Dixie Magnet Elementary School!!
Definition of a perfect school visit? Dixie Magnet Elementary School in Lexington, Kentucky.
This school visit had an interesting beginning. I learned about Dixie through Google Alerts when I was alerted to a project on Appalachian Culture and folklore hosted by Artists in Residence Alfredo Escobar and Jennifer Rose. The kids were painting a mural about folktales and various cultures and two of my books were featured in their work! I was so thrilled when I saw it, I got in touch with the school and the rest is history.
So obviously, I already had an idea Dixie was something special, but that became even more apparent while planning my visit. It was my first 'get on a plane' school visit so it was a bit of a milestone, and it couldn't have gone any better. I flew through Charlotte - the airport was filled with white rocking chairs - and then on to Lexington - the airport was filled with horses. (I love small airports, especially when they embrace the symbolism of their regions like that.)
My hostess, Rachel Losch, met me at the airport and we immediately hit it off. She was so gracious, enthusiastic and together (a Great guide and party buddy). (Here I am with Rachel and her son Alex.) She is Dixie's art teacher, but that doesn't begin to describe all she does for the students and the school. She organizes after school cultural and arts programs, and the week-long Arts Festival of which my visit was a part. And boy does she care about those kids! Rachel is one dedicated and smart woman - the students at Dixie are sincerely lucky to have her in their lives.
The community surrounding this school is also truly something special - parents donated my hotel room (thank you Alicia!) and rental car to supplement the grant that helped fund my visit. And the teachers worked tirelessly to prep the kids on folklore, the various versions of SOAP, SOAP, SOAP, and 'lil old me. They studied my books and related materials and boy were they ready for my visit - we had a BLAST!
Thanks and big fuzzy hugs for librarian Kelly, and teachers Hazel, Kim, Scottie, Terry, Yan, Raine, and Bret (and all your kids) - you made me feel so incredibly welcome.
I tell ya, there is no better feeling then being in a library surrounded by dozens of smiling faces all ready to have a good time. I got to work with a "SMART Board" for the first time - what a fun tool - I want one! It projected my website and slideshow while I spoke. (You can see a large version of my book behind me in this photo - click to get a closer look.)
I had three sessions: K-1; 2-3; and 4-5th graders. Each group was comprised of several classrooms and ended up being perfect sized crowds for me!
One of the teachers took pictures of me with her classroom after the first session and we were getting all silly making faces while we sat on a map of the United States (please don't take it personally Minnesota).
I live for the hugs I got from these guys.
My talk changed a bit for the different age groups, but overall we discussed the evolution of stories as they travel and move through generations and various cultures - especially via Jack Tales. For the older kids I concentrated more on craft and method.
The teachers brought in a smorgasbord for lunch in the gorgeous art room - yum! And I gave stickers to them to distribute to the kids. I signed about a gazillion books. (Which was a great opportunity to have mini one-on-one conversations with these bright and talented kids.) I love this age group - the world is full of possibilities and optimism at that age. And they're so danged cute to boot!
Y'know, it can be exhausting being 'on' like that for so long - a school visit can be a lot like putting on several Broadway productions in a row - but the energy from the kids just fills you right up and keeps you revved the entire time. It is one of the best feelings - even if you do need to face plant when it's over.
Afterwards, I ran to the local Barnes & Noble to thank them for ordering my books for the kids (no small task considering my various publishers). I also got the chance to have a quick sit-down with the author of MOMMY CALLS ME MONKEYPANTS, JD Lester. What a hoot she is!
Then Rachel and I headed to Berea, Kentucky to catch up with the Escobar family and learn about the incredible community they have there.
After a face plant that could rival a hibernating bear, I drove to the airport the next morning during a gorgeous sunrise over those rolling hills. Lexington is beautiful country and I hope I can return someday soon.
PS - People were taking pictures like crazy during my visit and Kelly even had her flip video going. So, I'll post more images as they come in! (Please send!)