Boys and girls dream about ultimate school, then write a book about it
WALNUT — Imagine an elementary school building run by virtual reality. The walls are made of glass. Expensive artwork adorns the classrooms. Escalators transport students from one floor to another. Swimming pools fill the hallways.
The cafeteria serves restaurant food options. A trampoline park sits in the playground area. And teachers are dressed up goofy for the purpose of putting smiles on students' faces.
It might be hard to imagine such an extravagant place, but for fifth-grade students at Bureau Valley North, those are just a few ideas that would make the ultimate school if money wasn't an issue.
The students put their imagination to work when they were assigned to write a classroom book based on their ideas.
Their plans, while avant garde, make for a pretty entertaining read.
Fifth-grade teacher Nora Kelly has been doing this assignment with her students for the past four years. Every year, the process has been the same. The class brainstorms book topics and votes on their favorite one. Each student is then assigned two pages out of the book — one to write a short story based on the chosen topic, the second to illustrate a drawing to go with their story.
The book is then put together and published through Studentreasures' Publishing Company. Kelly said it's always an exciting day when the printed edition is sent back and students finally get to flip through the end result of all their hard work.
Their stories are shared and discussed during a book launch event with friends and family in the school cafeteria. This year's book launch was Wednesday morning.
Tony Gripp, also a fifth-grade teacher at Bureau Valley North, decided to join in on the fun this year and get his class involved in the project, as well.
He said his students really enjoyed the process, especially when they got to dream up the ideas for their stories.
"It made them really take charge, because it was their own story," he said.
The assignment also gave students a lesson on sentence structure and story organization, not to mention a little art instruction, as well.
Drake Hardy, one of the fifth-grade students, admitted he worked harder on his illustrations than the writing portion of the assignment. Hardy said he comes from an artistic family and enjoys art projects of all mediums. While he said he's never thought about becoming an illustrator in the future, he said, "it would be cool."
Some of the things Hardy drew to highlight his dream school were an arboretum, because he likes nature, also a swimming pool and a cafeteria complete with a Subway and Arby's.
Kelly said she was amazed with all the ideas that came from the students. While this isn't a new project for her, this was the first year she worked with fifth-graders. In the past, she taught third-graders. Some of the students in her class this year were also in her class in third-grade and knew what to expect when they were given the assignment again this year.
"It was exciting to see their growth and how they've become better, more well-rounded writers," she said.
The difference between working with third-graders vs. fifth-graders was trying to keep the older students' stories to one page only. In the case of the third-graders, it was difficult for some to fill an entire page, Kelly said.
She said this project teaches students the value of the written word and encourages them to "dream big" and be creative.
To help spark interest in the topic, Kelly said she showed pictures of big campus high schools around the country and even held discussion about some of the design work that's taking place at Bureau Valley High School in preparation of the additions onto the building this summer.
Ava Clausen was one of the students who participated in the project in Kelly's third-grade class and got to do it a second time this year as a fifth-grader. She really enjoyed it both years and made sure she did a good job, because, she said, Kelly "has high expectations."
"She expects us to write full sentences and just make it pop," she said.
Fifth-grader Lesleigh Maynard said she also learned a lot of responsibility, knowing her end product would end up in a published book she'd keep forever.