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Kyle high school students get feedback on their work from Austin fourth-graders


Austin American Statesman (10/30/2003)
By Kathy Blackwell

High school students who are creating a book with a lot riding on it faced possibly their toughest critics Wednesday: Austin fourth-graders.

But luckily for the 12 teenagers, their book about a crab who goes to college —the centerpiece of an unprecedented state campaign -- received lots of little thumbs up from the classes they visited at Campbell, Blackshear and Pease elementary schools.

?I was surprised they liked it so much, because my sister thought it was corny,? said Bliss Blumenthal, 15, who attends Academy@Hays, an alternative high school in Kyle.

Blumenthal and her classmates are part of a project launched by the College for Texans campaign and backed by $80,000 from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, the campaign's parent agency.

The Legislature formed College for Texans in November to persuade students, especially minorities and those from low-income families, to plan for college. The goal is for 300,000 more Texans to attend college by 2015.

The Kyle students chosen to write the book are in the Katherine Anne Porter Young Writers Program at Texas State University-San Marcos. They've worked on it since January with the help of graduate students in Texas State's creative writing program and its head, Tom Grimes.

They now have a 41-page illustrated draft temporarily called ?Milo's Way,? which follows Milo the crab as he overcomes obstacles to attend college. Along the way he encounters diverse characters, such as Fred, a female turtle-giraffe.

?As they floated down the river, Fred told Milo that in college she imagined she'd get to be an individual. No one would care that her mom was a turtle and her dad was a giraffe,? the book reads.

?Who made Chester? He was cool,? 9-year-old Rolando Ramirez asked the Kyle students, who broke into groups with pupils at Blackshear to discuss what they liked and didn't. Chester is ?a totally buff gopher.?

Many of the fourth-graders said they liked the characters and drawings. They also learned new things about college; many had never heard of scholarships before reading the book.

?They said it encouraged them to go to college,? said Alex “Ohio” Mattis, 16.“It was overwhelming to hear, because that's exactly what we wanted to do.?

The authors still have another obstacle. Milo the crab needs a name change: A Web search revealed the existence of one Milo the Hermit Crab, so for copyright purposes, they'll come up with something else.

College for Texans Director Lynn Denton said that when the book is published next year, it will be pushed throughout the state and possibly in schools around the country. Barnes & Noble will help promote it, and former Motown Vice President Jonathan Clark is putting together an accompanying CD of original music performed by students, the Huston-Tillotson choir and others.

?We're treating the book like it's a movie,? Clark said.“The music is the soundtrack.?

Grimes said the biggest winners so far are the Kyle students. They all plan to go to college now, but 10 months ago, that wasn't the case, he said. Part of the proceeds from the book will go toward scholarships for them.

?What a better success story than that?” Grimes said.