Au­thor’s visit gives stu­dents a chance to shine

Stu­dents in­ter­act with au­thor Sam Kean dur­ing an­nual pro­gram

The Progress-Index Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Kelsey Re­ichen­berg Staff Writer

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.

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