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Unlikely friends

Kimberly Anderson ’15 and her third-grade class stand with community members and law enforcement officers in front of their wish tree.

There are some interesting leaves sprouting from an oak tree on the campus of Sterling School in Greenville’s Nicholtown neighborhood.

On May 9, about 50 elementary students, teachers, administrators, police officers and other community members gathered outside the school to commemorate their very own “wish tree.” Tied onto branches with bright blue and yellow ribbons, handwritten wishes, hopes and dreams became the tree’s new foliage.

Leading the charge was Sterling third-grade teacher Kimberly Anderson ’15 who earned her master’s in school leadership from Furman. “I fell in love with this area and I wanted to find ways to connect myself and my classroom to this beautiful community,” she said.

Anderson’s class is also contributing to an upcoming book by Furman education professor Katie Kelly tentatively titled, “Reading to Make a Difference: Literature to Help Students Speak Freely, Think Deeply and Take Action.”

Published by Heinemann and coauthored by noted Asheville, North Carolina, education consultant and writer Lester L. Laminack, the book includes a chapter titled “Unlikely Friends.” The chapter explores creating relationships with people who have differing backgrounds, staying open to new friendships, and making connections to strengthen individuals and communities.

“When I introduced the unlikely friends topic to the class and let my kids know their input would be used in the book, they were thrilled and anxious to get to work,” Anderson said.

To prime the class on the subject, Anderson checked out a “ton of books” from the library for self-selected reading time. Then she waited and watched. Like moths to light, the children gravitated to titles dealing with bridging gaps between race and culture, accepting and befriending those who look different, and creating bonds with people of varying ages.

One of the books offered was “Wishtree” by Katherine Applegate. In it, a wise oak, “Red,” teaches lessons about loving, accepting and appreciating others – the inspiration for Sterling’s wish tree.

Anderson’s desire to create tightknit classroom and community relationships was celebrated with the May wish tree event. A film crew from New Hampshire-based Heinemann was onsite to capture footage of Kelly’s and Laminack’s discussions with children and teachers at Sterling.

The crew also filmed the wish tree ceremony, which, like in the namesake book, will happen every year on the first of May at Sterling.

“I want my students to always believe in themselves and believe they can make a difference in their community and the world,” Anderson said. “Having our own wish tree will be a constant reminder that our dreams really can come true.”

To watch clips from the wish tree community event, click here.

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