This past Wednesday morning I had the distinct pleasure of speaking to children in the cafeteria at Donald Elementary School in Flower Mound. Although I enjoy public speaking and have done so many times at various functions, I must admit to being a bit nervous about trying to relate to kids 12 and under.
Nancy Matocha, a Flower Mound resident and editor at the Dallas Morning News, invited me to join her for what’s known as “Author’s Tea,” at two separate sessions, 8 a.m. and 10 a.m., each for one half hour. The school and its many parent volunteers have worked with children to help them write and illustrate their own hard-backed books. The program allows the kids to write and choose pictures, while volunteers format and edit the content with the children in a small office in the school. When finished, a copy of the book’s cover and author’s page is pasted on the huge wall of the cafeteria, known as the “Wall of Fame.” By displaying the work this way, the entire student body is able to view the creative talent of their classmates and, hopefully, become a part of it themselves. Moreover, at the end of each year, the authors of the books have the opportunity to read them in front of their classes.
This program not only inspires children to be creative in their writing and artwork, but it gives them self-confidence because they get to actually see their work in print and on display. The small office in the school is a veritable publishing house with the title: Donald Elementary Dolphin Tales Publishing Company. In the past few years, led by Erin Charles and Dawn Olivares, Dolphin Tales Publishing has sponsored an Author’s Tea for the writers and their parents where they talk about the program and hand out awards.
These prepubescent, aspiring journalists and authors filled the large cafeteria, waiting for Nancy and me to say something that might motivate them to start a writing career. Nancy is a natural at this; relating immediately to the assemblage, while I sat there waiting and wondering if I could pull it off without looking clumsy. Well, I guess Nancy warmed them up for me, inasmuch as it seemed easier after she finished and I was called up to the podium.
The children were marvelous! The introduction by Dawn, in addition to citing my work as an editor for a local newspaper, included my former life as a police officer in New York City. Hence, one of the first questions, from a cute little boy in the first row, was “Did you work with police dogs?” That gave me a chance to talk about the Canine Corps and how important those magnificent dogs are to police work. Other questions included how did I get my books published, how does a newspaper get printed, and what is a deadline like. Given the variety of intelligent questions, it’s evident that those children are as bright as they are adorable. In addition to enjoying the experience, Nancy and I were flattered to be asked to put our autographs on some of their writing tablets and notebooks. I must say that the short time I spent at Donald was so unique and gratifying that I know it will provide a memory lasting longer than any other speaking engagement.
Furthermore, it gave me a sense of how valuable those teachers and volunteers are to the education of our children. If children are our future; teachers are the sculptures of that future. Their influence on every generation helps to decide where civilization is headed. Add to that, the multitude of volunteers, who put endless hours of their time to assist in developing those young fertile minds, and we can be thankful indeed for a school system that works indefatigably to educate and build the leaders of tomorrow. Later that day, Nancy and I received an email from Dawn, thanking us for taking the time to speak to the young gathering. I know Nancy would agree that the pleasure was all ours.
Bob Weir is a long-time Flower Mound resident and former local newspaper editor.