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In December the BWS scholars left the continent of South America to take an imaginary flight across the Atlantic Ocean to a small continent with a big impact on world history: Europe. So many centuries, so many cultures, so many empires.

While we reviewed the geography with all the grades, the 5th grade jumped right into the Ancient Civilizations of Greece and Rome. The impact continues today as seen in the DC architecture and TV shows like Percy Jackson. Our library offered a wealth of books full of Myths, Heroes, and some origins of Scientific and Political thought. How about concepts like Democracy and Republic?

The entire school surrounded our Baby Grand Piano on that first Friday for a real introduction to the origin and mechanics of the musical instrument first created by Cristofori in Italy back in 1698. The instant hammer release and pedals add piano and forte dimension to the sounds. Our boys had many questions for the professional pianist Christopher Schmidtt who played a concert full of Beethoven, Bach and Liszt. When he played Jeux d'Eau (Water Play) by Ravel, the group seemed to sway like the droplets depicted by the music. The fun fact that Mr. Schmidtt is a member of the President’s Own Marine Corps Band had an allure, but his expressive talent kept our scholars absorbed for over an hour of classical music!

The first two continents we visited are dominated by English and Spanish. But in Europe we encounter many different languages and traditions. For Kindergarten, we started in England to make sure they know we speak English and to find one of the first children’s book authors: Beatrice Potter. A lonely child, she took to drawing nature and small animals near her family farm. In a letter to a friend’s son she said she didn’t know what to write so she invented a story about one of her rabbits and drew charming illustrations of Peter Rabbit. She tried to publish the stories but no one would make books the size of a child’s hand. She published them herself on simple paper and finally got some attention. Her 22 books are still being published after more than 125 years. She used her money to preserve green space in central England and her drawings of mushrooms went into scientific journals. The stories offer high drama and simple messages. Remember the mean old Mr. MacGregor?!


Over the next weeks we explored the variety of make believe, small creatures that invade all the different European cultures. Our library holds books of all sizes and reading levels on the subject of fairies, sprites, gnomes, pixies, brownies, trolls and elves. Some are kind, some are scary and some are simply mischievous.

Mrs. Marquardt opened up a folding paper house that her daughters played with in Holland where they were born and raised. The little toy family and gnomes, known as Kabouters in Dutch, lived together in this cardboard cottage. Our BWS boys created imaginative stories about these folks at each session.


What we call Fairy Tales are more like folk tales. The older students learned of the Brothers Grimm who recorded the oral traditions of folk all around Germany, such as Hansel and Gretel and Snow White. Anderson tales, like The Ugly Duckling, are well known from Denmark. And French folktales such as Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast seem as much a part of American culture as European. Now our students know the European origin of many favorite children’s tales, as adapted by Broadway, Disney and comic characters and spoofs.


Mrs O  spent the month challenging 4th graders to decipher the letters, numbers and colored stickers labeling the spine of every single book in our Library. The green F,S,P, G and E stickers indicate the Fiction, Series, Picture, Graphic and Early Reader books in our fiction collection. All Fiction books within a category are organized in Alphabetical order by author’s last name.

The real challenge comes with the Nonfiction which is organized according to Dewey Decimal order. In addition to the alphabet, students need to know their decimals to find that exact book. Some sports books go to the thousandth place value!  She organized games with Starburst rewards. Once mastered, our scholars can walk into any Library and find that soccer technique section in the 700’s.


Both 3rd and 4th graders still have a story read to them at the beginning of Library. Many lead to rich discussions encouraging keen comprehension skills. Some books compliment classroom curriculum and some introduce new cultures and historic moments to the student, such as a French girl Mirette who encourages one of the most famous high wire acts in Paris.

The Accelerated Reader program continiues  with 3rd grade. They are learning to find their own particular leveled book and take assessments each week to boost their comprehension skills. What could seem like a chore seems more like a game. These readers want to rise up into a wider choice of books within our collection.

We had two European visitors to give an authentic view of their home countries. Andrew Clarke, the Head of our BWS Board, took time to talk with both 5th grade and Kindergarten about Ireland. He began by saying The Lord’s Prayer in the Irish language and describing the dairy farm where his family still lives. With the older students, he discussed The Troubles with England and with the younger ones he read a story about Leprechauns.  Andrew shared a video of the game of Hurley and let the boys hold a real Hurley stick-not unlike hockey played on grass. Then we shared homemade Soda Bread (thanks Mrs M.) with real Kerry butter from Ireland.

A second visitor, Finja Laxler , came from the Austrian Embassy to share her culture with 1st and 2nd graders. She focused on the geography and language, with an example of children skiing down Alpine mountains to go to school in the winter and cows being led up the mountains in the spring to freely graze on the new grass. Finja talked about the ease of getting around in Europe with its fast and expansive train system. She also focused on the Danube River and recommended a ferry ride to Bratislava. She read an Austrian tale I Am Me. We shared chocolate wafer cookies and waved Austrian flags just like 6-year-olds in Vienna.

This year, The Bishop Walker School Library received generous and much needed contributions to its collection of books. Beauvoir School donated specific books from a check list we made for the Scholastic Book Fair. St Andrews Church donated specific books about countries so that our year long journey around the world in books could have many different reading levels. St John’s Lafayette Square parishioners gave 4 class sets of Nat. Geo. World Atlases which we will use for the rest of the year.


The donation from Monsignor Stephen Rossetti of Catholic University allowed Mrs. Ochmanek to obtain much-needed books for middle elementary readers. And Christ Church Washington Parish used their St. Nicolas Party as a chance for their own young parishioners to make bookplates for the specific science and tech books offered to our scholars. These gifts filled gaps in our collection, as did the many small gift donors using the “BWS Library Wish List” on Amazon. We are truly grateful!

By the end of the month, we turned to the Story of Christmas with the traditional books like Christmas Carol by Dickens, Polar Express by VanAllsberg and the story of Jesus’ birth told through Room for One More. We reenacted the animals welcoming Mary and Joseph after each animal had welcomed its enemy into the manger to get warm. The cat said to the mouse, “There’s always room for one more here.”

With our imagination, we can picture the animals that live outside our windows sharing the space and staying warm in their nests just beyond our very doors. Here is the creek beside Bishop Walker School still flowing on a December morn.

May we have Peace on Earth!

Our BWS World Tour goes to Latin America. We started in Mexico which is technically in North America but shares more culture with South America. Just after Halloween, Dias de Los Muertos is celebrated. The Day of the Dead is a joyous time that allows families to remember  those who died. Parades, songs, dances, good food, flowers and an Ofrenda full of tokens from the past keep the memory alive every year. Even our youngest scholars wished to share memories of those who died in their family. We had our own fiesta by shaking maracas and eating pan dulce. Reading about traditions in other cultures also introduced a different language.

Next we packed our virtual bags with novels about South America as an introduction to this huge continent.  With 12 countries in all, we had to focus our travels on just a few . The topography first informed us. Bolivia has a capital that is miles high atop the Andes mountains. We studied the flora and fauna of these, the second highest mountain range in the world.

For the youngest, lilies and llamas were featured both in folktale and fact books.  Llama, Lama Red Pajama holds new meaning when you learn of how these animals work so hard carrying loads up mountains and by giving their wool for clothing.

Through the books in our BWS Library, older students learned more of the Spanish colonization and destruction of amazing civilizations such as the Mayans in Peru. We felt some of the culture by sampling Bolivian street food from a new shop in DC, wearing an alpaca poncho and trying to make music from Peruvian pipes while listening to indigenous tunes.

We came down from the mountains into the Amazon rainforest and the country of Brazil. Students entered the library to the tunes of Bossa Nova. They read about the deforestation of the trees from the rain forest in order to make grazing ground for the cattle that get sold to the US for hamburgers. They saw satellite photos of the vast Amazon river and forest that covers the width of a continent. And they sampled an unusual tropical treat called Dragonfruit shipped here from Ecuador.

The youngest scholars encountered stories and fact books about the unique animals such as the Sloth, Poison Dart Frog and Jaguar, not mention the millions of insects.

Mrs. Ochmanek continued her library skills instruction with 4th grade with a Starburst candy challenge to find and describe different subject areas in the Library nonfiction collection. This is an opportunity to fully understand the organizing structure of any library in the country- using the Dewey Decimal System. While she reads a challenging story at the start of library time, the scholars must prove their knowledge each week before moving to the next category. Then they get to choose up to 4 books to read for pleasure.

A study of water and oceans informs the 3rd grade social studies curriculum. Mrs. O adapted her stories to match that study. One example is the biographies of marine biologists and the deep sea diver Jacque Cousteau.  The class is continuing the Accelerated Reading Program by selecting one book at their exact reading level to read and take a comprehension quiz every week. We have seen readers maintaining and progressing in their reading abilities. This is a cooperative effort between Ms. Clark and Library staff.

We ended the month focusing on the origin of our Thanksgiving feast and how South America harvests fill our tables. Produce from roots and vines fill pies and casseroles and the Wild Turkey is very American-both South and North. In the end, we were very grateful.

In the BWS Library this month, the scholars packed their imaginary suitcases and began the BWS World Tour…we will travel 7 Continents over 8 months through books. Our senses will hear, feel and even taste different cultures as our minds satisfy curiosity and stimulate our imaginations.

The first stop is North America. BWS staff created a US map with marked hometowns that let scholars know that we have all moved all over the continent. Of course, Ms. Atmar won the distance prize for coming from Kabul, Afghanistan! 5th Graders dived into African American history by reading and reviewing nonfiction books and biographies that spanned 1619-2009. They compared maps, globes and atlases looking for key geographic factors of this continent.

While we can’t learn about every country and people, we will zoom in on several World cultures and read about the History, Geography, Faith-Traditions, Language-Stories and Art, Music, Food and Play. Our Library has fiction and nonfiction books that reveal the richness of how and where people live all over the world.

As we expanded beyond U.S. borders, we saw that country borders are only one boundary. Mountains and rivers define us. Looking out the windows show us an untouched slice of DC- The Oxon Run or stream surrounded by huge Poplar, Beech and Oak trees. Through reading, we can picture the life of Native Americans here.

Older students learned of how land was taken away from these people and they were moved far from their homes. More current history of taking away identity and language was seen in contemporary books that reveal the contemporary civil rights struggles of Native Americans.

Younger students heard various tribal origin stories and learned of native plants. They held the Hopi Kachina carved from a Cottonwood root. It depicts the Early Morning Singer, Talavai, ready for a Winter Bean Festival. They banged a drum covered in deer skin. Live deer families and native squash grow next to our school. We see them on our way to outdoor classrooms or the playground.

Third graders are honing their reading skills with a new program called Accelerated Reader. Thanks to the careful examination of our collection by Mrs. Ochmanek, one library book choice for each scholar will fit exactly to his current reading level and a set of comprehension questions will gage his understanding each week. This is a pilot program in which Library staff collaborate with the classroom teachers. More news on this program as it gets launched.

We transitioned to our American tradition of the scary season of Halloween. 3rd through 5th graders heard classic ghost stories, many of which came from Southern tales that enslaved people told long ago. Other American tales, such as The Headless Horseman, explain the tradition of Jack O Lanterns. In the spirit of Edgar Allen Poe and his Bells poem, boys rang an old brass school bell made in Pennsylvania-home of the Liberty Bell. How American!

First and Second graders focused on the Holiday of dress up. Super Hero books had great appeal. And boys enjoyed showing fearlessness by reading Halloween tales. Creepy Carrot, Creepy Crayon and Creepy Pair of Underwear-were hits! Also, The Little Old Lady Who Was Not Afraid of Anything.

Kindergartners used all 5 senses to explore a great big pumpkin. After hearing several Halloween tales, they designed Jack’s face. We then carved a pentagon shaped lid and pulled out the pulp and seeds. Ah, the rich smell!

We touched the smooth flesh and finally ate roasted seeds. Sometimes, a librarian has to bring props and artifacts to make the books gain new meaning. Pete the Cat and the 5 Little Pumpkins was sung with vigor!

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