Narrowing the Gap was a project to narrow the gap in achievement in primary and secondary schools. In the London Borough of Harrow, the Ethnic Minority Achievement Service (EMAS) implemented projects to support this initiative.
As part of their work in 2010, Joy Collins, head of Harrow EMAS, invited Verna to speak at their annual conference. The audience included head teachers and community representatives, among whom the Harrow Association of Somalis.
Verna highlighted and explored the lack of black and ethnic minority images in books and learning materials in many schools and libraries. She discussed the wide ranging benefits to children who see themselves unselfconsciously and positively included in their early learning materials, and how this aids a sense of self and personal value. She examined the dangers of exclusion.
Members of Harrow Association of Somalis also commented on this lack of positive black images and raised the point that so far, picture books with Somali main characters depicted war and conflict and not the real experiences of Somali children in London.
So Harrow EMAS worked with Verna, teachers and children from schools in the borough and, most importantly, Somali parents – Abdi’s day was made.
Abdi's day, features a Somali boy who goes to the seaside with his friends from a London school.
Verna wrote the story, Karin Littlewood created beautiful illustrations and Simona produced the book. Abdi's Day was launched in a library in Harrow and schools, parents and local dignitaries came to the event. One old Somali man told Verna with tears in his eyes, “Now I feel like I belong here!”
In 2014, Verna spoke at Brent Annual Teachers' Conference about the positive outcomes of the work in Harrow, especially the book Abdi’s day, that came out of the NTG conference.
Bethan Mentore, Literacy Coordinator at Chalkhill Primary School in Wembley was at the conference. Verna's talk inspired her to do a book at her school. She put the idea to Rose Ashton, head teacher of Chalkhill, who agreed this would be a brilliant project for their diverse Wembley school.
In September Rose gave Verna the go ahead. Chalkhill Primary School are ready to do a book project! It will feature a typical diverse London class, just like those in their school.
Verna will write a story and the Year 5s at Chalkhill School will help her to make it just right for the younger children in the school. Karin Littlewood is going to do the illustrations. She will take her work in to show the children at various stages. We will all do workshops with the children to demystify the publishing process.