NEW PORT RICHEY
Preparations for the Author's Tea had Beatrix Pulido and her cohorts rolling out the red carpet — literally — and setting an October table for 64 in the cafeteria at Anclote Elementary School. Smiling plastic jack-o'-lanterns and construction-paper autumn leaves adorned the long tables that were covered with forest green tablecloths. There were snacks nicely laid out: animal crackers, pretzels and cartons of juice along with a smattering of candy corn and chocolate kisses.
This was all for the 32 award-winning authors in kindergarten to fifth grade who would walk down a red paper carpet as their "buddies" in the audience offered up a table drumroll and sang a simple song that Pulido (a.k.a. the "Reading Lady") taught them just minutes before.
"Here come the authors, Anclote authors. Here come the authors right along."
The Author's Tea is a monthly celebration of Anclote's budding writers and a special "buddy" they get to invite along and perhaps inspire.
Each month students submit a piece they have written, said Pulido, the reading and writing specialist at Anclote.
"It could be a writing journal piece they've been working on or a classroom writing prompt," Pulido said. "For a kindergarten student it could be just one or two sentences that they've written. That's a big deal." Classroom teachers then choose one student's work to spotlight from that pool.
The program, launched last year, is modeled after similar programs in the school district and is already showing some success, Pulido said.
"Motivation has increased," she said. "The students are really excited about sharing their work with their peers. And it's been a good way to get the buddies on the bandwagon. They come as a guest but want to come again as an author. We're building a community of writers here at Anclote."
No doubt it's a way to shine a light on those who have spun a good yarn or worked hard to improve their writing skills. Maybe they mastered "the hook" that made their teacher want to read more, Pulido said. Maybe it was a razzle-dazzle word they used in their story or a surprise ending.
For second-grader Karissa Gutzdorf, 7, it was the adjectives "hard" and "juicy" and one descriptive sentence that she wrote in her story about an apple that her mom had placed on her pillow for a job well done.
"If I see a tasty apple I feel something so good inside my throat."
"I really liked that sentence," said Karissa's teacher, Karen Hennen. "It made me want to eat that apple."
Karissa, who names Barbara Park's Junie B. Jones series as her favorite books, got a chance to read her story, A Tasty Apple for Me, during the tea after Pulido pulled her name out of a pumpkin.
"I really liked it," said Karissa, a former reluctant writer who has improved leaps and bounds this school year. "I like that I could share my writing." She now makes it a priority to write in her journal every day after she finishes her homework.
Sharing is a big part of it, said Pulido, noting that the event is not geared toward the formulaic writing of the Florida Writes test.
"We're moving away from that and moving toward things like the writers workshop," she said. "We want students to talk and share their stories. We want them to share their prewriting strategies like brainstorming and graphic organizing. They in turn get feedback from the other writers and the buddies about their stories. They talk and share ideas and they grow."