Literary Events

Seventh Graders Take on Atlanta

USJ seventh graders spent a busy three days in Atlanta in October. The students visited CNN Studios, where they learned how green screens work and how broadcasts are done. They also got to see news researchers in action. They visited the World of Coca-Cola, learning about the history of the product and sampling Coca-Colas from around the world. Students ate at The Varsity, played in Centennial Park, and raced go-karts for fun. The trip had an educational component, too, as they visited the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, which tied into their recent unit on the Civil Rights movement. This allowed them to see their research project topics come to life and helped solidify everything they had learned. A class favorite was the Georgia Aquarium, where students enjoyed a dolphin show. A final highlight of the trip was a visit to the College Football Hall of Fame, where students learned about their favorite teams and had an interactive experience that allowed them to throw, punt, and more, just like real football players. The trip was a great success for the students and their teachers.

This year marks a change for USJ seventh graders. For years, students have read Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer as part of their English class curriculum. Teacher Dana Simmons decided to do something different this year, integrating Tennessee author Vince Vawter’s 2014 Newbery Honor book Paperboy into her class. The novel, set in Memphis in 1959, tells the story of an 11-year-old baseball player named Victor who suffers from a stuttering problem but takes on a newspaper delivery route and encounters some adventures along the way. The story is largely autobiographical and has enjoyed immense success, having been published in eight different foreign languages thus far.

On Monday, October 12, Vawter visited USJ to share the story behind his novel with students and answer their many questions. The book, which took Vawter six years to write, served a real purpose for the author, who has lived with a speech impediment his entire life. He had never read a story that provided an accurate depiction of what it is like to live with a speech impediment, so he decided to write his own. The story is one of hope that teaches stuttering does not stop an individual from speaking.

Paperboy incorporates many elements beyond that of the struggle of a speech impediment, however. The novel highlights the historical significance of living in the South during the Civil Rights movement and racial integration, something that led to a field trip for the seventh grade class to learn more about these topics. The novel fit in nicely with the students’ unit on the Civil Rights movement, in which every student chose a topic about which they created a film documentary. When reading Tom Sawyer, classes traveled to Hannibal, Missouri, the boyhood home of Mark Twain. This year’s class experienced something new with a three-day trip to Atlanta, Georgia following Vawter’s visit. While there, students visited the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, World of Coca-Cola, CNN Studios, College Football Hall of Fame, Georgia Aquarium, and Centennial Olympic Park.