In 2021, Providence Cristo Rey College and Preparatory High School was awarded a Community Read grant through our One State / One Story program, which invites Hoosiers to engage deeply with a book as part of a statewide conversation tied to Indiana Humanities’ current theme, Unearthed. Unearthed is a multiyear thematic initiative that encourages Hoosiers to discover and discuss their relationships with the natural world.
Last year, we announced World of Wonders: In Praise of Fireflies, Whale Sharks, and Other Astonishments by Aimee Nezhukumatathil as our selected title for our statewide read. Nezhukumatathil’s amazing collection of 28 short essays celebrates the natural world in all its glory while encouraging readers to think through the connections they’ve made with the environment.
Sister Kathleen Yeadon, family outreach coordinator at Providence Cristo Rey, applied for a Community Read grant after having read World of Wonders herself. “I easily saw the connection between our students’ lives and the essays,” she said. “The author’s descriptions of the animals’ behavior can be interpreted as advice for handling the struggles we encounter in our daily lives. Not only did I want to help our students make that connection, I also wanted to help them understand how nature can teach us to overcome adversity.”
Sister Yeadon’s application was selected, and the school was awarded a grant which provided her with copies of World of Wonders for a student book club and funding for additional activities.
Perhaps the most impactful activity the students did as part of the grant was to embark on a trip to Limberlost State Historic Site in Geneva, Indiana. Best known for its connection to famed Hoosier author, Gene Stratton-Porter, Limberlost stretches over 13,000 acres of forest and swampland.
During the trip, students enjoyed a tour of the site and read selections from the book with a family who lived on the property.
“I was shocked that these students who don’t normally open up suddenly felt comfortable sharing some intensely personal things,” said Sister Yeadon.
“Reading the book together brought all of us closer,” remarked tenth grader Dayana Solis.
One of the essays that students read aloud focused on the axolotl, an endangered species of salamander native to Mexico. Scientists have taken a particular interest in the species due to the regenerative properties of their limbs, which, in Nezhukumatathil’s depiction, seem to “spring forth like a new perennial” if cut off.
When describing their takeaway from the chapter, sophomore Alexa Ortiz-Guzman said, “Scientists use axolotls for experiments because they can regrow their limbs pretty quickly, but if you see an axolotl it looks like they always have a smile planted on their face. I think most of us can relate to that, because sometimes the world can take lot out of us and we just keep smiling.”
“That was one of the main stories that really stuck with me,” said tenth grader Elyssah Morris. “A lot of the times school and work can be draining environments, but even so we all try to keep a smile on our faces. I think that’s the main message of that story: to always come back and not give up.”
Resilience is a common theme found throughout the beautifully written essays in World of Wonders. As Megan Telligman, director of programs at Indiana Humanities, put it, “Nezhukumatathil’s collection is more than mere documentation of the earth’s vast wonders; it is also a record of her own experience as a woman of color living in America. With every entry, Nezhukumatathil connects her experiences — from love and motherhood to xenophobia and racism — with the creatures and plant-life she wonders about.”
Providence Cristo Rey sits less than two miles from the White River in Indianapolis. Sister Yeadon hopes to continue partaking in programs like One State / One Story to engage high school students in activities that encourage them to continue to unearth their connections to the natural world.
To learn more about the One State / One Story program click here.