Saturday, April 21, 2012

G-E-T Schools in Wisconsin

Back in January of 2012, Sandy Ravnum, the Elementary Library Media Specialist for the Galesville-Ettrick-Tempealeau Schools in Wisconsin, invited us to visit the three elementary schools to speak about my process of creating books.  She said the entire school district was planning a "Young Authors' Event" in April where every student in the school would become an author by writing, illustrating, and assembling his or her own book.
 I was intrigued with the idea and immediately booked the event for April 19th.
At Trempealeau Elementary, Sandy greeted us at the door and then showed us the hundreds of books the students had written. Topics included family vacations, hobbies, biographies, death in the family, pets, farms, and almost anything imaginable. One student whose book was on the 4K-2 (4 years old through 2nd grade) table, wrote of her father's struggle with cancer before he passed away.  

Throughout the Trempealeau School, mounted animals and birds are displayed, inviting every student to learn more about the natural world.

The first group at Trempealeau included 4-year-olds, Kindergartners, and second graders. 

After the show a student named Paris gave me a card she had made especially for me.

The second group included first and second graders.
Deb and her dog Gus from Coulee Region Humane Society watched with the second group. Gus serves as a therapy dog that students can read to. Deb says the program is both popular and successful.
I projected a picture of 12-year-old Brad Simon onto the screen because he is the illustrator for my newest book, What I Saw on the Farm,  which will be out in May. Since the last half of my program focused on my writing process, I thought I would go over the steps in creating my new book, and I thought it especially appropriate to discuss Brad's work with these young authors and illustrators that made up my audience. 

Since all students in both groups were authors, they asked some serious questions: 
"How long does it take you to write a book?"
"Did you get mixed up working on two books at a time?"
"When did you get the idea that you wanted to write?"
And many more.

Next we followed Sandy in her car through the beautiful farm country about seven miles to Galesville Elementary School, where I was scheduled to do two programs for grades 4K, K, 1, and 2. The programs included my story, If I Were a Farmer: Nancy's Adventure, followed by an explanation of the process I followed writing my newest book, What I Saw on the Farm.
The enthusiasm of the students and staff made us feel really welcome as we met them in the library. They started to explain their gardening projects. They grow the seeds (see the lighted shelf in the background), plant them, and Jean Wallner, the school's head cook who is also a master gardener, prepares the fresh food to serve in the cafeteria. A boy explained. "We plant the seeds now and I will get to eat the tomatoes next fall when I am in the first grade!" 
A young girl exclaimed, "I Love tomatoes!"

The garden is on a tennis court that would probably cost thousands of dollars to resurface. Since it is fenced in, it presents a perfect set-up for an above-ground garden where the children help grow onions, lettuce strawberries, carrots, peas, corn, and other fruits and vegetables. Of course, a lot of work has to be done in the garden yet this spring, but in the picture above you can see the raised areas where the perennials are growing. The gardening experience is valuable for students. It presents the opportunity to raise food, eat vegetables, try new things, and share that experience with friends at school. Many of the kids probably work with their parents in gardens at home,  but for those who do not have a garden at home, the school experience gives them something really unique. For those students who have gardens at home, the school gardening experience may help them learn about some new plants to grow and eat.
First and second grade students in the first group at Galesville (above) and
The cover of my newest book (below).

4K, K, and grade 1 students in the second group at Galesville raising their two fingers to help me demonstrate how to teach a calf to drink from a pail.

After Galesville we have to hustle because we have about 45 minutes to pack up, drive eight miles to Ettrick, and set up for a program that is scheduled to start at 2:15 PM. 
But once again, we follow Sandy through the beautiful countryside.
 That's Sandy in the car ahead of us. I don't think we would have found our way through the short cuts without her help.

We arrive at Ettrick to a group of enthusiastic students in 4K, K, and first grade,who assemble early and patiently watch as we finish setting up.
Above, the students watch and listen as I begin my story, and below, they hold up two fingers as I demonstrate the craft of teaching a calf to drink from a pail.

After listening to me explain the process of writing the story, students giggle as I read the last page, which has an illustration showing cats playing ball and a one cat batting while holding one bat with its tail and one with its paws. 

Nancy and I thank all teachers, administrators, custodians, cooks, and all office workers for making us feel so very welcome. For example, even as we walked from our car to the Trempealeau school at  7:30 AM, a man cleaning the sidewalk greeted us with enthusiasm and a smile. 
It is the enthusiasm of everyone that carries through to the students, making their school experience more productive and fun. It is also what enables me to do the best job I can when I perform my program. 

Nancy and I thank Mrs. Ravnum for inviting us to the schools, arranging our visit with all three schools, and spending much of her busy day guiding us from school to school, and giving us tours of each school. We enjoyed talking to her throughout the day, and we learned a lot about the schools and the area around them.
We thank Terry Thompson, from the Trempealeau County Times, for taking pictures and visiting with us.
We especially thank all teachers and administrators and others who stopped to thank us or say a kind word or two.
And to the students, the focus of my visit, I say "Thanks so very much!" for your warm reception, your honest enthusiasm, your questions, and your kind remarks of approval. Keep writing! You are making your parents and teachers proud, and you are learning skills and creating memories that will last a lifetime.

Photographs by Nancy A. Fredrickson

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