenty of in class color comparisons.

Let me start by saying that my knowledge of “Flat Stanley” was virtually non-existent prior to this year. I do not have any children and I taught in the business department at a junior college in Texas last year and high school special education in Brooklyn and Los Angeles for years prior to moving to China where I now teach 7 year olds.   I had never in my life heard of Flat Stanley, until a few months ago when a colleague of mine shared her lesson plans and pictures from her classes Flat Stanley adventures last year. When I saw the “Flat Stanley and the Firehouse” book at Barnes and Nobles during my last visit to the states, I thought reading it to my class would be just the introduction both they and I needed to start our project. Little did I know then, with my limited “little kid” experience, that my students knew all about Flat Stanley. One of my students said she had the very book I read at her home. Sounds like I would have had great outcomes from this lesson right?? Wrong!!!

Well let me back up and tell you how the lesson was received. The first thing I did was read Flat Stanley and the Firehouse aloud to the class. The entire class was very interested in the story. We discussed the text and they answered comprehension questions during the discussion. The following day, I told them that Flat Stanley had traveled a long distance to spend the Chinese New Year holiday with them. I showed them my colleague’s pictures on a PowerPoint presentation that included stories of Flat Stanley’s travels from Florida to Vietnam and China. The presentation included student journal samples to demonstrate how they should take pictures with Flat Stanley and write journal entries about the activities they do with their families and Flat Stanley during the holiday. After the presentation we began working on decorating our Flat Stanley’s in preparation for the New Year holiday. Both the students and I enjoyed coloring our Flat Stanley’s. When they saw I was coloring my “Black Stanley” brown they asked if they could make their travel companion a different color and of course I said “yes.” We ended up with some green and blue Stanley’s that some students said looked like zombies.

I am fairly certain my students understood the assignment and I sent home a letter to parents the week prior explaining the assignment and how they could help their child complete the assignment. I am sad to say that I only received pictures from one student and no one wrote in their Flat Stanley journal. I was terribly disappointed with my student’s lack of participation. Most of them said they forgot to bring their Flat Stanley with them on their trips. I am not really sure why I had such a terrible response to the project. I am certain that I will do more to get buy-in from my parents and students next year. Perhaps sending letters and emails to parents in Chinese will help them keep their children accountable to completing their Flat Stanley assignment next year.

Since I have very little student work to show you, I will share mine and “Black Stanley’s” Chinese New Year’s holiday together. Black Stanley and I woke up early on Saturday morning and headed for the Shekou Ferry port to meet my co-worker, Vince. Vince, Stanley and I took the ferry across to Hong Kong where we would meet Tammy, another teacher, and her son Josh an 8 year old in my Science and Cultural Studies class. We all took some photos in the Hong Kong port with a very festive year of the monkey background and then headed to our usual Causeway Bay hostel to check in. After dropping our luggage at the hostel we caught the 260 express bus to the Stanley Market area. I have wanted to see this side of Hong Kong since moving to China. Partly because I love shopping but also because I heard that it was a very beautiful area. Everything I heard was true. I really enjoyed shopping and hanging out in Stanley Market. The beach near the market was especially pretty. Stanley and I followed my student Josh’s lead on my first attempt at boulder hopping, something I had never heard of before. It was a little terrifying and a whole lot of funny. I didn’t realize just how ridiculous I looked jumping and scooting myself from rock to rock, I am sure making all kinds of ungodly noises trying to keep up with an eight-year-old. That is until I saw the pictures Vince took of me in the process. I laughed so hard I cried. The pictures are so funny. Every day I’m learning more and more about the things I can do that I would have never done in the past. I can only imagine what the people I scooted passed where thinking as I tried to fit all of my loveliness into small crevices as I followed my little friend. As you can see from the pictures, we both relished in the victory of my arriving at the perfect rock for a great photo opportunity. You cannot tell from the pictures but Black Stanley was with me the entire time. I thought it best for him to ride along in my backpack as I needed my hands free to help me maneuver my way between the rocks. I hit the sack early that night. I was a little sore.

The following day my friends and I walked around the Kowloon side of Hong Kong. The city was buzzing as performers prepared for the upcoming New Year’s Parade. All of the festival prep looked exciting and very colorful but it did nothing to peak my interest in attending. I managed to live in New York for 10 years without attending the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or the New Year’s Eve ball drop. Packing thousands of people into small areas all trying to see something only the front three rows are meant to see does not sound fun. I was happy to be heading out before the craziness began. So for my send off my friends and I went on a night cruise around Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s skyline is almost as pretty as Shanghai and New York’s.

Mine and Black Stanley’s Chinese New Year vacation was just the right amount of excitement and rest. We got to experience new places and activities together. It was so much fun that I am sure I will invite him to travel with me again soon. I was disappointed that I did not hear about my students Flat Stanley adventures. Live and learn, right? It is all a part of being a reflective practitioner. I will do a better job eliciting support and buy-in on my next Flat Stanley assignment.