At Westbriar Elementary in Vienna students don’t learn only mathematics, history or grammar; they learn to publish books. At the fourth annual Authors’ Tea, several students were honored for their creative work.
For the Authors’ Tea, a special project particular to Westbriar Elementary, every sixth grader creates two books, one non-fiction and the other based on the theme of acceptance and tolerance. Every student in the sixth grade participates, including ESL (English as a Second Language) and special-education students.
The Authors’ Tea, held on the morning of Friday, March 23, was attended by approximately 150 people including teachers, parents and students. The first-half of the Tea consisted of a breakfast of bagels, orange slices, bananas, cake, juice, milk and bread, catered by Cenan’s Bakery in Vienna. “They donate every year for us. This was the fourth year that they have participated,” said Deborah Alsado, a teacher at Westbriar Elementary and coordinator of the Authors’ Tea.
The breakfast gave time for the parents to admire their children’s work and for students to read their peers’ stories. “It was fun. You could write a story about anything. It was hard to find a topic at the beginning, but in the end it enhances your creativity,” said sixth grader Connor Hernandez when asked how he felt about the project. Connor’s father added, “It’s a tough school but it really stands up to Fairfax County expectations.”
ALONG WITH the two stories that the children were required to write, they also created sculptures to illustrate the main themes. Slide-show presentations created by ESL and special-education students in place of the written book were also on display. Most if not all of the books had brightly decorated covers. Some had nothing but the title of their story but others were decorated with crayon drawings, felt material, photographs, cut-outs and mesh.
Book and presentation topics ranged from “immigration into our country, the celebration of the plight of African Americans, the conflicts, heart aches and never ending struggles of the Israelis and Jewish populations, the terrible trail of tears shed by our very own American Indians, the daily struggles of people of all races, sexes, religious backgrounds and disabilities searching each day to find their way to fit in,” said Alsado.
THE SECOND-HALF of the Tea was comprised of the awards ceremony and comments by the principal and teachers. “This is not like our end of the year award ceremony. These awards are special and a little bit different, they were based on how a particular person shared ideas,” said Jeanette F. Martino, Westbriar’s principal.
Award categories consisted of the Principal’s Award, Reading Teacher’s Choice Award, Librarian’s Choice Award and Sculpture Awards.
The Principal’s Award went to Andrew White for his story, “The Never Ending Journey.” Reading Teacher’s Choice Award was presented to Sam Travis for “The Life Guardian” and the Librarian’s Choice Award went to Alex Fowler for “The Grudge of Turinta.”
Sculpture Awards were presented to: Nicholas Thompson, Sean Watkins, Jackson Cole, Hannah Mitchell, Jada Barnes, Matthew Travis, Mark Soree, Kelly Flounlacker, Amir Sultani, Melissa Zaldivar, Zachery Zimmerman and Jae Ah Lee.
At the end of the awards ceremony and after most of the applause, students rushed to the sculpture display area to admire the work of their peers. The picture-taking that was prominent at the beginning of the Tea resumed as students posed by their stories and sculptures with their award certificates in hand.
Deborah Witt, mother of sixth grader Jenna Witt, said, “It’s an awesome idea. It provides the children with a sense of ownership. It’s also great fun for the parents.”
In the end, the books are left with the school temporarily so that they may be shared with younger students. They are then graded and sent home with the students. Some are uploaded to computers as future reference for upcoming sixth grade classes. “No, their books are not perfect, but each book truly reflects where your/our children are today,” said Alsado.