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Great American Teach-In can inspire students

No martial arts robes, nor bows and arrows. No animals. No firefighting apparatus. The props and teaching aids for a print journalist are limited to a pen, reporter's notebook and a couple copies of the newspaper.

Armed only with that and lesson plans intended to turn elementary pupils into junior journalists for 30 minutes at a time, I ventured out Wednesday for the Great American Teach-In.

I and more than 1,500 others in Pasco County, if last year's turnout is an accurate gauge for participants in 2008. It is the 14th year for this exercise designed to bring noneducators into the classroom to share information about careers, hobbies or just to read a story.

The Great American Teach-In, like almost all school programs, has been slapped with an acronym, This effort is now known as GATI, which, when pronounced publicly at a Pasco School Board meeting Tuesday evening, sounded like Gotti, as in the Teflon Don. Maybe we should have left it as Career Day.

The program benefits students by allowing them to see "enthusiastic role models who share information about jobs and careers, an interesting hobby or personal experience.'' At least according to a Pasco School Board resolution, that interestingly enough, never was voted on Tuesday evening after it had been read into the record. Perhaps an enthusiasm for getting through the agenda took precedence.

Dwelling on the recognitions was more enjoyable than information shared later in the meeting that the School Board may have to cut as much as $17-million from the current budget. Teachers and other school staff members, already denied raises for the current year, aren't likely to see salary increases anytime soon, even with mediation scheduled to begin today.

Against that backdrop, teachers could probably use a respite from the rest of us even if it's just 30 minutes at a time.

It is a chance to inspire children, or maybe just not fall flat on our faces as educators for a day.

At least 70 presenters headed to Pine View Elementary in Land O'Lakes, including police officers, firefighters, a jewelry maker, hairstylist, financial adviser, banker, musician, physical therapist, doctor, civil engineer, stockbroker, restaurant manager and chef.

Don Grady, who manages a McDonald's restaurant in Seffner, talked about training and job interview skills and let the fourth-graders act as food runners to customers.

"There was a lot of noise, and that's exactly what we're looking for,'' Grady said.

He brought a necktie (for the manager) and employee hats (for the servers) as his props. Earlier, someone passed by carrying archery equipment. Later, I saw the martial arts garb. Firefighters, carrying their boots, walked through one classroom while I spoke to a group of fifth-graders.

Sorry, kids, what you see is what you get with a newspaper. Collect information. Be inquisitive. Pay attention to details. Write a story. Get it on the Web. Craft a longer version for the broadsheet. Then came their questions:

What was the biggest story you've ever worked on?

What was the smallest story you've ever worked on?

How much does it cost to advertise?

How many ads can you fit in the newspaper?

How many people work at the newspaper?

How many work in the newsroom?

Nobody asked, how much money do you make?

Before even starting, one youngster volunteered he wanted to be a reporter. Another suggested commentary writing is an easy job because you get to insert your opinion. Almost all of them claimed to read a newspaper, and there was near universal agreement on their favorite part: the comics.

Leaving a group of third-graders, I saw the next presenter and felt fortunate to have been the initial visitor of the day. Outside sat Annie, a gorgeous golden retriever mixed with Australian shepherd that interacts with hospice patients.

All these years of participating at the Great American Teach-In has taught yours truly a lesson as well.

Never try to follow an animal act.

Great American Teach-In can inspire students 11/19/08 [Last modified: Friday, November 21, 2008 7:28pm]
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