Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Perfect Visit to Penderlea School

Source: Pender County Schools | WECT Article
On Friday, I drove out to Penderlea School in Willard, NC. This historic school recently had a parent involvement End of Grade (EOG) Bingo Night in which over 150 parents and students attended and over 1,000 chicken nuggets were eaten.  Copies of my book, Atttack of the Chicken Nugget Man: A North Carolina EOG Adventure, were given out as prizes, and the principal, Mr. Lehocky, gave a presentation about EOG test-taking tips.  It turned out to be the largest turnout the school has had for a parent involvement activity in a very long time.

I love when schools break the norm and do creative things to make test preparation fun.  Standardized testing is, and will likely always be, a major component of modern education.  Whether you like testing or not, I always say that the least we can do is make it fun and bearable for students.  That's what I set out to do with my books and that's what Mr. Lehocky set out to do with his parent involvement night.

When I arrived at Penderlea School, I was escorted by a smiling, well-mannered third-grader to the principal's office to meet Mr. Lehocky.  On my way, I passed a group of students doing yoga in the media center. How cool is that?  If my school had offered yoga when I was growing up, I probably would have had a much easier time paying attention in class!

I met with three classes, one at a time, answered some absolutely amazing questions that the students had prepared for me, and tossed a fluffy yellow ball around the room to keep the students on their toes. The students, to my surprise, asked a lot of questions about the brainstorming and writing process.  They asked how I came up with humorous events for the book and I did a pretty energetic presentation on the power of exaggeration.  The kids were laughing, hands were constantly raised to the ceiling, and afterwards, a teacher told me that it was the most engaged she had seen her students in a while.  That's the thing about this time of year. The test preparation and winding down of the school year can take a toll on students and the classroom environment, no matter how engaging a teacher is. One should never underestimate the power of a fun visit by a guest to shake things up.  I must admit, I was impressed with Penderlea's teachers-- their sense of humor, their willingness to let a very silly man stand up in front of the room and goof off with their students, and their much-appreciated praise for the book and its impact on learning.

When one student asked when Part 2 was coming out, I said I was doing my best to have it done in 6 months.

"6 months? I can't wait that long!" he sighed.

Mr. Lehocky took all three third grade classrooms onto a beautiful courtyard and lined us up for a group picture.  Students crowded around me, firing questions at me faster than I could respond, and making it difficult to walk at all! Students were adamantly demanding that I stand here, no here, no here!  Being completely unable to decide which group of students to stand next to, I eventually succumbed to the assertive request of a third grade girl who pointed at a spot in the grass right next to her and her friends, and firmly announced that I was to stand right there.  What a far cry from the days when I was a third-grader, fearing that I would be the last one chosen to join one of the two kickball teams at recess.  

I also did what I could to address the topic of bullying, a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  It was very clear that some students had major concerns about bullying, as is the case in almost every school in the country. Several students asked me questions about how to best deal with bullies, which is not unusual given the nature of the bullies in my books.  I drilled home the point that nobody deserves to be bullied, and made it very clear that if you ever experience or witness bullying in anyway, you should stop what you are doing and tell an adult immediately.   

I was also quite impressed with Mr. Lehocky, who was dishing out high-fives as the buses pulled up at the end of the day. As we discussed testing and the new Common Core Standards, he made sure to repeatedly thank me for coming out and visiting his school. Mr. Lehocky, I might mention, sat and watched all three of my presentations, smiling as I joked around with his students. This guy really cares about engaging instruction.

It was a fantastic visit! I made sure to leave some goodies (bookmarks and posters) for the kids, but what they really wanted, autographs, was just logistically impossible given the time constraints and the sheer number of students who wanted one (or three, as one boy demanded).  I promised to send them each an autographed picture if they wrote me a letter and worked hard with their teachers to revise and polish them. I explained the difference between a good letter and a overly simple letter.  So, in addition to engaging in an extremely meaningful author's purpose activity before the visit (coming up with questions for me), the students had a chance to ask their questions in person and discuss the books and my visit with a letter.  That's just my little way of making author visits educational before, during, and long after I arrive at the school.

Thanks, Penderlea!  I had a blast!!!

-Kumar Sathy

To find out how to host an author visit at your school, please visit this website. Pricing is both affordable and negotiable, proceeds benefit the nonprofit publisher of the books, and a select number of author visits are granted absolutely free of charge each year, especially for schools within a 2-hour drive of Chapel Hill, NC.  Events can be customized, and can include guided reading workshops, writing lessons, and more!