Fall Programs Update

It is mid-October, the air is crisp, and nearly six weeks of school have flown by as the pandemic continues. It has been a roller coaster ride with varying start dates, in school and at home learning and all kinds of hybrid, alternative models. One thing is for certain, educators are pulling out all the stops in creative approaches to problem solving and meeting the needs of their students. At IRW, we are doing our best to be responsive, flexible, and supportive in our programs and are thrilled to have 18 partner schools participating this fall.

WordCraft, an online writing program for students in grades 5-8, is well underway at three Washington County schools as well as multiple outer island schools. Imaginations are hard at work as the kids are developing their stories with support from authors, Dave Anderson, Elizabeth Atkinson, and Anica Mrose Rissi. One student received this advice to strengthen their story:

“Alright, let’s talk about this cat and this man…So what problems can we introduce into this story? Make the cat evil? Have him hold the man hostage? Steal his stuff? Have them both poor, stranded, starving and the man has to decide if he is going to eat the cat? Have the cat be a reincarnation of the man’s dead wife coming back to tell him something? Have the man and the cat switch bodies?”

We can’t wait to see how things develop!

Four of our partner schools are participating in the Whole Book Approach, reading and looking at picture books in their whole art form. Teachers received professional development on the pedagogy, along with supporting resources around Visual Thinking Strategies and bags of books tailored to the age groups with whom they are working. Kids have been responsive to the approach wanting to read the books used in their free time. Teachers have to explain how this can safely happen with books going into quarantine after each student handles them.

Children at Step by Step Childcare enjoy an engaging, Whole Book Approach story time once per week!

Lisa Herrington, IRW Program Assistant, has been using the approach with story time at Step by Step Daycare in Milbridge and virtually with kindergarteners at the Peninsula School in Gouldsboro. Mrs. Renwick puts Lisa up on the big screen and is able to walk around with the book being read to give kids a closer look, since social distancing has them all spread out. The challenges of Covid-19 are many, but surmountable.

Middle schoolers at Charlotte Elementary School meet virtually with Newbery Honor-winning author Lauren Wolk, after reading and loving her book Wolf Hollow.

We have six classrooms in grades 5-8 reading Newbery Medal novels by Gary Schmidt, Clare Vanderpool, and Lauren Wolk and held our first virtual author session from that program with Charlotte Elementary School students last week. They had read Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow and were eager to ask questions after she shared her story of how she came to write the book. She reminded them that when it comes to writing the key is to begin. She said she works with the universal idea that “We have so much in common as human beings, if we just pay attention, we can communicate.” Kids wanted to know if she made up all of the metaphors and similes, if she ever thought of writing a graphic novel, and if she ever thought of writing a sequel. She shared a bit of exciting news by responding that a draft was at her editors right now!

This week, our No News is Good News with Ivy & Bean program kicks off at five schools with kids in grades 3-4 working with author and illustrator Sophie Blackall. Each class will work to put together their own school newspaper. Teachers have an introductory video to share with their students that Sophie made especially for them to get the ball rolling. IRW put together packets for every child with a copy of the book and all the materials they need to write their own newspaper. The packets create the flexibility for being in class or at home. In the end we will have news to share from around the IRW horn. We know there are some awesome story tellers out there and can’t wait to see what news they bring us.

The annual 7th Grade Read is underway, but looks very different from years past when we would physically gather together all the seventh graders from Mount Desert Island Regional School System for a big event at Camp Beech Cliff. Instead, we are meeting via Zoom with individual classrooms which adds certain sweetness to the experience. Last week, we began with the three classrooms from Conners Emerson School for Zoom sessions with author Abdi Nor Iftin to discuss his memoir Call Me American, which he recently adapted for young readers. Teachers sent a very long list of questions ahead of time that the students had posed to Abdi. One that gave us a chuckle was, “Have you ever been to Vegas?” The answer is “yes.”

Author Abdi Nor Iftin held Zoom sessions with seventh graders from Conners Emerson School.

But the discussion was far more serious in nature, with Abdi sharing that he suffers from PTSD from the many traumas he experienced during his young life as a Somali refugee. “Do you understand American culture?” one student asked. “I don’t understand camping,” he replied, “Camping is a reminder of living in a refugee camp, which was not always safe.” Abdi talked about the importance of sharing his story, as the story of Somalia tends to be one of war and despair. Somalians, he noted, have hopes and dreams like the rest of us but the lack of representation in stories can be detrimental. The students had watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s ted talk “The Danger of a Single Story” as part of their learning, which tied in nicely to what they were hearing from Abdi.

All seventh graders at schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System are reading Abdi’s young adult memoir, Call Me American, about his experience as a Somali refugee and American immigrant.

Though this pandemic has caused us to rethink and retool the way we serve our partner school communities, we are pleased to continue to bring quality authors and illustrators together with students and teachers and put books into the hands of children. We will work hard to continue to adapt and respond moving forward, no matter what life throws our way.

Alison Johnson, Director of School Programs

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