Teaching Tolerance Project
The first keynote speaker was Maureen Costello from the Teaching Tolerance program. I've used their ideas and free products for years and her presentation highlighted the amazing work that they are doing to encourage us all to be more understanding and tolerant of diversity.
The closing session speaker was awarding winning author and school counselor, Julia Cook. She spoke on unlearning helplessness and motivating the underachiever. We all were empowered with her energizing and touching stories. Because I too enjoy educating children through the power of books, I scheduled some time to talk with her about her work and the inspiration behind it.
Julia began her career as a math teacher in an inner city middle school. Together with a team of educators, she participated in a research grant to motivate and inspire students through refurbishing sports equipment which was then donated to children unable to afford it. This program which fostered achievement and helping others created such a powerful role model that children who typically dropped out of school not only not enjoyed coming to school but graduated and even went to college.
A Bad Case of Tattle Tongue
Moving with her family from Utah to Nebraska, Julia began a new career in school counseling in an elementary school. In 2006, she wrote her first story, A Bad Case of the Tattle Tongue which was immediately published by the National Center for Youth Issues. This was soon followed by My Mouth is a Volcano. Both books are still enormously popular and she has followed up with over 57 books at last count including companion activity books for many of her stories.
Making a Positive Difference
Julia's inspiration to make a positive difference in the world of a child no doubt comes from her own childhood growing up in a family of hard working achievement oriented parents. Her grandfather came to the United States from Italy with very little in the way of possessions, immediately fell onto hard times but still pulled himself up by his bootstraps and became a successful entrepreneur. Her parents instilled in her the philosophy of working hard and making a difference.
As a child, Julia had her share of challenges as she was by her own description very hyperactive with loads of energy and very little focus. At one point in elementary school, her frustrated teacher tied her to her chair with dental floss to encourage her to stay in her seat. Julia accommodated the situation carrying her chair about the room with her. Ironically, as the author of numerous books for children, Julia really did not like to read as a child and in high school often wrote book reports on books that did not even exist. No doubt this was the beginning of her creative story telling that today produces several books each year on a variety of relevant topics. The book, It's Hard to be a Verb, in fact is a book with a main character much like Julia herself. Julia is so passionate about getting into the mindset of a child prior to writing her books that she spends hours researching each topic, always writes in the first person so children can identify with the main charater and (write this down she tells me) thinks like she's forty but writes like she's eight. All of her books make great lessons in the classroom and many of them have a companion book of activities as well.
I spoke with counselor after counselor who talked about how hard it is to get away to the yearly conference but how beneficial it is once they arrive. For some it meant they return to work and emails that have piled up while they were gone. For many it meant they paid the cost of attendance themselves. Finally for all of us there was the inconvenience of adjusting to a long drive or changes in schedules. Was it worth it? YES! I know I personally left with new contacts and renewal of old relationships, new creative ideas and a renewed focus and energy. I can't wait to see what is in store for GSCA 2014. Hope to see you there.
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