The age-old tradition of storytelling came to life in a new format at Osseo Middle School for World Read Aloud Day celebrated on Feb. 1 and 2. Twenty-five published authors from California to Maryland to just down the street in Minneapolis landed onscreen and were digitally brought into the classroom using Skype.

The school media center was stocked with books from these authors such as Gae Plisner, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Donna Gephart and Elena Arnold, and students from 30 classes have been able to check out these books for several months to prepare for World Read Aloud Day. Ready with questions and information about the authors, students talked with the authors and listened to them read sections of their books. Our students learned new information about the authors, their writing processes, and secret details about new books yet to be published.

Author Laura Shovan showed a class her three-inch binder full of revisions and notes on the characters of one book to encourage students to keep practicing to make their work better. Melanie Conklin, an author from New Jersey, gave further insight into the creative process by showing off her three-panel presentation poster board covered in small notecards representing different scenes in her book. She explained that by breaking down the book into scenes, she is able to focus on getting each paragraph just right and then the whole process of writing a book does not bog her down.

“Reading opens up new worlds and stretches our minds,” says Sandy Otto, instructional coach at Osseo Middle School and organizer of the World Read Aloud Day events. “I love being able to offer all of our students the opportunity to read great books and hear from the authors themselves. Together we are inspiring the next generation of strong readers and writers.”

This is the second year Osseo Middle School celebrated World Read Aloud Day, which is made possible through a District 279 Foundation grant that supports purchasing the new books by the authors.

Additionally, fourth- and fifth-graders at Edinbrook Elementary who belong to the Student Council read books aloud to each of the 19 K-3 classrooms to celebrate World Read Aloud Day. One of the student readers reported on the experience, "I learned that the kindergartners are real good listeners." 

WRAD collage


elm creek kindness tree and studentsYou don’t have to look hard to see that kindness is cool at Elm Creek Elementary. Last week, students demonstrated that sentiment in a “great” big way by celebrating their second-annual Great Kindness Challenge.

The Great Kindness Challenge is a grassroots movement that aims to inspire individuals to keep kindness top of mind. “As kindness becomes a habit, peace becomes possible,” its website proclaims.

Taking this idea to heart, Elm Creek students were engaged in various activities throughout the week, including learning a kindness pledge; surprising classmates with kind messages on sticky notes; and letting staff know just how much they are appreciated by sending them paper hearts inscribed with positive sentiments. A kindness checklist—that included items like “thank a bus driver” and “hold the door open for someone”—also kept students in a kindness frame of mind during the challenge. These activities are important because they “make a lot of people’s day better,” said fifth-grader Breanna Huynh.

“The staff here do so much for us, it was the least we could do for them,” added fourth-grader Ayden Fiengo, referring to the kindness hearts students created for Elm Creek’s staff.

“We need more people to be kind in this world,” fellow fourth-grader Chloe Tegland chimed in.

To reinforce messages of kindness, an impressive paper tree was constructed near the school’s main office and each classroom participated in a kindness decorating challenge. The winners? Susan Kapsner’s kindergarten class and their creative display that included puzzle pieces with a pledge to “be a piece of the peace.” Beth Ruud’s second-graders decorated the wall outside their classroom with a sign that read “throw kindness around like confetti” and were runners-up in the contest.

For Beth Ness, principal at Elm Creek Elementary, fostering a culture of kindness is an integral part of the work that she and her staff are committed to doing every day.

“Our words and actions matter, and students learn better in a place where they feel safe and supported,” Ness said. “This challenge was student-led and initiated, and I’m so proud of them. Our community is stronger because we are kind to each other.”

This year marks the seventh installment of The Great Kindness Challenge in the United States. The initiative is supported by Kids for Peace, a global nonprofit that seeks to create peace through youth leadership, community service, worldwide friendships, and thoughtful acts of kindness.

PHOTO: Fourth- and fifth-graders at Elm Creek Elementary pose in front of the school's kindness tree during the final day of The Great Kindness Challenge on Jan. 26.