Last Friday was the “culminating assembly share” for a rather remarkable all-school residency. As a children’s book author, I do lots of school visits. Usually, it’s a quick in and out, a one-day visit. But this visit became a 23 day residency. Here is how it came about.
Jack Jackter Intermediate School (JJIS) in Colchester, CT has 700 students in grades 3-5. Each year they bring in a HOTs teaching artist to do an all-school residency. (HOTS stands for Higher Order Thinking Schools: a CT school reform model that integrates the arts across the disciplines.) Last year they worked with a musician, the year before an artist. This year they wanted to do something with an author. A recent mini-residency with Louise Pascale, author of The Afghan Children’s Songbook, convinced them that they wanted to focus on a more global theme, and they contacted me because I’m a HOTS teaching artist and have also written books with Heifer International. I met with a group of teachers and we decided our residency theme would be “What Does It Mean to be a Global Citizen?”
The residency had many components and grew in depth and scope as the project evolved.
1) Students raised money for Heifer in three ways: first, through a Lead the Stampede Read to Feed campaign; second, a school Literacy Night that featured games and activities focused on literature (and Heifer books and t-shirts for sale, designed by a student); and third, a “Hat Day” where each student paid $1 to wear a hat to school.
2) Students raised their global awareness by listening to my author talks based on Beatrice’s Goat ( for gr 3-5), Winter in Songming (gr 3) and Once There Was and Was Not (gr 4-5). Teachers were given Heifer Global Education Resource Kits for the books introduced to their classroom.
3) I did three follow-up visits to each classroom. The first two visits, students reviewed the slides from the author talks and did reflective writing that encouraged them to think more deeply: ie. What did you notice? What connections did you make to your own life? (Colchester used to be a farming community, so there were lots of connections to the animals.) What kind of feelings did you have? What questions do you have? The questions led to group discussions…everything from “Why do we have so much and they have so little?” to “Where do the villagers get their hair cut?”
For the last visit, students in all three grades wrote poetry that reflected their learning. Third graders wrote lunes (a 3-line poetic form that uses 3 words on the first line, 5 words on the second, and 3 words on the third). Fourth and fifth graders worked in groups to create poems from the point of view of a Heifer animal (gr 4) or a person who had just received a Heifer animal (gr 5), and then presented them to their classmates using movement and music.
4) The final component of the residency was an all-school share this past Monday to celebrate what the students had learned and to congratulate them on becoming global citizens. Students sat outside by grade level on the athletic field in three large circles. Fifth graders were the outside circle, then the 4th graders, and last the 3rd graders. A small stage was put in the center.
After opening remarks from the principal, the ceremony began with students using sign language to recite “Hold Fast to Dreams” by Langston Hughes as a reminder that their hard work and accomplishments would help those in need hold onto their dreams for self-reliance. Then the two winners of the Heifer t-shirt design contest were given certificates. (It was determined that one of the winning designs was too complicated for a t-shirt design, so a high school student worked with that student to create a larger watercolor poster that will hang in the school lobby.) After that a few Grade 3 students, chosen by the school editorial board, shared their lunes.
Next, five 5th grade classes shared an awesome project they created on their own initiative based on the book, If the World Were a Village, and what they’d learned during the residency. One of the teachers wrote a beautiful song that was sung by the students. This was interspersed with quotes from the book and quotes from the students’ reflective writing that they’d done in our classroom sessions. They also included reflections from a question posed to them after my first assembly program: How has your thinking changed?
Following that, some 4th grade poets shared (“I am a tilapia” and “I am a camel”).
Then several teachers did the Read to Feed presentation. $2000 was raised… Earlier, classes had to “vote” on which of three possible animal combinations they wanted, and a 3rd grader decided to “do the math” to see which one would produce the greatest number of offspring ie. value. His mother helped him write up his computations, and he shared those with the audience.
Fifth grade poets shared next.
Then we had a Passing of the Gift ceremony where each grade passed on their words of wisdom to the younger grade. Each class had been asked to come up with a list of things they could do as global citizens (ie. “Respect all people, regardless of color.” “Don’t litter.”"A global citizen protects the environment.”) Each student wrote his or her favorite on an index card and used yarn to create a “necklace” that was worn to the assembly. At the appropriate time, the circle of 4th graders stood, turned to face the 3rd graders, and then each 4th grader placed his/her necklace on a 3rd grader. Next, the 5th graders passed their knowledge to the 4th graders. In the fall, the new 4th graders will pass their words of wisdom to the incoming 3rd graders at the opening day assembly. In addition, each class created a quilt square of their top global citizen suggestion, and those are being made into a quilt over the summer that will be unveiled at the opening day assembly in the fall and hung permanently in the school lobby.
The closing song was the 4th and 5th grade choir singing and signing “We Are the World.”
I must say, sitting in our world circle like that felt magical. JJIS faculty and staff spend a lot of time working with the students on how to be good school citizens, and now I think the kids really understand that being a citizen of the world requires the same kind of thoughtfulness that is asked of citizens of a school, a town, a state, and a country. It was a wonderful experience, one that will certainly stay with me a long while.