Courtesy of Susan Love
As a young girl growing up in the foster care system, Susan Love found an escape through writing. Now decades later as a teacher and author, she helps students on a global level find their inner power through her book Ms. Love’s Mystical Island Adventure.
As she recounted in a recent one-on-one interview, “I grew up in a foster home where it was more like keeping up with the Joneses. I got more gifts than attention. I started writing as a child, writing my own adventure stories that always had a happy ending. It was my way of finding happiness.”
As an adult, Susan found happiness in a different way — teaching. While working as a supervisor at an after school program at the YMCA in Allentown, Pennsylvania, a friend recommended that she become a classroom teacher. “The thought of it hit me right then and there,” Love admitted. “A few months later, I decided to pursue a career as an educator. As I look back, I have no regrets.”
But she hit what she calls a breaking point with her new found profession while teaching at an inner city school in Philadelphia. “My classroom was infested with mice and cockroaches,” Love revealed. “My unenthused students saw only a dim future awaiting them in the area’s high-crime neighborhoods. The following summer, I knew I either had to quit my job or change things for the better.”
In need of a change of scenery and a fresh perspective, Love took a trip to the Caribbean. While there, Love had a conversation with another traveler that changed her life — and those of her students — forever.
“On the island, I was talking with a retired businesswoman,” Love recalled. “As I told her about my frustrations with the American school system, she said to me, ‘At least you had an escape — you had this island adventure to look forward to. Your students don’t have that luxury. You need to make your classroom an island, a place where your students can get away every day, and envision the bigger world out there that awaits them.’"
Although the advice wasn’t meant literally, Love embraced it wholeheartedly when she returned to work at the beginning of the school year. “When the classroom door opened in the fall, my students entered to find a large thatched umbrella with a tables and chairs, exotic silk flowers and plants in a mystical garden, a pond with a flowing waterfall, large wall murals of a tropical rainforest and an inside rock waterfall. Festive multi-colored streamers hung from the ceiling, adding to the charm and mystique of the tropical setting.”
In addition to wanting to help her students have a sanctuary from their less than perfect conditions, she wanted to reinforce a sense of heritage for some of them. “Many of my students were of Puerto Rican or Dominican descent,” Love explained. “I thought a classroom that represented their culture could help show them both their history and their future. For the rest of the year, I developed my own Caribbean themed-based curriculum that focused on lessons teaching how our environment may help shape us, but it doesn’t limit or define us. Like our immigrant ancestors, each of us is on a personal journey to a better future.”
Soon, she and her characters started to play an intricate role in the narrative that Love was creating. “In language arts class, the children wrote exciting adventure stories, which included four students and Ms. Love as characters. Other students were intrigued by their classmate’s work and decided to write their own ‘Ms. Love’s Adventures’ stories. These works formed the basis of a ‘classroom library,’ drawing interest from other children in the school.”
Hoping to impact children beyond her own immediate circle, Love decided to write a book of her own — Ms. Love’s Mystical Island Adventure. She noted, “Inspired by my students, I decided to take my island classroom adventures to a global classroom. Why not share with all young people the message of empowerment and risk-taking — the heart and soul personal adventure? I may be a character in the story, but the children are the true heroes.”
Targeted to kids ages 8-12 which is grades 3-6, Love hopes her young readers take an important lesson away from the book. “The message I hope readers take away from the story is that the only way you find out your inner power is through a challenging or scary situation. That’s why it is so important to see conflict as an opportunity to find out what you are capable of. So never run from a problem, it is a light force that wants to show you what your gift is and take you to a place of self-awareness.”
To learn more about Susan Love and her book Ms. Love’s Mystical Island Adventure visit her website.