Central Middle School students, led by the school’s media specialist, took their classroom lessons to the next step as they made plans to punk one of their favorite authors and then hold a parade in her honor.
As an author of more than 30 books for young adults and children, Wendelin Van Draanen has participated in Author Day school visits across the country.
“I have been hosted by exceptional and extraordinary districts from coast to coast,” Van Draanen said, “but in my 15 years of school visits I have never experienced a reception that rivals the one I received this May at Edmond’s Central Middle School.”
It all started with a mock arrest and ended with a parade.
“On my way to Central Middle School, my car was detained by Edmond schools’ resource officer, Dack Pearson, who was (unbeknownst to me) in cahoots with the school’s librarian, Caradith Craven,” Van Draanen said. “His demeanor was stern. Serious. He was in full cop regalia, and after only a few seconds of his directive, I knew I was in trouble. ‘Yes, sirs,’ were tumbling from me at an unprecedented rate.”
And then Pearson punked Van Draanen.
“‘I’m surprised Officer Borsch hasn’t told you about this,’” he said, “referencing a character straight out of my Sammy Keyes mystery series,” Van Draanen said.
Adding she knew in a flash she had been had.
“‘Oh!’ I cried, jumping out of the car. And then the librarian appeared from the police vehicle to confirm it.”
Van Draanen said this is the first time she had been pranked by a school and she later learned that everyone from Principal Dana Renner to the cafeteria workers, the whole school, was in on it.
“After my police escort onto campus, the entire student body, staff and administration participated in an American Idol-esque ‘coming home’ parade,” Van Draanen said. “Kids were dressed up as my characters, there were floats built up around shopping carts representing my various books, there was a marching band and curbs lined with cheering kids in high-tops (a signature item of my character Sammy Keyes).
“It was long, and loud, and … unbelievable!”
Craven said Van Draanen had been to Central with her Right to Read program five times and Craven was wanting to plan an experience for the students that was fun after the state testing had taken place and one that would involve everyone.
“The Sammy Keyes series written by Wendelin is coming to a conclusion,” Craven said. “One of main characters is Officer Borscht and knowing that Wendelin is just a kid at heart and loves to pull pranks I decided to prank her.”
Craven said her idea, which came about from visiting with a school counselor, was to surprise Van Draanen, but after sharing the idea with a school resource officer he had his own scenario.
“It was his idea to stake out a location and when Wendelin and her husband rounded the corner in their van, we pulled up with the lights flashing, while Officer Pearson told her the area was under survellience and he asked her about the van that was wrapped promoting her books.”
Van Draanen and her husband followed the police car to the school where they were met by nine floats, each decorated with the title of one of Van Draanen’s books. Students rode skateboards, donned hand made T-shirts and dressed in tu-tus and high-topped Converse tennis shoes, reminiscent of characters from Van Draanen’s Sammy Keyes series.
“It was a real coming together celebration for the student body,” Craven said. “One student remarked to her teacher, ‘This is the best day of my life.’ We try to give our students unique experiences that will help reinforce what they are learning in their classrooms.”
Before choosing her vocation in life as a full-time writer, Van Draanen served in the educational trenches as a classroom teacher for 15 years and she knows how overworked and stressed teachers are by the end of the school term.
Van Draanen said, “Okay. I know what you’re thinking: How in the name of state testing is this sort of activity possible? And who has the time or resources (or, let’s face it, energy) to put on a parade?
“I know that being in education has become less about the child and more about the tests, not because that’s how teachers want it, but because that’s what funding dictates,” Van Draanen said.
“But if education is about the child — about the whole child — then we should acknowledge schools that go above and beyond the tests. Music, art, reading, teamwork, joy … it was all on display that afternoon at Central Middle School. And, maybe more importantly, it was a day that the students will remember long after their last tests are taken.”
Van Draanen added, “A lot of people in education recognize that it’s time to take our schools back. Three cheers to Central Middle School for leading the parade.”