Monday, October 25, 2010

Hope Was Here: A Story Introduction

Visitors to Help Readers Love Reading know that my professional school day is split between being a reading teacher and, for lack of a better title, the “project guy” in an elementary charter school.  And the best parts of any day are undoubtedly when the two jobs intersect - those times when books are used to introduce, support, and enhance content area learning.  Our fourth and fifth grade project using Hope Was Here, a Newbery Honor winning novel by Joan Bauer, to study local Wisconsin government is one of those projects when the end result far exceeds whatever expected student outcomes we educators create.

And sometimes you just want to share a story with people, know what I mean?  This week I'll be sharing what happened over the course of our Hope Was Here government project.

Hope Was Here is set in the fictional town of Mulhoney, Wisconsin.  A typical Wisconsin small town, Mulhoney is located halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, has five thousand residents, and is home to the Real Fresh Dairy.  Hope, the main character, and her aunt move to Mulhoney to work for G. T. Stoop in his restaurant, the Welcome Stairways.  Soon after their arrival, G. T. announces his candidacy for mayor.

My role with the project was to read Hope Was Here aloud to the fourth and fifth graders and lead a daily discussion about the various political information presented in each chapter.  The classroom teacher then led the students in additional research about local governments in Wisconsin to complete their projects.

After finishing the book we invited our local mayor to share her election experiences with the class.  The students were engaged and full of questions and the mayor's stories reinforced the lessons learned from Hope Was Here.

Well, all of the lessons except one, that is.  The mayor repeatedly referred to her election in April as part of Wisconsin’s spring elections.  She probably mentioned it three or four times, the fact that she was elected in the spring.  Whenever she mentioned it, several students would glance at one another or look at me.

The cause of their agitation was clear: The mayoral election in Hope Was Here occurs in the fall.

“In the book we read as part of our project, the election is in the fall,” we told her.  “Do all cities in Wisconsin have their elections in the spring, or is that just something they do here?”

“I’m not one hundred percent positive,” she replied, “but I’m pretty sure spring mayoral elections happen statewide.”  She went on to explain what she knew about nonpartisan elections in Wisconsin and encouraged us to do additional research.

So we did.  We went straight to Wisconsin’s State Statutes.  Unfortunately, they read exactly how you’d expect state statutes to read.  Now I didn’t check them with the Fry Readability Graph or anything, so let's just say they weren't a fourth grade reading level.  So we decided to contact the state of Wisconsin.

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