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An open letter from faculty, Patricia Wojtowicz,Education, June 7, 2004

When I first was asked to become part of the Homeland SecurityGrant on our campus, I didn't see how it would fit into myEarly Childhood Children's Literature course. The coursefocuses on literature for children from birth to age eight. Theconcept of Homeland Security is not necessarily relevant to youngchildren and could be frightening to many of them. However, Idecided to give it a try by using the grant theme as the centralidea for one of the required course assignments, a thematicchildren's book.

Rather than solely using "Homeland Security" as thebook theme, I modified it: "Helping Children to Feel Safe inour World Today." When I introduced the assignment to thestudents on the first day of class, their overwhelmed reaction waswhat I expected. Not only were they being asked to write anoriginal children's book, but they also had to use theassigned theme. In addition, I set the due date several weeks priorto the end of the semester. Many of the students had confused lookson their faces, some flat out objected to being confined to thetheme, and almost everyone indicated that there was no way tocomplete such an extensive project by mid-April. We all left classthat first day wondering what I had gotten us into.

As the semester unfolded, we constantly revisited the assignmentcriteria and compared them to the course content. The studentsbegan to narrow down the focus of their books, and the booksstarted to take shape. As the due date drew near, I could sense theexcitement that many of them were feeling when they told me abouttheir end products. Some students were still struggling, but I hadopportunities to discuss their plans with them individually whichseemed to help.

On the assignment due date, students were required to read theirbooks to their classmates. For some this was a scary thought- to read their original work to their peers. We were allfeeling a little nervous - including me. Just how would"good" would the books be? How well would theyrepresent the assignment theme? How would they be received byBeverly, the National Director of the Grant, who just happened tobe visiting our campus that very day and was scheduled to attendour class?

Despite our reservations, the books were outstanding. Each wasunique and had some special meaning to its author. Some booksfocused directly on 911; others dealt with death. Many were relatedto issues of safety. But for me the most important aspect was thatthe assignment verified for me that my students understood majorcourse themes. They "got" children's literature,and their books were a tangible product that they could share withchildren. These books were an excellent way to help children learnabout how to be safe in our world today.

Dissemination of the books happened in various ways. Some actuallyread their books at the centers where they are employed. I had someposted on our College's service learning webpage. One studentfrom Germany shared her book with her mother back home who read thebook to her German preschoolers. Several students read theiroriginal story to children at our on-campus Child CareCenter.

This Homeland Security Grant project was a wonderful way to involvemy students in a timely and important social issue while at thesame time helping them to focus on children's literature. Theassignment helped the course content come alive for my students ina meaningful way. It also encouraged them to confront a difficultissue in a meaningful way for young children. One student summed upthe importance of this assignment, "I really feel like mybook can help children to talk about [safety] with their parents.This book promotes family discussion and can help children to feelsecurity away from home."

Raritan Valley Community College
Last updated 7/26/06 by AKA

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