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About Town: Evergreen Teachers Take Literary Instruction to the Next Level

Students at Evergreen Junior High learn real world skills in a book publishing unit that also touches Redmond kindergarteners.

Editor's note: The Huffington Post has selected Robert Kaneko and Shauna Yusko as its Greatest Person of the Day for Nov. 30. To see more honorees from around the country, click here. And congratulations to these two deserving educators!

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Two teachers have created a literary/tech program that has touched thousands of students, including the 900 or so junior high students who have created picture books to share with kindergarteners around the district.

Robert Kaneko, a tech teacher at Evergreen, jokes that librarian Shauna Yusko “duped” him into participating in a novel program she thought up when she started working at Evergreen five years ago.

The truth is, their combined skills, plus a lot of trial and error, have worked out in a big way for the entire district.

Each semester, seventh-grade students in Kaneko’s Tech 101 classes do a 10-week project in which they write, illustrate and publish a picture book. At the project’s completion, kindergarteners from around the district take field trips to Evergreen, and the authors read their books to the younger students.

“I don’t know if the seventh-graders or the kindergarteners have more fun,” Yusko says.

High school students who have gone through the program before often earn community service credits by coming down to help with editing.

Evergreen then has a number of copies of each book printed and distributed to elementary school libraries.

“We’ve pushed for the vertical integration,” between the grades, Kaneko says.

Yusko says she thought this type of program would be a good way to keep junior high students involved in library sciences, because they don’t have a set library period like elementary schools do. And the students learn valuable real-world skills using programs such as Adobe Publisher and Photoshop, as well as planning their work for the target audience. One of the major benefits, Yusko says, is that the students get to be creative.

“The thing that is so successful is that it’s completely free range,” Yusko said. The students can choose how to illustrate the book, whether it’s taking their own photos, illustrating digitally, or drawing pictures to scan in—many combine different techniques. They also can choose whether to work individually or with a partner.

Kaneko says they also learn a lot of practical things about the publishing world, such as that picture books are typically 32 pages long, how to paginate, how to prepare files for printing, and how to target to the audience.

“We get across a sense of industry standards,” he says.

The program has garnered a lot of support over the years, too. The teachers recently were awarded a $2,000 ING Unsung Heroes grant, and they previously received a $5,000 Best Buy grant for equipment. The PTSA funds the printing of the books, and the program has received Washington Schools Foundation grants for several years that help cover the cost of materials and field trips.

Kaneko says one of his goals now, which could be helped by the ING grant, is to help the kids put their work in digital media formats.

“My goal as tech teacher was to address emerging markets. I want kids to be able to put their work on the Kindle, iPod, and Android, because that’s the future of publishing,” he said, adding, “My pipe dream would be to produce an app” that would allow kids to have the books read to them electronically on an iPad or mobile device.

Yusko’s children are among those who have been touched by the program. Her son has been in Kaneko’s tech class and created a book, and her daughter, who attends next door, has been among the kindergarteners on the book field trips. Kaneko lives nearby in Woodinville.

Yusko and Kaneko have written up their lesson plan, refining it each year, and hope it’s a program that others will replicate, especially because it’s been so successful.

Right now, a little more than halfway through this semester’s project, the current students are learning another valuable life lesson—meeting deadlines.

“It can be madness,” but it’s always a lot of fun, Yusko said.

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