Beardwood’s first novel shines light on education

Beardwood’s first novel shines light on education

PAWTUCKET – From her current home in Jeju, South Korea, Marie Beardwood said she hopes her new young adult novel will shed light on failing educational systems and maybe even inspire folks to run for local political office.

“Building Hope,” her first novel, is loosely based on her experience as an educator, with a focus on urban education and specifically Hope High School in Providence, says the Barrington native and 1979 graduate of St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket.

“I’m super excited about the book,” she told The Breeze, adding that she’s taken her experiences from working at an array of different schools and framed them around the story of the state takeover and dismantling of Hope High School in Providence where she worked as a school-based coordinator, helping to develop curriculum. “That is a story that needed to be told, particularly from a student perspective.”

The story, she added, is particularly timely given the current efforts to rebuild Providence Public Schools.

The book was published in April by Pawtucket-based Stillwater River Publications. Beardwood said she wanted to publish it locally since it’s a local story. “They really did a good job for me,” she said. “(Stillwater) helped me strengthen my story and I appreciate all the hard work and support.”

The book follows Seaira, who is entering the 9th grade at Hope High School in Providence when the book begins. It encompasses her time in high school as the state takes over and the school builds a curriculum, and then things fall apart in the 12th grade, Beardwood said.

Seaira is afraid to be hopeful when politicians begin to make changes to improve her high school, which sees its fair share of “homelessness, gangs, guns, poverty, random and arbitrary rules,” wondering if the changes will stick or disappear after the next election, according to a synopsis.

The character is based on a compilation of students and Beardwood’s observations of them over the years, she said.

People should read the novel whether they are champions of educational equity and justice or not, Beardwood said. “They need to see what really happens in schools and school systems and the impact on students,” she said.

In 2005, Hope High School was labeled a failing school; the state took it over and broke it up into three learning communities: art, leadership and info tech, Beardwood said. Working as a school-based coordinator for the IT school, she helped build curriculum, provided professional development, and sat on the school improvement team.

While changes and policies helped boost student test scores and attendance, she said, ultimately all of those accomplishments were dismantled. “It was sad and discouraging and really hurt the students,” she said.

If new leaders come in every few years and change policies, “there is no meaningful, systemic change,” she said. “It is all temporary, to the detriment of students and teachers alike.”

As to why she chose to write a novel instead of a work of nonfiction, Beardwood said she thought it would be more impactful if it were fiction and told from the perspective of a student. “I think seeing the experience through a student’s eyes makes it more realistic,” she said, adding that she’s hoping to build empathy.

Beardwood and her husband of 36 years have lived in South Korea for one year, previously living in São Paulo, Brazil, for three years so Beardwood could fulfill her dream of working internationally. She’s currently the director of technology for an American international school, she said.

The couple have lived in Central Falls, Lincoln and Chepachet and still own property in Lincoln. “We hope to return to the States soon, after I get my fill of working internationally,” she said. Beardwood earned her teaching credential in English secondary education from Rhode Island College and her master’s degree from Columbia University Teachers’ College in New York.

As for what’s next, Beardwood said she’s not sure she has it in her to write a sequel but she’s hoping Netflix will turn the book into a series. She said she also wants to be back in the U.S. next summer and would love to do book readings at local bookstores and libraries.

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