Southmoreland High School students work on 'special' book
As the school year quickly comes to an end, students at Southmoreland High School are feverishly working to complete a project that has involved at least 30 students since its inception.
As a continuation of the Reading Buddies Program, these students — under the watchful eye of language arts teacher Jenna Hixson — are putting together their own book to be titled “Scottie, You Are Special.”
The Reading Buddies Program involved high school students trekking to the primary center after school on Fridays to read to kindergarten and first-grade students.
“I wanted to make an addition to it next year so it's not only on literacy, but also focuses on self-esteem,” Hixson said. “So I was looking for particular children's literature that focused on teaching the basics of reading and sight words, but that also dealt with self-worth. I found a lot of different books, but I still couldn't find the perfect book. So I thought, why don't we write the perfect book.”
The main character in “Scottie, You Are Special,” which will be read to the primary center students in the next school year, is a Scottie dog on a journey to find self-esteem. He's different than other scotties, since he sports red ears, red feet and a red tail, giving him the feeling he can't be like those other dogs.
“I pitched the idea to the kids and they ran with it,” Hixson said, adding she developed the plot, but the students did all of the writing. “They're the ones that actually wrote the story. Different kids wrote different parts of it.”
The writing portion of the 34-page book is completed and now the illustration is taking place.
Samantha Gray, a freshman who admits to loving art, has been helping to oversee this portion of the project.
“I love the Reading Buddies program,” Gray said enthusiastically. “I really wanted to be able to give back to this club and feel like I was a big part of it. I know how to use watercolors and I taught the other kids so I can supervise and get Mrs. Hixson's ideas on the page.”
Gray said she was moved by her involvement in the program.
“It's such an amazing experience because you think all these kids don't know how to read (or) they're not going to want to read,” Gray said. “You get there and they're so excited and it makes you really excited and knowing they look up to you, it's a really good experience.”
Fellow freshman Sam Lauffer got involved in reading at a young age through the influence of her grandmother, a longtime teacher.
“I like interacting with children,” she said, adding she has been helping with painting as part of the illustration process, something she admits is quite new to her. “It's been a different experience. I can draw, but I'm not an artist. It's fun.”
Lauffer, also enjoyed the chance to read to her younger colleagues.
“Having the kids there, it's really a life-changing experience to them,” Lauffer said. “Being able to make them happy, even if it's just an hour, it feels my heart with joy.”
Hixson has found working on the book to be a bit more difficult than originally expected.
“I thought this would be so easy,” she said with a bit of a laugh. “This has been the most challenging project I've ever worked on. My degree is in writing and I love writing. I've always focused more on a teenage audience or an adult audience. I never realized everything that went into a children's book. It's a lot of work.”
One page in the book will feature a picture of every student who has been involved with Reading Buddies this year. “That's probably about 200 kids out of our high school population that have volunteered their time reading or writing the children's book,” Hixson said.
Hixson said the group is working hard to finish before the end of the school year.
“You get kids from all different groups of friends and they all come together for one project,” Hixson said. “We're going to stay a couple days a week from now until the end of the school year.”
Some 200 copies are expected to be printed, which was made possible through donations from teachers, parents and clubs.
Some books also are expected to be donated to the “Give Kids the World” program in Florida. That nonprofit organization works to fulfill the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.
“In one week, they celebrate all the holidays of the year with these children,” Hixson said. “This book is going to be one of the gifts they get while they're there.”
Paul Paterra is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-887-6101 or firstname.lastname@example.org.