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Returning Darien students answer age-old question

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 14, 2011
— If summer vacation wasn’t as exciting as you’d like, embellish.

But embellish honestly because nobody will believe the story about surfing on a shark.


Last week, Darien Elementary School students returned to the classroom. On the second day of school, the fifth-grade teachers asked their students to write those timeless, groan-inducing essays, “What I did over my summer vacation.”


But modern teachers are smarter—or at least sneakier—than their predecessors.


In the old days, students sat in silent misery, trying to reduce the joys of summer to proper punctuation and neat handwriting. At Darien Elementary, the savvy staff had fifth- graders work with their first-grade “buddies.”


For older students, the “buddy” program promotes good behavior, both academically and socially. They’re expected to be good role models and mini-educators. For the younger students, having a buddy means being friends with a smarter, older and infinitely cooler big kid.


Last week’s “What I did over my summer vacation” exercise was an academic assignment that required teamwork, good communication skills and, in some cases, wild imaginations.


The buddies had to talk about what they did during the summer, find out if they had any activities in common, and then write and illustrate essays featuring their shared activities.


“It’s the second day of school, and you get to be the teachers,” teacher Amber Hooverson told her students. “You might have to prompt the first-graders a little bit to get them to talk.”


She was right.


Initially, the first-grade students from Lisa Taylor’s class were so awed by the presence of the big kids they didn’t say much—or even make eye contact.


Their anxiety transformed fifth-graders into benevolent educators, full of kind words and encouragement.


Soon, barriers disappeared.


Jarod Atkinson, fifth-grader, discovered a kindred spirit in first-grader Christopher Mansfield.


In his notebook, Atkinson had written “Spiderman,” “Superman” and “Ironman” as shared summer interests.


They had both been to the beach. Atkinson’s parents made him stay “a whole week” in Myrtle Beach, S.C., which just shows how mean adults can be.


Fifth-grader Natasha Ipok and first-grader Jennifer Gloria both rode their bikes in the park. Ipok, who wants to be a teacher when she grows up, encouraged Gloria to use her printing skills and helped her with the eraser when needed.


Meanwhile, Atkinson and Mansfield had descended into silliness. After completing their essay, they illustrated it with a series of waves and images of a man surfing on a shark, a jellyfish squirting ink and a surfer launching off his board into the sky. The man surfing on a shark had an accident in his swim trunk, which could happen to anyone in such as situation.


Not that they expected anyone to believe that story.


They kept laughing and also kept working creating new sentences for their summer story, such as “We rode a narly wave.”


Ipok and Gloria finished their essay and illustration. Ipok pointed out that they only put two bikes in their illustration because the third bike would have been “too close to the sun and made it look like it was up in the air.”


Gloria solemnly agreed with everything Ipok said.


“I like being a buddy,” Ipok said. “It makes me feel like a grown up.”


What else did kids do during their summer vacation?


Leroy Gloria—older brother of Jennifer Gloria—and Andreas Gonzales ate burgers.


Maelynn Schnurr went to Noah’s Ark water park in Wisconsin Dells and went on all the rides except four: the Stingray, the Point of No Return, the Scorpion’s Tail and the Plunge.


Aalyiah Dickman went to the outlet mall.


Jeremy Brown went to the beach where he saw a seagull drop a catfish. Brown picked up the catfish. The seagull went berserk. Brown dropped the fish.



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