In May, students celebrated the arrival of the books with presentations to parents and peers. Each book was displayed next to a review sheet where readers could make a comment. "I like having other kids read my book," said one young author proudly.
From the imaginations of young minds come tales of pirates, princesses, train adventures, and silly siblings. Kindergartners and first graders at Woodland School became published authors thanks to the Aspiring Authors grant from the Morris Educational Foundation.
Mr. Greg Sumski's kindergarten class and Mrs. Uray Vazquez's first grade class participated in the project. "We brainstormed topic ideas as a group," explained Mr. Sumski. "The students learned about characters and plot. They worked on the story line, the beginning, the middle, the end." For four weeks, students perfected their stories, with the help of parent volunteers, and then illustrated them on special paper. The final projects were sent off to the publisher, and then the anticipation began.
"There was a lot of excitement when the books arrived," said Mr. Sumski. Olivia McCaffrey, author of "The Escape From the Evil Castle," said her favorite part of the project was drawing the pictures. "My favorite part was seeing the book finished," said James Grizzetty.
Things are growing at Alfred Vail School! Over the past year the school has received two grants from the Morris Educational Foundation to build and maintain organic vegetable and butterfly gardens.
The first phase of the project was kicked off with a school wide celebration in June 2011, after months of planning. There were caterpillars to feed, cocoons to watch, seeds to sew, a garden to build, and plants to water. Finally, it was time to open the containers in the new herb garden at the back of the school and let the newly hatched butterflies free.
All the students at Alfred Vail School took part in the Organic Garden and Butterfly grant provided by the Morris Educational Foundation. Kindergartners took care of the butterfly cages in their classrooms and watched eagerly as the insects transformed from caterpillars to cocoons to butterflies. First graders sewed seeds in plastic cups in their classrooms, sat them in the warmth of the window, and watered and cared for them as vegetables sprouted. Second graders planted and cared for the herb garden, filled with basil and marigolds.
"We wrote the name of each plant on the cup," said first grader Thomas Evansky. When the plants out grew the cups, the classes transplanted them to the larger raised bed garden in the school's courtyard.
"My favorite part was when we got the hose out to water the plants," said Abigail Passarella. "We all took turns watering." The green beans were the first vegetables ready to be harvested. "We all got to eat a green bean!" exclaimed Kaitlyn Chu, wearing her pink butterfly t-shirt in honor of the special day. Karamjit Singh smiled proudly as he admired the vegetables now growing taller than him. "And the butterflies found this vegetable garden," he noted.
Throughout the summer, the gardens were tended to by students and their parents. In September there were cucumbers, squash, zucchini, peppers, and three kinds of tomatoes harvested. "We had a big salad day in September, when we ate all our vegetables," said first grade teacher, Mrs. Janice Whitcomb, author of the grant and leader of the entire project. In addition to the butterflies and the gardens, her class play was How Does Your Garden Grow? "This has been the hardest thing I've ever done as a teacher," she said and added, "but the most rewarding!"
As a follow up to the original grant, the MEF funded a second grant to Alfred Vail School to expand the organic raised bed garden. A second raised bed will be added to fit different vegetables. The students will learn how seeds from last year's garden will become this year's plants and how various plants and herbs provide a habitat for butterflies. The children, teachers, parents, girl scouts and school workers will tend the garden and eat the vegetables that are grown.