Two time Newbery Honor and National Book Award Finalist Gary Schmidt recently visited Gardiner Regional Middle School. Principal Todd Sanders shared, “Gary’s storytelling ability, down to earth personality, and ability to connect to students made him one of the most engaging and inspirational speakers we have ever had at our school.” The Arthur R. Warren Library’s goal is to sponsor an author visit once every three years, so each middle school student will have this experience while at GRMS.
Students, staff, and guests from the community enjoyed a full school assembly. “Art whether in the form of a book, painting, photograph, or mathematical equation provides questions that give us more for being human,” Gary shared. He demonstrated how his own life experiences inspire his books. Kim Quirion, sixth-grade language arts teacher, shared her students asked her if they could accept Gary’s challenge of rewriting the WWII story they heard during the assembly.
Students who made welcome posters were invited to share their posters with Gary. Posters included messages in Arabic, English, French, Spanish, and Turkish.
Before Gary’s visit, students had the opportunity to read his books and respond to them. Those that accepted the reading challenge earned a book that was signed by Gary. Nominated students participated in one of three grade level workshops. Students received individual guidance, and Gary offered to provide follow-up feedback to each story he receives. Eighth-grader Stephanie Brown shared, “Mr. Schmidt was very genuine and engaged in conversations and interested in what we were saying. It was definitely an amazing experience for me as a writer. I loved it. It was so much fun.”
After school staff enjoyed a meet and greet with Gary. Students in Hope St. Denis’s learning center class are some of the first in the country to read his yet to be released book Pay Attention, Carter Jones. The students in her class sent to the meet and greet some questions about the book and a thank you card. They decided that the inspirational message from the butler in the book should be posted on their classroom wall as a constant reminder.
Diana Dionne-Morang, language arts teacher, reflected, “What a pleasure to experience storytelling at its finest! Gary Schmidt’s interaction with our students proved to be extremely entertaining and very enlightening. Mr. Schmidt’s presentation exemplified the qualities reflective of a world-class educator as evidenced through his rapport with our middle schoolers.”
Gary’s visit was made possible with support from the Maine Humanities Council, the Onion Foundation, the GRMS Parent Teacher Association, MSAD #11, school dances, and other fundraisers.
Students in Amelia Beiermeister’s library classes used technology apps Flipgrid and Padlet to reflect on the visit and to respond to each other’s reactions. Susanne Williamson’s students in her REACH class created class word webs based on their reactions.
When asked how to keep the energy from the day moving ahead Gary advised, “Let students see the adults in their lives reading and writing. Make the process visible to them.”