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I had an opportunity last week to see an example of our county school system working at optimum level: bringing together students, teachers and parents to celebrate the culmination of a major class project.

The event I'm referring to is an "author's tea" conducted by the first-grade classes at St. John's Lane Elementary School in Ellicott City.

And who was the author?

There were many, many authors.

Eachchild in the first grade had written and illustrated an entire book.The books had been typed and bound into cloth covers by parent volunteers, so that each author had a professional-looking product to showas the result of weeks and months of hard work.

Keep in mind thatthese are first-graders -- 6- and 7-year-olds -- who are new to thisbusiness of reading and writing. Yet, with the patient and unflagging guidance of their teachers, each child was able to write and illustrate a real story.

And these were good stories. In creating them, the children were taught how to develop characters, a story line, a problem and a solution to the problem.

They also learned about the editing process. What a great start these kids have received in theirschool careers! And how about those teachers, each guiding 20-some fledgling authors through the rigors of the creative process, and having each book completed on schedule! This, of course, was in addition to all their other duties.

The teachers and the children wanted tocelebrate their accomplishment, so they planned an "author's tea" and invited their parents and guardians to attend.

The turnout was nothing short of inspiring. While I didn't count heads, there appearedto be at least one adult present for every child. And the guests were every bit as excited as the authors. Each guest had the opportunityto hear most of the children read their stories aloud.

As impressed as I was by the efforts of the students and the teachers, I was even more encouraged by the participation of the parents and guardians.I can recall from my own middle school teaching days the number of times we sent home invitations for parents to attend some during-the-day function, and we'd be lucky to get two or three parents per class.

Suppose that, after all the students' weeks and weeks of work on their books, only a handful of parents had shown up at the author's tea? All that effort, and no one to share it with. Fortunately, that was far from the case at St. John's Lane last week. All the kids were justly proud of themselves, and felt very, very special because they had people from their homes and people from their school all showing support and pride in their hard work.

Isn't this how the educationprocess is supposed to work? Teach useful skills, encourage hard work, provide reinforcement for what's been learned and involve the family in the process.

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