Students show the 'write' stuff

Third-graders experience the roles of authors, publishers

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— Third-grade students at Strawberry Park Elementary peeked inside the life of authors and publishers this year when they entered Scholastic's "Kids Are Authors" contest.

Each of the four third-grade classes planned, researched and created a book written and illustrated by children for children for the first time in the school's history. Three classes chose to incorporate an outer space theme for their book, which correlated with the curriculum during the time.

The other third grade class chose the virtues theme that the four public schools in the Steamboat Springs School District try to abide by.

Virtues in the district include respect, integrity and honesty, responsibility, compassion, love and friendship, commitment and citizenship.

Sherry Holland, library media specialist and organizer for the third-grade projects, said this nation-wide contest allowed students to share ideas and understand frustrations and exhilarations in the real world.

"This was an authentic experience for the kids. In the real world, you would have to do these things," Holland said. "We were no different than any author or writer."

Principal John DeVincentis said he couldn't be more proud of his third-graders.

"For us to win four honorable mentions out of 25, that says something about our students and teachers," DeVincentis said.

More than 2,000 classes entered the "Kids Are Authors" contest, and only two winners walked away with prizes.

The only strict guideline to follow was the fiction and non-fiction categories.

The theme for the fiction winner publication was "One Day in the Life of Bubble Gum," written and illustrated by fourth grade students in Wisconsin.

The non-fiction winner was "We Dream of a World ...," written and illustrated by second-, third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students in Missouri.

Strawberry Park's four third-grade classes, taught by Cindy Molnar, Kristi Lear, Tracy Stoddard and Lesa Scoppa, won four out of 25 entries in the nation.And because the contest is open to any classes (at least three students and a teacher) kindergarten through eighth grade, Strawberry Park third graders had tough competition.

"We set out with a goal and it evolved every step of the way," Holland said. "We ended up with something far better than what we expected."

Students were required to research their topics and present them to their editors (teachers and the librarian). After editing their work to meet a deadline, students used skills learned in the classroom and the library to develop a book format with art.

"This project provided students with an opportunity to become writers, researchers and illustrators in a creative and productive environment," Holland wrote in a letter to other staff and faculty.

Judy Ramsey, art teacher at Strawberry Park, said the various tools used to illustrate each book fit the curriculum and the guidelines of the contest.

"I did different types of art with different classes," Ramsey said. "We took a mixed-media approach. They definitely had to use principles of design."

The classes that used the outer space theme for their books used oil pastels with Indian ink, finger paint and toothbrushes to splatter paint. Those who participated in the virtues book worked with colored pencils and multicolored papers.

"Third grade is a great age to do art. They're truly receptive to new ideas and are old enough that they have good ideas," Ramsey said.

Holland said the six-trait writing program at the school helped the books become a success. Those traits include using voice, word choice, sentence fluency, ideas, convention and organization to build stronger writers at a young age. The project took students, teachers and the media specialist eight weeks to complete, and Holland said she is grateful that this experience enhanced the students' library knowledge.

"Their library skills really came out, although that was not the intent," Holland said. "What we learned the most was that teachers were seeing what kids were learning of the writing process and editing process."

After hearing news of the honorable mentions May 30, a letter from Scholastic stated that each entry will receive a $200 gift for teachers to use at their discretion $800 for Strawberry Park.

Holland said the school sold the third-graders' books at the yearly book fair, but didn't earn a dime in profit.

"We had no idea how expensive it is to truly be in the publishing world. It cost us $14 a book, and that doesn't take into consideration the time," Holland said.

Whether Strawberry Park participates in the contest next year depends on the interest of the teachers and the time constraints, Holland said.

Revising the schedule a bit was one of the biggest obstacles, but one that Holland feels will be overcome will practice.

"It was a true collaboration between classrooms and the library. We all had to work together and plan this out,"

Holland said.

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