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Stocking the Shelves

An Alabama retired member turns a new page for one community of book lovers.

Jimmie Felder grew up with a rich supply of stories. She was one of seven children, the daughter of a substitute teacher and a blacksmith. “At night,” she recalls, “we used to pull the mattress off a bed and sit on it, and one of us would tell a story that they had read in school. That way, we all got to hear six stories every week that we had not read.”

She also read anything she could get her hands on and was promoted from the second grade after just two weeks because she could already read all the second-grade books.

That was in the days before school desegregation came to her home town of Hayneville in rural Lowndes County, Alabama. There was a White school four blocks away, but she and her siblings walked a mile to the Black school and had to stay home whenever heavy rains flooded a bridge on the way. For high school, she had to move in with relatives in Montgomery, some 25 miles away.

Felder went on to college and became an English teacher and high school librarian in Montgomery. When she retired in 1990, she persuaded the Lowndes County commissioners to commit the resources needed for a public library.

A retired member of the Alabama Education Association, Felder is still guiding the development of the library, where children enjoy and learn from stories like those she read and heard growing up. The library boasts 22,000 volumes. Felder earns a small salary as director, “but I put it all back buying books. If a college student comes in and needs a book we don’t have, I just call a bookstore and buy it.”
Ironically, the library is across the street from the formerly all-White school, now predominantly African-American, that she couldn’t attend as a child. 

—Alain Jehlen

A Historical Landmarker

A former World War II Japanese internment camp is now a designated historic site, thanks to a Colorado teacher.

 What was once a symbol of oppression and hatred is now one of reflection, thanks to the efforts of social studies teacher John Hopper and his Granada High School students. The Amache Japanese internment camp was one of 10 U.S. government holding facilities for Japanese-American citizens forced from their homes after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Hopper knew of the camp since childhood because his mother used to work for a woman forced to live there. After first assigning his students 16 years ago to interview those held there, he realized both he and his students had much more to learn about its history. “What was more interesting was when I got more into it and listened to more experiences,” Hopper says. “I felt deeply moved.” The more firsthand accounts Hopper heard, the more he wanted to advocate for the movement to make Amache a National Historic Landmark.

Hopper created Granada High School’s Amache Preservation Society, where he and his students wrote letters to Colorado congressional members. With their backing and the support of the National Park Service, National Trust for Historic Preservation, and other local organizations, Amache was finally dedicated as a National Historic Landmark last year. “It’s an extremely important lesson to be learned about American citizens losing their rights in this country,” Hopper says.

Granada High now even offers an elective course on Amache’s preservation, and students travel across the region to speak about the camp.                        

—Natalie McGill

Love Fest

This Indiana teacher knows the quickest way to students’ (and a special lady’s) minds can be through their hearts

Marty Irwin can honestly say he’s written the book on love. Irwin, a guidance counselor at Greene Intermediate School in Indiana, has had two books of poetry published: Words from Within and The Celestine Poet: A Journey of Love. His gift for verse blossomed as a child in the south side of Chicago. “A lot of kids teased me about writing poetry but I really enjoyed doing it. I always dreamed that I’d write a book of poetry someday,” Irwin says.
Back in 1978, when Irwin was first dating his wife Jacinta, he decided to write her a poem for  her birthday. The following year he wrote her another poem for her birthday, using techniques he learned in a poetry writing class. “The second poem was so much better,” he admits. “So much so that she told me ‘I’d much prefer a poem for my birthday rather than spending a lot of money to buy me something.’” So every July 3, Irwin gives his wife a poem for her birthday.

This time of year, Irwin catches our eye for his melding of his passion with the pen and his work in schools. He’s been a guest speaker in a number of classes to talk to students about writing poetry, and sees it as a tool to get them to get in touch with their inner selves. “It’s a good way of letting out bad and good feelings.” Irwin has also organized an event called “Love Fest” on Valentine’s Day. Students either recite a poem or sing a song. “The idea was for them to express something that promoted unity, love, and brotherhood, in other words, something positive and uplifting,” he says. “With poetry, when students saw that I was willing to step up, share personal things and step out of my comfort zone, some of them were willing to do the same.”

—Mishri Someshwar

Patience, Grasshopper

Pennsylvania music teacher-turned-treasure hunter helps locate a $50,000 antique jewel in a nationwide search.

It was a fairy tale ending for Fred Pacolitch, courtesy of a best-selling fairy tale book. The music teacher from Hanover Middle School in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, found one of 12 jewels hidden around the country as part of a nationwide treasure hunt associated with the popular children’s book, A Treasure’s Trove. The book, written by former banking software entrepreneur Michael Stadther, tells the story of a forest whose creatures are crystallized each night by a mysterious cloud of dust.

Clues to the jewels’ locations are woven into the pages, meaning that kids aren’t the only ones studying the whimsical illustrations and text closely. Adult devotees like Pacolitch account for many of the 400,000 copies sold and its former spot on the New York Times Best Sellers list. Pacolitch’s search took him from the William Penn statue in Philadelphia to New York City, hoping to find the tokens for the jewels Stadther hid in a cross-country trip in 2004.
Last summer, the teacher and a New Jersey couple he’d traded clues with in an online forum about the book found the $50,000 grasshopper jewel’s token nestled in the notch of a dogwood tree in Poughkeepsie, New York. Stadther later presented them with the actual jewel—a 19th-century piece set with 85 green demantoid garnets and 25 diamonds. Once the contest officially concludes, they can sell it and split the proceeds.

For more on the treasure hunt, including a free, downloadable teachers guide with classroom activities, head to www.atreasurestrove.com for English, social studies, math, science, art and music classes.

A Beard With a Message

In Washington state, an educator makes national news with his unusual refusal to shave.

Washington state teacher Gary Weddle says he won’t shave until suspected 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden is captured. He was so glued to TV in that first week following the attacks that he simply didn’t shave. Now it’s become a personal cause. Although he didn’t lose anyone on 9/11, Weddle says he empathizes with victims’ families.

At the start of every year at Ephrata Middle School, Weddle explains the beard to his students. “I tell them that I just look scary, but I’m the same nice guy inside. I want them to know that the world is more connected than we realize.”

Weddle says that he has not faced any opposition from the school administration. “In fact, everyone has been very nice and supportive about this,” he says.
Although it has been more than five years, he has no intention of shaving prematurely. “I’m tired of the beard, but I’m not tempted to cut it.”

Mishri Someshwar

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Published In

17-Feb-07