Marie Wade sits at her desk surrounded by materials from “Countdown to Kindergarten,” the Boston Public Schools initiative where she works as a play group coordinator. As a recently published author, Wade hopes to use her first book, “Lucy Finds Her Moo,” to help build an academic foundation for children and parents. (Frederick Ellis Dashiell Jr. photo)
Marie Wade’s desk is piled with papers, boxes, books and “Countdown to Kindergarten” T-shirts. Somewhere deep inside the clutter, a phone rings.
Without looking, Wade reaches into the piles, returning with the receiver. She explains to the caller how she can use her first book, “Lucy Finds Her Moo,” to entertain and educate children.
She can read aloud from the book, published this past summer, which tells the story of a young cow that doesn’t know how to moo and asks a number of her fellow farm animals for help in learning. She tells the caller she can also run different types of play groups centered on passages and lessons from the book.
In addition to being a newly minted author, Wade is a play group coordinator at the Boston Public Schools (BPS) Countdown to Kindergarten initiative, which employs a specialized group of educators who work to prepare families and students to succeed when they begin kindergarten. Through programs like the play groups that Wade runs, which take children ages 1 through 3 and their parents through a typical kindergarten day, Countdown to Kindergarten aims to connect the city’s neighborhoods to the public school system.
As the first day of school approached during a recent visit, Wade said she’s finding herself with more work to do and less time to get it done. Despite the crunch, however, she is completely in her element.
“I’m the type of person who jumps into stuff,” Wade said.
Wade, a 27-year-old resident of Dorchester, is a product of Boston’s educational system. In the classroom and now on the printed page, she is working to give back to a city that she said has given her so much.
“I love Boston,” said Wade. “I’ve lived here all my life.”
Born in Haiti, she moved to the Dudley Square area of Roxbury at the age of 4 with her older sisters, brother and mother to live with her aunt. Wade said growing up in that house was “crowded and loud,” but that it prepared her for a career in education.
“I love being part of that family atmosphere,” she said. “It gave me the experience and determination to work with children.”
Wade was educated in the BPS system, starting at the Farragut Elementary School in Mission Hill. From there, she attended the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Roxbury.
After completing the King school, Wade had a choice to make. Would she take the Independent School Entrance Exam to apply to one of the city’s exam schools, or would she attend a school that did not require a test to be accepted?
Throughout her academic life, Wade, the third-youngest child in her family, dealt with comparisons to her sisters. When looking at high schools, Wade realized that she had a chance to differentiate herself from them.
“I didn’t take the test because I was tired of being compared to my older sisters,” said Wade.
Even though her first choice in high school was Boston Latin Academy, she decided instead to go to South Boston High School, because it was a choice she could control.
“I knew going in [that] Southie wasn’t the best school academically, but I was determined to succeed,” said Wade.
She went out of her way to join various academic clubs, including the school’s honors program; the Urban Scholars, an academic enrichment program based out of the University of Massachusetts, Boston; and the Posse Scholars, a nationally renowned college preparatory and youth leadership program for public high school students. She also began taking pre-college courses to help put her on the scholastic fast track.
Wade said that the lack of academic rigor was not the only challenge she faced at South Boston High. At first, she recalled, she was somewhat apprehensive about being a black female going to school in a predominantly white neighborhood.
“I noticed some things were different, but it was subtle,” she said.
They could sometimes be less subtle, she said, during her daily travels from Dudley Square to South Boston.
“I was a bit shaky at first, but over time I was able to adjust,” said Wade.
And also, to thrive. By the time she graduated from South Boston in 2000, not only had she made the most out of the opportunities the school had to offer, she was named the school’s valedictorian.
After graduating, Wade attended Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where she majored in sociology and women’s studies. Again, she faced a distinct change in both the ethnic and cultural makeup of her new school.
“When I was at Bowdoin, it felt like you could count the black students on one hand,” said Wade.
She leaned heavily on her fellow Posse Scholars for support, and after about a month on campus, she said, she was able to figure out her place at Bowdoin and what she needed to do to meet the college’s academic expectations. The social adjustment was not far behind.
Nor, Wade said, was her foray into writing.
“I took a class about children’s books as a part of literacy,” she explained. The coursework led her to begin working on a children’s book of her own while in college, which would eventually become “Lucy Finds Her Moo.” At the time, though, she didn’t give any thought to trying to get the book published.
After her graduation from Bowdoin in 2004, Wade felt pressure from her family to enter the field of education and become a teacher. At first, though, she said the idea made her feel uncomfortable.
“I don’t think teachers get paid enough for the emotional dedication and commitment that is expected of them,” said Wade.
Instead of teaching, Wade worked for a business-to-business marketing firm located in Malden, Mass. Wade reasoned that she would eventually make her way back to working in education, so she should try to make money coming out of college.
By 2005, though, she had grown dissatisfied with her job at the firm. One of her sisters, Ketilya Felix, who was a pre-school teacher at the Dimock Early Head Start program in Roxbury, suggested she take a job there. As a pre-school teacher there, Wade found her love of children and teaching growing.
“That feeling you get from helping kids is awesome,” she said.
After she began teaching at Dimock, Wade returned to the idea of “Lucy Finds Her Moo,” and started to think more seriously about publishing it.
“I felt that reading the book could be a good tool [for children and parents] to build an academic foundation,” she said.
One book in particular — “One Duck Stuck” by Phyllis Root — was a favorite of Wade’s second child, her daughter Aajaylah, and helped inspire Wade to get her own book off the ground.
Aajaylah, 3, would have Wade read “One Duck Stuck,” a story about a duck who gets stuck in a marsh and all the animals who come to help free him, aloud to her every night, over and over.
“I would try to skip pages, and she would say, ‘Mommy, you skipped a page!’” Wade recalled. It made Wade realize that not only had her daughter memorized the book, but she had also learned her numbers through the incorporation of numbers in the story and on the pages.
Wade worked as a pre-school teacher until 2007, when she made the move back into the BPS system as a play group coordinator for Countdown to Kindergarten. She said the program is the perfect avenue for her as an author, because its goal of preparing both children and their parents for educational success works hand-in-hand with what she wants her book to do.
“I find that a lot of parents don’t read children’s books to their kids,” said Wade. “I want my book to incite children’s curiosity.”
Wade picked up her old college manuscript again in 2007. After six months of updating and re-working the book’s text, Wade completed it and began to send it out to publishers. It was picked up by Oklahoma-based Tate Publishing in 2008 and was released on July 9 of this year.
When she’s not running play groups or writing, Wade attends the University of Massachusetts-Boston, where she is pursuing a master’s degree in early childhood education. She is slated to complete her studies in May 2010. Moving forward, Wade said she is working on a new series of books based on the various stages of development that children experience.
As the economy continues to flag and public education budgets on the chopping block, Wade said she remains optimistic about Boston’s public schools.
“I think [BPS] is getting better, better than it was when I was in school,” she said. “There are some good schools in the BPS; we need to keep working to make them better.”
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