Monarch students’ author visit offers unique learning experience

She talked about poo. She talked about trouble. She talked about how kids can write, research and put their stories to paper – and just may be able to make a change in the world.

Author Jane Kurtz visited Monarch Academy Oct. 24 to give kids a glimpse of the life and work of a real-life writer, and how she’s made her mark on the world.

Monarch Principal Kim Jakovics said the school’s connection with Kurtz has been a perfect fit. Kurtz agreed.

Jakovics attended a culture camp with her children, who are from Ethiopia. After Jakovics heard Kurtz speak about her project to get books into the hands of kids in Ethiopia, she approached Kurtz about visiting the school and encouraged her to read about the school’s philosophies.

“From the very first tweet – I think it was something about being better and stronger together – I thought, this is perfect,” Kurtz said. “Even the name of the school – Monarch Academy – I just thought it was perfect.”

When writing for American Girl, Kurtz had researched and developed a character who wanted to save the world, and learned that she could make a difference in her own backyard with critters such as monarch butterflies.

Kurtz said she loves the school’s emphasis on world communities, schools around the world and making a difference. She said those have been the most important things in her and her parents’ lives.

The visit took place on Unity Day, when the school system promoted peace, differences and encouraged kids to take a stand against bullying. Although Kurtz’s visit was planned well before anyone knew of Unity Day, Kurtz and Jakovics agreed it was a fitting theme for the visit.

Jakovics said the school wanted Kurtz to focus on how students can use their gifts and talents to make a difference – not the request Kurtz is accustomed to receiving.

“Most schools are saying, ‘we have a mission to make kids better writers – we want you to focus on the writing process,’” Kurtz said. “I have volunteered with Ethiopia Reads for about 20 years, so that feels like the piece of my life that I always weave in but don’t often get to put front and center – so this was a great school for me.”

Kurtz grew up in Ethiopia, and without modern conveniences and entertainment, learned to love its landscape and people. Those became subject matter for her stories, and a love of the people – and reading – became motivation for her nonprofit, Open Hearts Big Dreams.

Because of her experience, Kurtz knew the schools of Ethiopia and the inaccessibility to books, so she made it her mission to put books in the hands of kids in Ethiopia. Monarch’s second graders have the unique opportunity of helping to fulfill the mission.

By interacting with Kurtz and learning about how she has made books, the school’s second grade classes will become miniature experts, and will write and illustrate a book on pollinators for eventual distribution in Ethiopia. The books also will be sold on Amazon.

“What they found was they don’t have access to easy readers or books with pictures, and they don’t learn to read from pictures that contextualize the story from pictures,” Jakovics said of Ethiopian children. She said when adults were given Kurtz’s books, they were able to sound out words and read, but it was the first time they’d seen their native language – usually Amharic – in print.

Monarch practices a combination of the Transformation Education and the Project Based learning models, which promotes learning through “expeditions”. The expeditions allow students to be immersed in a topic, learning many aspects at once. Second grade’s expedition on schools and communities allows for glimpses of Ethiopian culture alongside writing conventions.

Those conventions are what Kurtz says classroom teachers don’t need her to share, although as a classroom teacher herself, Kurtz acknowledges their importance.

“Most classroom teachers can’t speak to the life of an author, and I can bring that piece,” Kurtz said. “I help schools talk about those other things that are part of the writing experience that are so valuable.”

Kurtz said many of the most successful literary works have thrown convention out the window, in favor of the ability to convey a feeling. She asked the children to identify what different authors are trying to make the audience feel, and later explained that most any type of art attempts to convey a feeling or a thought.

Jakovics said although such examples are more prevalent these days, she loves seeing characters of color and diversity on the covers of Kurtz’s books. She said one of Kurtz’s books offers a dual reading experience for multiple reading levels – a simplified version on the upper half of the pages, with more in-depth text on the lower half.

With older kids, Kurtz makes sure to share failure isn’t necessarily permanent, and doesn’t indicate the artist is bad at their art. She said her artistic life has taught her that there is much error to withstand, but it doesn’t mean you’re not good enough.

Kurtz said she’s excited for the opportunity to help Monarch’s kids and faculty launch their book project.

“I hope they just get a vivid sense about what it’s like to be able to share that book love around the world, because I think that is a powerful experience for kids and that kids should feel that sense of power – that oh my gosh, we can share those things that we really care about with other people around the world.”

Old Mill state marching band champs

The Old Mill Senior High Marching Band was crowned state champion Oct. 20 at the U.S. Bands Mid-Atlantic State Championship Division 2A, held at Towson University. The Marching Patriot Pride also received Best Percussion, Best Colorguard and Best Visuals honors.

The last time Old Mill won was 1992. In addition to regular football home games, the group of 48 students is directed by Erick Vonsas and performs about five competitions per season. The performance is entitled "The Beginning", based on the T.S. Elliot quote, “What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from.”

To share your news in the Glen Burnie area, contact Amy Laque at MDGazetteAmy@gmail.com or 443-924-6440. Follow her on Twitter @GlenBurnieTalk.

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