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Ecologist author visits Kettle Run High School

Tuesday, May. 27 | By Fauquier Times Staff
Author Eliot Schrefer speaking to Kettle Run students.
Courtesy Photo
Author Eliot Schrefer entertained Kettle Run students on April 24 with his stories of bonobos and his travels to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to research them.

Approximately 150 students who read his book Endangered attended the 75-minute presentation. Endangered is the first book in Mr. Schrefer’s Ape Quartet series where fictional characters and engaging plotlines introduce readers to very serious subjects of terrorism, political upheaval, ape habitat/behavior and species preservation. It was a National Book Award for Young People finalist in 2012.

Librarians Alice Pleasants and Kim Ritter selected the book because its content was related to studies in earth science, ecology, world history, government, sociology and English. They purchased enough copies to accommodate entire class studies of the book throughout the 2013-2014 school year. Book Club members and Coffee House writers read it. It was a “Kettle Run Reads” title for the year as well.

“When all was said and done, 630 students at Kettle Run were formally introduced to the author and his book, 569 read it, and 150 completed the in-house field trip process and attended Mr. Schrefer’s lively presentation, “ Mrs. Ritter said.

With slides documenting some of his research and photos of the bonobos he got to know while in the Congo, Mr. Schrefer captivated his audience.

“I learned more about how bonobos interact and how they are almost like humans – in the sense that they have emotions and learn through mimicry,” junior Sharon Kwarteng shared. Sophomore Sam Williams said Mr. Shrefer “had a remarkable presentation. He really interested me when he showed the videos he had taken of the bonobos.”
Librarians approached the English, science and social sciences departments in August to see who might be interested in incorporating the novel into their instruction this year.

“We purchased enough books to meet the demand. For those teachers who jumped on board, it was a very educational and enriching experience,” said Mrs. Ritter. After reading the book and attending the presentation, world history teacher Dave Kuzma said he believed “students were able to understand the current state of politics in post-European Africa.”

Teacher Tim Briles said he thought the most interesting thing he learned from the author visit and the book in general is how geography can have such a large role in the development of species and/or culture.

“The fact that the Congo River separated chimpanzees and bonobos and thus affected their eventual development is interesting,” he said. “I use geography in the history classroom to explain differences in a given country’s development frequently, for example, landlocked countries compared to those with ports.”

Author visits can be rather expensive, especially when the author has to travel from a great distance. The library fund raised for three years to meet the price tag of this visit.

“It was worth it for the one-on-one conversations Mr. Schrefer had with our Book Club members and our Coffee House writers who were treated to a workshop and lunch with him prior to the larger presentation, “ said Mrs. Pleasants.

Mrs. Ritter added, “The ability to communicate virtually is definitely more economical, but much of what makes author visits so special is lost when students are looking at a projected image of the author during a Skype session, for example. Many of our students aspire to become published authors and here is one right before them, sharing his history and his advice.” Mr. Shrefer noted that he himself would’ve been one of the club members 20 years earlier.

Social sciences teacher Mary Harper said, “It is a wonderful experience to meet the person behind a book. Mr. Schrefer’s engaging manner and superb speaking ability made it even better. He had everyone’s attention from beginning to end!”

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