EAST COUNTY — Even after their retirements from East County schools, former educators Andy and Frank Anderson feel most at home in a classroom.
Andy Anderson and her husband, Frank, a Lakewood Ranch High School instructor who retired twice — once in 2007 and again in 2013 — feel their work promoting literacy should continue, even while their careers don’t.
“Once being an educator is in your blood, it’s always in your blood,” Andy Anderson said.
As they visited various classrooms and watched the children read and listen to stories April 4 at Bashaw Elementary — the school from which Andy retired six years ago — the smiles on the students’ faces matched those of the couple.
The scene illustrated the couple’s vision, an idea they crafted more than 22 years ago.
The Andersons designed “Winnie the Pooh and Shakespeare Too” — a project that would involve both of the schools for which they worked, in a partnership between high school seniors and elementary-aged children.
Although seniors and kindergarten through fifth-grade students from Freedom Elementary, Southeast High School and other Manatee County schools have participated, the Bashaw-Lakewood Ranch High partnership has been the most consistent during the project’s history, Lakewood Ranch High English instructor Candace Delazzer said.
Since Frank Anderson’s initial retirement in 2007, Delazzer has overseen the project, which Lakewood Ranch High students call “Kiddie Lit.” This year, she assigned the more than 250 seniors participating with a multitude of tasks, other than just reading to children.
In January, students enrolled in English courses, with the exception of Advanced Placement seniors, started writing and illustrating children’s stories that teach children at least three lessons.
The teenagers pick a grade level and research the students’ curriculum to determine the level of complexity for underlying themes in the stories.
Older students have learned about topics such as Ferdinand Magellan’s travels, while more simple ideas can range from identifying animals and the noises each makes to the importance of sharing.
For Kasey Woods, sharing how she found her new pet squirrel, Harley, seemed a natural choice for a children’s story and a show-and-tell experience for her enthusiastic audience.
Woods brought the injured squirrel, which she found in her backyard in December and has cared for since, to the classroom to bring her story to life.
Woods and her teammates read their story, “Harley the Savvy Squirrel” to wide-eyed students, who were anxious to see Harley.
“This story teaches (students) to never give up and to work hard,” Woods said, as she smiled at the four children creating squirrel feeders at her station.
Students also created at least one hands-on activity in which the children participated during the event last week.
Participants in Woods’ group dipped pinecones in honey and rolled them in squirrel feed to later bring home in Ziploc bags and hang in their own backyards.
As Delazzer watched the older students — who wore smiles, but also tired facial expressions — work with children, she said the final aspect of the project is the reflection paper students write.
She said students usually react in one of three ways: they show gratitude to Delazzer for working with students on a daily basis; they say they never want children; or they “absolutely loved the assignment.”
Delazzer said her biggest triumph aligns with the Andersons’ vision. The trio wants 5-year-olds and 17-year-olds alike to understand the importance of reading.
“We want to let children know reading is important, no matter what age,” Delazzer said. “These seniors may be parents some day, and, hopefully, this project will encourage them to read to their own children later in life.”
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected].