Danville Express

Living - March 2, 2007

Literature and life

Venture book club is a chance to ponder adult issues

by Jordan M. Doronila

Pain affects people in many ways. Some wither and die; others receive wisdom and strength.

"It destroys or prepares a person ... for a healthy, good life," said Venture High School Principal Joan Diamond. "Therein lies the question."

Diamond was talking about the process of going through personal pain, at the Venture Book Club that she runs with English teacher Claudia Doherty.

They and their students at Venture High School were discussing the trauma described by MSNBC.com columnist Jeannette Walls in her memoir "The Glass Castle," which club members read. Walls has woven a lyrical and vivid narrative about her experience growing up with an alcoholic father and a neurotic artistic mother.

The six students and two facilitators who attended the meeting said they saw the value of Walls' difficult childhood upbringing.

"I think if you deal with challenges, you grow and evolve and find (good) out of the challenges," said one student. "It helps prepare you for the real world."

"Out of the bad, some good will come," Doherty said.

The book club meets monthly and reads a variety of literature that contains mature and adult themes. Another book was "Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini, which chronicles the lives of two friends in Afghanistan under the Taliban rule.

They have read the original "Peter Pan" and discussed the desire to stay young and the benefits of growing old. Currently, they are reading "Tuesdays with Morrie" by Mitch Alborn.

Members said they find reading and discussing books together at a club enriching.

"It's a space where students can think and can ponder adult or mature issues," Diamond said.

"It prepares you for adulthood," said senior Eden Robinson. "There's a lot of issues you need to think about. Some people die without figuring things out."

"The book club helps really define ourselves and establish our core sense of values," she added, noting that it helps students recognize and understand themselves.

Principal Diamond, 64, has been in education for almost 40 years, doing classroom teaching and special education plus being involved in state and county programs.

She graduated from UC Berkeley with a bachelors, a masters degree, and teaching credentials. She received her special education and administrative credentials at California State University East Bay.

Diamond has been principal at Venture for 24 years, and before that served as principal for Bollinger Canyon Elementary and Golden View Elementary schools.

Venture is a fully accredited comprehensive high school that delivers the curriculum through independent study. Students come to Venture once a week and spend several hours with their teacher. Students receive weekly assignments at that time, and are expected to spend a minimum of 20 hours a week on academic work.

Students attend Venture so they can also pursue educational opportunities outside the classroom, such as music or acting, yet within the framework of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District.

The school's Web site says Diamond believes students can learn through artful leadership, having a love of learning instilled, taking chances, and respecting each individual's uniqueness. She believes a school climate needs to be nurturing and supportive of differences.

Diamond, in collaboration with students, has written a book entitled "Voices of the Students, Is Anybody Listening?" It discusses the importance of asking students what has worked for them in their school career and, if they were in charge, what would be a wonderful school.

Doherty has been teaching for 20 years and has taught at Venture for 15. She grew up in Sacramento and graduated from the University of San Francisco.

Doherty said the book club helps students attain a wide perspective of the current books that are being read.


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