Rutgers Prep sixth grade English teacher Jill Studnicki remembers exactly how The Phantom Tollbooth entered her life.
She was a middle school student herself, and her parents, upon returning home from a parent-teacher conference, handed her a copy of Norton Juster’s classic novel. “Your teacher said that she knows you like to read,” Jill’s mother explained to her surprised daughter, “and she thought you might like this.”
Jill smiles, remembering the moment. “I thought, ‘My teacher knows I like to read?!’ I think this was really the point at which I understood that it was possible to have a connection to a teacher, to have a relationship. Before that my experience of teachers had been more along the lines of ‘you’re over there doing your thing and telling me what I need to do, and I’m over here trying to do it.’”
When the way opened for Jill to share The Phantom Tollbooth with her own students this year, she knew she wanted it to be something special. “I loved this book!” she reports. “I mean, look at this: I still have my original copy. I colored almost every illustration; I really made it mine. I brought this in to show my students and to say to them, “I want to find ways to make this story yours.”
So Jill designed a curriculum plan worthy of a book long-famous for the zany antics it presents. Over the course of a few weeks, Jill’s students will attend a punctuation party, write and deliver silly or hyperbolic speeches, explore writing from unusual sensory perspectives, participate in a scavenger hunt while wearing earplugs, re-enact portions of the story themselves, and wind up the unit with a celebratory feast.
“We are going to have so much fun,” predicts Jill. “These students are going to gain command of some incredibly useful tools. And – and this is maybe the best thing of all – they are each going to connect with this work in their own way. They don’t have to love the book in the way that I did. Maybe some of them will color their way through it, or maybe no one will. But we’re keeping a scrapbook, and I’m going to make sure that there are ways for everyone to participate and contribute. The fact that I know I have this chance is one of my favorite things about being here at Rutgers Prep.
My biggest class has thirteen students in it; everyone’s voice will be heard, and every student will have their chance to shine.”
Did you know?
This year’s Diwali celebration was Rutgers Prep’s fifth.
The first year, the event was held in Baldwin Hall.
By the second year, the number of RSVP’s forced a change of venue to a (much) larger space.
This year’s show featured 128 performers
from across all three divisions at Rutgers Prep.
And a full 25% of this year’s dancers
came from families of non-Indian heritage.
It was a wonderful and affirming celebration;
thanks again to everyone involved!
(Hattip to event coordinator extraordinaire Mythili Lahiri,
and to Hari Ramsubramani for capturing the finale on video.)
(RPS Middle School students posting their signed Honor Pledges.)
“I met a woman yesterday who had nothing but wonderful things to say about Rutgers Prep. Her neighbor’s children either are attending now, or have graduated. She said they are the kindest, most polite young men she has ever met. When speaking with them they actually look you right in the eye, use correct grammar and shake your hand when they are about to leave. She wanted to know if that’s what they teach at Rutgers Prep. She stated that respect seems to be a dying subject. My response, as usual, is that it starts in the home. However, at Rutgers Prep, it starts with the three/four year old children and continues right up to the twelfth grade.” ~ grandmother of a current RPS student (continued >>)