Writing with reason

Published 12:36 am Sunday, May 10, 2009

I remember that day. It began just like any other. The tardy bell rang, and Coach Rhodes put the notes on the screen. We would begin talking about ancient Egypt that day. That was the day my funky dreaming began.

And so also began the story that Charles Henderson High School’s Mary Beth Wasden just completed writing for her 9th grade honors English class.

I dozed off shortly into the class. I had a killer biology project to do the night before, and it had kept me up until the wee hours of the morning. The next thing I knew, I was in Egypt lying on a boat floating down the Nile River in Cairo.

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Wasden continued her tale of a daydreaming student whose thoughts lead her all over the world.

While these may just be dreams for that character, they are probably the closest reality any of the book’s readers will come to ever experiencing such travels.

The story was different for classmate Melissa Kennedy, who introduces her readers to all types of animals in her work — but in reality, it’s the same.

And it’s the same for all 50 of Karla Johnson’s 9th grade honors English students who wrote stories for one untied cause.

Through the Books of Hope program, which provides books to more than 50,000 across the country, Johnson’s students will join in sending their own works to orphan children in Uganda and India.

Students in Johnson’s classes spend an entire year working on the projects, and the finished product is a book written and illustrated by the students themselves.

“We ship the books to them, and they get them and send them to orphanage schools,” Johnson said.

The project, which Johnson has been doing with her classes for three years now, is one students can learn both English writing skills and a little about self-giving.

“One of the things I hope they get is a real appreciation for how blessed they are in this country,” Johnson said.

Hi, my name is Safari Sammy. I travel all over North America looking at all of the amazing animals that live there. I do all of my traveling with my best friend Steven. We see all kinds of neat things, and now we want to show you some of the biggest, fastest and best animals of North America from A to Z.

Micah Johnson is one of those students who said he has learned the deeper lesson his teacher was hoping to get across.

“I’m proud I’m helping out children over there who have really hard times,” Micah Johnson said.

Micah, similar to Wasden and Kennedy, wrote about North American animals. His inspiration was simply a desire to learn.

“I just wanted to learn more about animals,” Micah said. “It was fun, and I learned a lot.”

Karla Johnson said, as was the case for Micah, the project goes beyond basic English lessons, allowing students to write about any topic they choose, and makes for an even more meaningful experience.

“I encourage them to write about a subject they are interested in. If they like history, they should write about that. If they like science, then that,” Johnson said. “They get really creative.”

The face was calling to him; he knew it. As he got closer, he could have sworn that the mouth opened just to let him in. The tongue rolled out like a winding staircase. Timmy took a step forward and as soon as his shoe touched the slimy pink muscle, he was sucked inside.

Creative is just the way Johnson said Kalyn Skaggs took her readers on a journey through the digestive tract.

“They ask for non-fiction books, so they write a fiction-framed story with a non-fiction element, like (Skaggs) story takes them through the digestive tract,” Johnson said.

But it’s not just about teaching lessons in the stories. Some of the students’ topics are ones close to their hearts.

On Feb. 1, 1993, Mrs. Jackson asked her fourth grade class did they know what was so special about the month of February. All the children replied with the same answer, Valentine’s Day. Mrs. Jackson dropped her head and sighed, ‘Yeah class, that’s one special thing about the month of February, but that’s not what I’m talking about. It’s more important than that, and its dealing with history.’

Just then Peter, the shyest person in the class, stood up and said, ‘Mrs. Jackson, I know what’s so special about the month of February.’

And, author Caroline Hall, knows too.

“It’s about a teacher who asks her class what’s so special about the month of February, and then it goes into Black History Month and how it all got started,” Hall said. “I love black history, and it makes me proud to know they’re going to learn about American cultures.”

Johnson will even take her students a step further in the project.

Funded in part by the Troy City Schools Education Foundation, Johnson said the students also work themselves to raise money for the program.

On Tuesday, students from the class will walk five and a half-miles across the city in the Books of Hope Walk-a-Thon.

Students will ask for sponsors to support them as they walk for the cause.

But, Johnson said even students who have already made it through the class will walk again.

“To me, it says something that juniors will be walking again,” Johnson said. “The fact that they want to be involved two years later says something about the project.”

While walking, students will have the chance to reflect on what life is really like for the orphans who will one day read their stories.

“The children in Uganda walk six to 12 miles one way each day to get to where the safe shelters are,” Johnson said. “Just the experience of the Walk-A-Thon gives them an experience of how the children in Uganda feel.”