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When my good friend Paula helped me set up a blogspot, I had no way of foreseeing that writing this, my first blog, would be an emotional experience. You see, as I sit now in our book room that I have spent the last two years filling with sets of thoughtfully chosen guided reading books, the realization has finally set in that this is my very last day in this wonderful school. Yesterday, I cried with my principal and my colleagues who are also valued friends, but until this moment, it hadn’t hit me. As I look ahead to next year, when I will take on a new position in a different school district, I realize the value of reflection. Yes, I’ve spent the year teaching our students (and maybe even some teachers!) the importance and value of reflection and how it is necessary to look back before planning ahead. Now I am experiencing it myself. What have I done to serve my students, our staff, our school, and our county? Have I been effective? Has my instruction been meaningful? Have I made a difference?
In reflection, there are certainly lessons I wish I had let go on longer or ones that I probably should have brought to a close a little sooner. However, one thing I know I did effectively was instilling a love of reading into my students. Each book we read together took us on a different adventure or to a different place in time. I experienced the civil rights era with my fifth graders and giggled at the adventures of Henry and Mudge with our first graders. I discovered the beauty of Eric Carle’s art with my young students.
Which brings me to the topic that this blog was originally meant to be about. Many of our students have never seen the inside of a Barnes and Noble or a public library. Many of our students live in homes where literacy is simply not a priority, and where books are not available. Because of this, for the past two years, I have worked with our amazing PTO president to put books into the hands of these special young people. She rallied her neighbors and friends around this worthy cause, and together, we collected over 700 books. One parent donated sports bags so that our students could tote away as many books as they could stuff in their bags.
I sorted and leveled all of the books, which involved throwing out many colored-in coloring books and completed workbooks that had been donated. I also gave a bag of donated Bibles and Bible storybooks to a local church. There were a few books that I just didn’t know what to do with (see below).
Teachers nominated students to receive reading bags and we ended up with a list of 65 students from K-5. Once we began pulling students to come and choose books, it took two full school days to get to them all. They were advised to try to choose “good fit” books that they were able to read and that would not frustrate them. Students were told to fill their sports bags with as many books as they wanted. Smiles were abundant and joy filled my classroom for those two days. One first grader proclaimed, “Mrs. Kelly, this is the best day of my life!” What struck me most of all was the process of thoughtfulness that I saw in these students as they made their choices. They took books for their younger brothers and sisters, they chose books for their parents and cousins and best friends, and nothing made them happier than knowing they were going to be able to give their little brother the Clifford book he had been wanting or their best friend the Disney Princess book that would thrill her.
So, as I wipe my tears and look ahead to my future as an educator, my heart is happy that the last thing I did in this wonderful place was put books into the hands of children. I spent much time and energy this year discussing the importance of reading with rigor and reflecting with purpose. I hope that if I am able to leave any part of me in this school, that is it.