Author’s visit gives students a chance to shine
Students interact with author Sam Kean during annual program
COLONIAL HEIGHTS — Sam Kean, author of “The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Rivalry, Adventure, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements,” recently visited Colonial Heights High School as part of an annual author visitation program, where he spent the day answering students’ questions, eating lunch with them and signing their books.
For the past eight years, about 15 CHHS students, typically in grades 10-12, have been chosen to participate in a bookreading club. Participating students are assigned a dense nonfiction, scientific book to read. Twice a week before school, they meet and hold student-led discussions of the chapters. The discussions are intended to develop leadership skills and a deeper understanding of the book.
This year, students read Kean’s "Disappearing Spoon,” a novel that delves into the history behind each element on the periodic table, including how it was discovered and the controversy surrounding its discovery.
“It was really cool. Even kids who don’t love science really did enjoy that book. And this one so directly related to the
chemistry curriculum, it was ridiculous,” said Kristin Crowder, gifted resource coordinator and co-sponsor of the reading club. “This was among the best of the books we’ve read because it wasn’t like we had to make connections for them — they were right there.”
As the students finished reading the book, they were assigned to come up with educated questions to ask both Kean and members of a guest panel that included Richard Bland College professor Dr. Shawn Holt, Virginia Commonwealth
University professor Deborah Polo, VCU professor Dr. Mychal Smith, and CHHS physics teacher David Flickinger.
The day of the event, students continued to practice leadership skills as student Lauren Anderson provided the welcome and introductions, and another student, Ben Burchard, introduced author Kean. Following a presentation by Kean, students Paisley Loucks, Joey Upadhyay, Susan Sampson and Adrienne Dew introduced the panel members.
During a question-andanswer segment, students asked Kean and the panel members questions about the book, including what parts were their favorite, how the book’s content relates to their careers,
and more. Kean then signed the students’ books and ate lunch with them in the Tech Center café.
“It’s very unique because of course [the students] get their book signed, which they think is super cool, but they also eat lunch with the author,” said Crowder. “They get an hour of undivided attention from him. And you can really start to see the ones step out as leaders in that role, because that’s uncomfortable for some of the younger kids, but as they get older they become really good at interacting.”
While it’s rare that high school students are given the opportunity to meet and interact with an author, CHHS instructional specialist Dr. Joe Douglas said he believes
the unique factor of the program is the student leadership opportunity.
“I think there’s a whole other dimension to the program that makes it unique, and that is that it’s student-run,” he said. “I welcomed everyone and introduced the School Board, and then we turned it over to the students. A student opened it up with a history about the program, other students introduced Sam Kean, and then they introduced the panel members, gave background on them professionally and personally, and they kind of emcee the whole thing once it gets going.”
The program concluded with Kean speaking to a room full of additional students, including a chemistry class and a
research class, so he was able to spread knowledge to those who didn’t participate in the reading club.
This year marked the second time Kean has been the guest author. In 2014, he visited to answer questions about his book "The Violinist's Thumb: And Other Lost Tales of Love, War and Genius, as Written by Our Genetic Code." Other authors who have participated in the program include Dr. Rutger Van Santen, Dr. Allen Buchanan, Dr. Joe Schwarcz (who also has visited twice), Lisa Sanders and Jeffrey Lockwood.
Author Sam Kean, guest panel members and students pose for a photo at Colonial Heights High School’s eighth annual Author Visitation Program at the CHHS Tech Center on Wednesday, Nov. 7.