Clemson students help local second-graders publish their own book
CLEMSON — Conventional paper-and-ink books might seem destined for the dust bin in this age of omnipotent electronic entertainment, especially among children, but teacher Katarina Clegg’s class at Homeland Park Primary School in Anderson nearly exploded with excitement on the morning of April 19 when a group of Clemson University student interns showed up to deliver copies of a very special book, “Our Favorite Animals.”
The kids screamed with delight and clamored for their copies, which came in special Clemson gift bags with a few other goodies inside. But it was the books they really wanted to get their hands on. It was their book, in every sense, because they had written, illustrated, edited and published it themselves.
This was the third semester interns from Clemson’s Roy and Marnie Pearce Center for Professional Communication have worked with a local school to help its students publish a book. The School Book Project takes one elementary school class per semester through each step of creating their children’s book. It is offered as an elective and was the brainchild of Pearce Center assistant director Ashley Fisk.
“I was sitting in a presentation from the director of Clemson’s Dropout Prevention Center who was saying how students lose skills over the summer, reading especially,” said Fisk. “Being a big advocate of reading and writing I thought if we help them create their own book with their peers maybe they’d be excited to read it over the summer.”
Her intuition seems to have been right on the nose, as the Homeland Park school kids flip the pages of their book for the first time, enthralled. Each student contributed their own story and illustrations, so they have fun flipping through to find their own chapters. The concentrated silence soon gives way to excited chattering as they start looking at each others’ stories in the book, every one of them beaming from ear to ear.
The interns stand around the room and watch the scene unfold with smiles just as big.
Fisk created the School Book Project for any student, so it has attracted Tigers from across a wide range of majors.
“One of the things about Clemson that’s so amazing is all the intellectual capital we have and the capacity for our students to give back to the community,” said Fisk. “This is by far my students’ favorite project we work on all semester. We do a lot of projects for the university and local nonprofits, but this is the one they all want to be a part of because they get to give back and interact with the elementary school kids.”
It’s an experience that will stay with them long after they’ve left Clemson, said junior Victoria Webster, a communication major from Spring Lake, New Jersey, who also served as this semester’s project manager for the School Book Project.
“This is definitely one of the opportunities that I’ll remember as a huge part of my college experience,” said Webster. “I never thought that I’d be in college working with 7- and 8-year-olds to write a book. I think it went really well. We had really good spirit from the children. They were so excited; the very first visit we were greeted with a huge ‘They’re here!’ so it was the best feeling ever. They loved having us here and we loved coming here. I hope they not only learn reading and writing from this, but learn confidence in themselves when they become a published author and illustrator.”
One of the main goals of the project is to introduce the children to the concept of editing. The interns make several visits to the classroom over the course of the semester, first helping the children put their ideas onto paper in a rough draft, then coming back to revise and polish until they had a finished product.
“The interns understand the importance of writing and revising and editing, and that’s one of the things we want to instill early on. We really want them to to learn how to build on what they’ve written,” said Fisk.
Abbey Norris, a junior from Shelburne, Vermont, studying marketing at Clemson who was back with the project for her second year as the design lead, echoed Webster’s hope that the experience would be a confidence-booster for the kids because it definitely was one for the college interns.
“Every time they’re more excited. The second time we came in one of the kids came up and said, ‘I missed you so much!’ I’d seen him one time. It just really shows how much they appreciate us coming. Giving them some extra attention is really important. We could have just come and hung out with them and I think they would have appreciated it. Doing this project makes me want to get more involved with local schools.”
That’s great news for Title 1 schools like Homeland Park that might not have the resources to give students the one-on-one attention that more affluent schools do. As the book took shape it was easy to see that the attention from the interns was the kids’ favorite part of the experience.
That kind of effect is what makes service-learning programs like the School Book Project so valuable, said Fisk.
“Service-learning has been so important to me throughout my teaching career and it has been so successful at Clemson,” she said. “Service-learning, for faculty, can sometimes be intimidating — to bring a third party in, coordinating sight visits et cetera — but seeing the end project makes it so worth it. I couldn’t imagine teaching another way. It’s so nice to see the immediate impact. If we help one child here be excited about reading and writing we’ve done our job.”