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A wish granted

Feelhaver principal received a special visit on Wednesday; Students, staff conclude shared reading event

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Sara Fitzgerald, principal at Feelhaver Elementary School, embraces her step son, Jonah Fitzgerald, at the school on Wednesday. After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High in 2020, Jonah Fitzgerald has been receiving his military training in the U.S. Marine Corps. The two had not seen each other in nine months. Feelhaver had just finished a project centered around the book "Wishtree" by Katherine Applegate. One of Fitzgerald's wishes was granted when Jonah Fitzgerald surprised her with a visit.

After reading the book “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate, students at Feelhaver Elementary School got to write their own wishes on pieces of fabric and hang them on a tree at the school.

One student wrote, “I wish to be happy for the rest of my life.”

Another student’s wish was that school would not end.

But students aren’t the only ones with wishes.

Sara Fitzgerald, the school’s principal, hadn’t seen her stepson, Jonah Fitzgerald, in nine months. After graduating from Fort Dodge Senior High in 2020, Jonah Fitzgerald joined the U.S. Marine Corps. Over the course of the past several months he completed boot camp and went to combat school.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Feelhaver Elementary School students pose next to a Wishtree at the school on Wednesday. From left to right: Tommy Cochrane, 7, a first-grader; Paeton Abbiehl, 8, a second-grader; and Everett Hill, 7, a second-grader. Students and staff recently participated in a school-wide shared reading project. Each family received a copy of the same book - Wishtree by Katherine Applegate. At the end of the book, students wrote their own wishes on scraps of fabric, which were hung on an actual tree outside of the school.

As Sara Fitzgerald walked outside of the school on Wednesday to go look at the wishtree, she saw Jonah Fitzgerald in the parking lot.

“How are you?” she said excitedly.

The two embraced and shared a brief conversation. Jonah Fitzgerald leaves again on Sunday. He’s heading to Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

In terms of the school project, Fitzgerald said a program called One School One Book provided Feelhaver with the ”Wishtree” books.

“They give you tons of resources and activities kids can do,” she said. “Suggestions to make it interactive and successful. The whole premise is to create a community of readers. Create a love of reading for all of our kids.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Sara Fitzgerald, principal of Feelhaver Elementary School, left, poses with Rachel Loots, instructional coach on Wednesday. Loots is holding the book "Wishtree" by Katherine Applegate. Loots was instrumental in introducing the school-wide shared reading event where all students read the book.

Rachel Loots, an instructional coach, was instrumental in getting the shared reading program going.

Loots said the school-wide shared reading event was unique because it literally involved everyone at the school.

“All the staff members did a couple chapters of reading so kids could listen at home or follow along,” Loots said. “We had janitorial staff to cafeteria employees. Everybody participated, which was really cool. One student said, ‘I didn’t know the PE teacher read books.’ It kind of opened their eyes that everybody reads.”

The project was also another way to reach families, which Loots said has been more difficult during the times of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The biggest thing with family engagement is we want to bring families in and show what they are learning, but also have them learn with their kids,” Loots said. “We wanted to bring something to them that they could participate in as a community.”

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Scraps of fabric with the wishes of students written on them hang from a tree outside of Feelhaver Elementary School on Wednesday. Feelhaver recently completed their school-wide shared reading event centered around the book "Wishtree" by Katherine Applegate. Aaron Calhoun, a salesman for Beyond Aerus, moves one of the air purifiers for sale during The Messenger's Home, Garden and Lifestyle Show. Calhoun said a lot of customers show interest in the product because of concerns about allergies, asthma and the COVID-19 virus.

Loots said families who read at home can positively impact their child’s education.

“One piece of evidence is reading at home with your children has a huge impact on their reading skills,” Loots said. “Getting families to read 10 or 15 minutes together is a huge win.”

Paeton Abbiehl, 8, a second-grader, said she had her brother read with her at home.

“It was fun,” she said.

Tommy Cochrane, 7, a first-grader, said he got his whole family involved.

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Sara Fitzergald, principal of Feelhaver Elementary School, is all smiles as she poses with her step son, Jonah Fitzgerald on Wednesday outside of the school. The two hadn't seen each other in nine months.

Everett Hill, 7, a second-grader, said he enjoyed listening to some chapters on his iPad.

Cochrane and Hill both said their favorite part of the book was when the animals saved the tree.

At the school, Loots said the tree became a meeting place for students of all grade levels.

“In the mornings they would always walk past the wishtree in the hall and talk about the characters,” Loots said. “It was neat seeing them all get together and have common ground about one story.”

The school took about three weeks to finish the book.

“There was a recording each day of the week and during the weekend was a chance to catch up,” Fitzgerald said. “All of the videos were on a Feelhaver YouTube channel. We had right about 2,000 views of our video.”

As a reward, the Feelhaver Booster Club is providing a free large pizza from Papa Murphy’s to students who finished the book.

Fitzgerald considers the project a success.

“It not only brought our kids together and families together but our staff together in reading one book,” she said. “Typically when we do a family engagement event it’s not always the paras (paraeducators) involved or the secretaries — this gave us an opportunity to make it a school-wide event.”

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