Hardin Park Turns Schoolwide Reading to Schoolwide Service by Filling Maddi’s Fridge

Published Wednesday, December 2, 2015 at 11:14 am
Fourth graders Riley Keller, Patrick Nguyen, Jeremy Witte, Nick Lyons, and Jake Henderson display some of the canned goods collected by Hardin Park students.

Fourth graders Riley Keller, Patrick Nguyen, Jeremy Witte, Nick Lyons, and Jake Henderson display some of the canned goods collected by Hardin Park students.

For its second annual Schoolwide Read, Hardin Park School put the picture book Maddi’s Fridge in the hands all the school’s teachers and then put the book’s lessons into practice by turning shared reading into shared service learning.

Maddi’s Fridge is the work of Lois Brandt, a Washington state author who based the story on an incident from her own childhood. “The reason I’m an author is that some things get stuck in my head and I need to write about them,” noted Brandt, who spoke to students by Skype on a large screen in the Hardin Park gym last Tuesday.

“I take things that happen in real life and turn them into a story.”

She then shared the memory that became stuck in her head and inspired Maddi’s Fridge.

When she was about 10 years old, Brandt visited a friend for a play date and was having a great time when she was suddenly told it was time for her to leave. A bit puzzled at first and wondering about lunch, she looked in the refrigerator and found it empty save for a very few condiments and a single carton of milk. Accustomed to having plenty of foods and drinks available in her own home, the sight of those empty shelves and the realization that her friend’s family could not just go buy what they needed left a lasting impression on the future author.

Xitlali Luna does her part to help “fill Maddi’s Fridge.”

Xitlali Luna does her part to help “fill Maddi’s Fridge.”

In a simple but thoughtful manner, Maddi’s Fridge helps students learn about the different needs and resources of families, the reality of child hunger, the nature of friendship, and how people can help one another while remaining respectful and sensitive to each person involved.   At Hardin Park, these messages sparked action in the form of a food drive to “fill Maddi’s fridge” and combat child hunger.

Cardboard refrigerators, painted white with black handles to better look the part, were set up in the school media center. Flyers about the food drive were posted on the refrigerators and elsewhere and handed out in school. To help ensure a balanced variety of items was collected, Principal Mary Smalling came up with the idea of assigning a specific type of food to each grade. The second grade focused on canned chicken, the sixth grade on canned vegetables, and the seventh grade on canned fruit, with other grades collecting other categories of food.

Hundreds of canned and boxed food items were donated to the school’s food pantry, an important resource for families needing assistance with their nutritional needs. The pantry is now well stocked for the onset of cold weather when high heating costs compete with the food budget in many homes.

“This schoolwide read combined so many important elements that it’s hard to say which is best,” said Hardin Park Principal Mary Smalling. “Our teachers use it for instruction in reading and every other subject in the curriculum, and it’s a wonderful way for students to learn about empathy and compassion and what it means to be part of a community. I’m really proud of how everyone at the school came together to share learning and service in ways that connect them to each other and to the larger world.”

The suggestion for everyone in school to read the same book and use it in different ways for various subjects and grade levels came from Hardin Park Media Specialists Amy Hiatt and Candice Trexler. They first heard about the idea at the 2014 NC School Library Media Conference and it proved to be very successful in its first run last year with the book The Day the Crayons Quit. The two steered the project again this year using Maddi’s Fridge.

Trexler and Hiatt gave teachers options for activities they could use to integrate the book into work with various grade levels and subjects and teachers also came up with their own ideas. While younger grades often used the book for reading instruction and simple discussions about the messages it conveys, older grades can adapt it in ways limited only by their imaginations.

“One class used it with a math emphasis by having students devise a weekly food budget limited to about $35 per week per person, which is a low income food budget based on national standards,” stated Trexler. “Students checked grocery store ads for food prices and worked to come up with a healthy balance of items within that very limited budget. They learned lessons about both math and child hunger when they realized it was no easy task.”

Hardin Park School is the largest of the eight K-8 schools in the Watauga County Schools system, with a total enrollment of approximately 800 students. The school’s students outperform state averages on all of the state’s required tests for students in grades 3-8.

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