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Liggett programs motivate students

By: Maria Allard | Grosse Pointe Times | Published October 22, 2015

GROSSE POINTE WOODS — Faculty members at University Liggett School are highlighting two programs this year that they say are proving successful.

The Buddy Bench program was implemented this year for the lower school students, which has been popular.

The colorfully painted Buddy Bench, located adjacent to Liggett’s lower school playground, provides a place for students to go if they are feeling sad or left out during recess. When other students see their classmate on the bench all alone, they are encouraged to come over and talk, offer a hug or ask the student if she or he wants to play.

Drew Mackay, assistant head of the lower school, said the bench is a gift from last year’s fifth-grade students as they moved on to middle school.

“We got a very basic bench, and the fifth-graders painted it. We decided this would be a fantastic gift,” Mackay said. “It’s in a central location for children who are feeling sad or lonely at the moment. It truly is a place to go when you’re feeling down. It’s a reminder for kids to always be on the lookout and to be kind to others. It’s utilized anytime we are outside. The response has been amazing.”

Plans are to bring the bench inside during the winter months.

The Buddy Bench is one way that Liggett faculty is teaching students to be kind, and it sets the tone for this year’s lower school theme, “We Are, We Give.” The yearlong “We Are, We Give” campaign asks students to think about themselves, who they are as people and what they can give to others.

The “We Are” part encourages the students to recognize who they are as individuals, a class, a school and beyond. The “We Give” portion teaches students that they can give based on their talents and what they know.

“We are really looking at it as a student-led project. We want the students to be the ones who guide us,” Mackay said. “Each classroom will decide what they can bring back to the community as a group.”

“We Are, We Give” is not about buying something for someone, but is designed to help students recognize that they have all of these talents and they can share them with others. The Buddy Bench is one example of that.

Each month, “We Are, We Give” will have its own theme. To get started, students wrote letters to the school’s lunch servers and engineering staff members last month. In November, the students will look at ways they can give back to veterans. In January, they will do service projects to give back to the community. And in April, they will help the environment.

“We Are, We Give” is based on one of the projects that fifth-graders did during last year’s “Kindness Makes a Difference” theme. In that project, they kept a journal of the ways they gave back throughout a two-week period. The project ended with the dedication of the Buddy Bench, which the fifth-graders painted in art class.

At the middle school level, the Liggett Reader-Writer Workshop model — under English teachers Stevie Stevens and Rob Shade — is teaching students to become more independent readers.

The workshop is in its second year, and the students are choosing the books they want to read. According to school officials, many students are self-selecting literature based on their favorite genres and authors, while a few are choosing classics that are typically read in advanced high school classes.

“The philosophy behind the Reader-Writer Workshop is to let students choose books that are interesting to them,” Stevens said in a prepared statement. “It allows kids to enter the reading zone. They’re comprehending what they are reading because they’re not stopping to do worksheets or fill things out. The point is for them to enjoy reading and to read more.”

The goal for the year is to read 20 books, but a handful of students far surpass that. Other Liggett middle school students are reading at least more books than they have before, and the teachers are continuing to see an upward trend.

Earlier this month, Stevens and Shade traveled to Maine to study at the Center for Teaching & Learning, a demonstration school for teachers that educator Nancie Atwell founded.

Stevens and Shade applied for and received an internship at the Edgecomb, Maine-based center, where they spent four days immersed in the school’s reading and writing workshop model. Atwell, who won the Varkey Foundation’s inaugural Global Teacher Prize, founded the school in 1990.

Stevens and Shade were selected based on a written application outlining their work with Liggett’s Reader-Writer Workshop.

Liggett’s Reader-Writer Workshop model includes mini lessons that teach characterization, plot and literary analysis. Close and critical analysis on shared texts is done mainly using poetry and short stories during the mini lessons, although there also are two common novels each year. Students keep a composition book to record their in-depth reactions, observations and analysis of books that they’ve finished.