In recognition of Teacher Appreciation Week, May 4-8, we honor the wonderful teachers in our hometown of Madison. There are too many exceptional teachers to list, so just for fun, we will take a look at what’s happening in various classrooms around town.
Starting with The Country School, we shine the spotlight on Mrs. (Heather) Butler.
Last fall, Heather Butler, 4th grade teacher at the Country School had the germ of an idea about creating an intergenerational book group – one that would team her students with senior citizens. After making a few inquiries, she contacted Kristen Caramanica, Program Coordinator at Madison’s Senior Center and her idea was born.
Kristen latched onto the idea immediately and knew exactly where the book talks would take place. “I envisioned the group meeting in the library. I love this room,” she says, gesturing around the space. “It’s so cozy, especially with the fireplace.” Did they actually use the fireplace? “Yes, we did have a fire in there for one of the meetings this winter.”
The kids traveled to the Senior Center by bus, driven by none other than the Country School’s headmaster, Mr. Fixx. The faculty and administration often wear many hats to get the job done, and this is an example of how they worked out the details for the benefit of the kids.
In all, the group traveled to Bradley Road four times: the first time to meet each other and to learn the title of the book they’d be reading, and three additional times to discuss the book in detail.
The book Mrs. Butler selected was Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper, a story that follows the main character who lives mainly inside her head, with a body affected by cerebral palsy. Mrs. Butler introduced the book to the group by pulling “clues” out of a bag, one by one, building suspense with each clue. She also presented each member – student and adult – with a notebook to use for discussions, and an assignment to decorate the covers.
The teacher says, “My hope is that these encounters help the kids to grow as readers beyond what they could get in a classroom. They are getting insight from adults who can share their rich life experience.”
On a recent afternoon, all around the room kids and adults interacted animatedly. An outsider might mistake the adults for teachers, but the kids were asking just as many thought-provoking questions as their older counterparts. There was a feeling of mutual respect in the room. While the adults may be able to impart wisdom and life experience, they also take something from the exchange – perhaps a feeling of comfort that the world is going to be fine, left in the hands of these bright, thoughtful respectful young people who are yearning to understand the world they live in through the pages of a book.
On the final day of discussion, they wrapped up their talks and concluded the meeting with a celebration. The students provided the snacks which all had a connection to the book and its theme. Students proudly served their older book buddies with cookies and lemonade – a perfectly sweet conclusion to their time spent together. The kids also brought gifts – a handmade card and a mug with The Country School logo – for each senior citizen.
Looking around the room with satisfaction at all the smiling faces, Mrs. Butler said, “I’m hoping this is just the beginning. I plan to continue this next year.”