A Young Girl's Love of Reading and Powerful Tenacity Pay Off Big for Gary Elementary Students
A longtime habit for nonstop reading. An enormous natural creativity and energy. A tremendous passion for research and writing. A tenacious refusal to ever give up. These qualities add up to an almost certain recipe and predictor for success in life pursuits. Add a maturity beyond her years and an obviously high intelligence, and Gary Elementary fourth grader Blair Cope has SUCCESS written all over her present and her future!
She recently put these qualities to use to bring about a huge event at her small school—a full-day visit and several writing workshops from a nationally and even internationally known author of children's books. School librarian Penni Ratley insists, “Blair's tenacity is the ONLY reason we found this author and the only reason the author came and brought such an incredible experience for our school.”
Blair's mom, Brooke Blair Cope, explains that it all began when Blair selected a library book called The Neptune Project by Plano resident Polly Holyoke. The book was the 2014 winner of the prestigious Bluebonnet Award presented annually to a Texas author. Passionate animal lover Blair saw the dolphin depicted on the book's cover, read the book notes on the back, and decided it would be a good choice. That was an understatement, according to Brooke. “She absolutely could not put it down,” she says. “She read it in the car throughout a Christmas break trip, and even while eating breakfast at 6:30 in the morning. She kept saying she didn't want it to end, and when it did, she just knew from the way the book ended that there just HAD to be another book. I found a second book, The Neptune Challenge, and purchased it for her for Christmas, and she loved it just as much as the first one.”
However, Blair was even more distraught after the second book ended, convinced that it simply could not be the end of the series and asking her mother repeatedly to see if they could get in touch with the author and find out if there was a third book, or at least plans for one. Brooke found an e-mail address for Polly, and a correspondence began. They found out that Polly had waited for seven years before Disney Hyperion publishers picked up the first book, that they had been eager to buy the second one after the success of the first, but that so far they were not buying a third one. Of course, Blair was ready to write Disney Hyperion immediately, ask why in the world they were not jumping at the chance to publish it, and let them know they are just leaving people hanging!
During their ongoing correspondence, Brooke and Blair found out that the author was a former middle school teacher who visits schools and offers writing workshops, especially catering to the needs of the fourth and seventh graders who are required to take the writing portion of the STAAR test. Blair quickly began her campaign to make the author's visit to Gary a reality. She first discussed the information about the workshops to her beloved librarian Miss Penni, who immediately realized what an incredible opportunity this would be for the school. Of course, Penni knew that it would be a very expensive undertaking, and not in the budget. Fortunately, the Gary School District also saw the great benefit of the proposed event and authorized the expenditure.
Penni, Brooke, and Blair all say it was one of the greatest days ever for the school. Polly brought several age-appropriate lessons of all kinds. The younger children in Pre-K, kindergarten, and first grade learned mostly about the sea—the animals, the ocean environment, the food chain, and other sea-related information—in a program called “All About Dolphins.” The presentation for second, third, and fourth graders was “The Secrets to Becoming a Better Writer” and was about how to get ideas to write a book and doing research for the writing. She provided a WebQuest session, asking questions and having the students look up the answers via internet. The older group included fourth, fifth and sixth graders; fourth graders were able to attend two sessions because they were just about to take the writing portion of the STAAR. This workshop was called “Let's Get Creative and Let’s Get Specific,” tailored especially for STAAR writing.
When asked to tell a little about herself, Blair's first response is, “I love reading books, especially books about animals. I also love to read books that movies have been made from and compare the movie and the book. The latest series I have been reading is Maze Runner; I have read four of the books, and they are ones you just have to keep reading at the end of each chapter. You can't stop! I saw the movie, and just like with most every other book I've read, the movie was not nearly as good as the book. They just cannot get all the detail and characters' thoughts in a movie like you can get from the book!”
She also enjoys swimming and just being outdoors. She reports, “I really feel like Nere, a character in The Neptune Project, when I'm in the water.” She also enjoys gymnastics and soccer and has a passionate love for animals. “I have hamsters, a dog, a snail, and two fish, and I have also rescued some baby bunnies. I really want a turtle, a bearded dragon, and a hairless cat called a Bambino. My dad is very allergic to cat hair, so I think the hairless one would be perfect.” Penni says at the school's recent book fair, there was a huge, very heavy hardback book for sale, A Kid's Animal Encyclopedia, and she knew instantly who was going to purchase that book. Blair says, “Yes, it was the icing on the cake. I really wanted the encyclopedia of sea animals, too!”
She also enjoys writing (and writing and writing and writing and writing, according to Penni). Most of the time she writes about things she has researched, especially animals, but just as she loves to read series, she also loves to write series. She has begun to write and illustrate a series of fictional stories about a girl named Mavrix, following her from elementary school to middle school and then high school. She doesn't have an end in mind for this series but continues to write about Mavrix and all her different friends, including some of the struggles the girls have in their relationships.
Penni says that Blair is one of the most creative children she has ever known. She credits Blair's “Nana,” grandmother Becky Blair, with helping to foster this creativity. “Nana has always let her have free access to tape, glue, paint, and anything else in the house she needs for her projects, no matter how messy. As a result, when we are working on some of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) projects in our summer reading program, everyone always wants to be in Blair's group. She can turn absolutely anything into whatever the challenge is. I have seen her use the most ordinary things to make a car powered by a balloon, a cup suspended from a table top with straws and tape that held tight when completely filled with pennies that were dropped into it, a battery operated robot that would color with markers by itself, and many other things. She even took the robot home, took the battery/motor off of it, and made all kinds of other things in her house move by themselves.”
Blair says the visit of her favorite author to her school was wonderful. “I was so happy she could come and especially that I had a part in making it happen,” she says. “I painted a picture for her of the main character in the book, Nere, on a canvas and framed it and put shells on it. I got to go meet with her early in the morning, and she gave me a gift, too—a mermaid necklace she had made, and it was a copy of the same one Tobin gave to Nere in the book, on her 'birthing day.'”
Brooke says, “This big undertaking is just one example of the good things at our school. We are so blessed that Blair is surrounded here by people like Penni who encourage her in her creativity and all her undertakings, make her think, and never say something can't be done.” Penni explains, “Well, like Blair, I enjoy thinking and being outside the box, too, and I love to surround myself with my out-of-the-box people!”