Watson Chronicle


Programs for P-12 Students

Pender HS Students Spend a Day with Author L.M. Elliott

Sunday, June 04, 2017

On March 31, New York Times-bestselling author L.M. Elliott spent the day with students at Pender Early College High School discussing her upcoming novel Suspect Red, due out in September.

PECHS students had read galley copies of the book, which focuses on how McCarthyism in the early 1950s affected the lives of normal teenagers and their families. Ultimately, Suspect Red asks the primary question: when the nation is scared, who do you believe?

During the author’s visit, students had an opportunity to explore the topic in detail. Through classroom presentations and small group discussions, students also learned how research informs Elliott’s historical fiction writing, and ways she distills large, unwieldy topics into a compelling narrative by weaving together real stories of ordinary people who lived in extraordinary times.

The goal of the project was to give students an opportunity to read a great book and meet a great author, said WCE associate professor Denise Ousley. “We also wanted to inspire students to read and think critically about important issues and current events,” she said.

The reading project and author visit were coordinated by Ousley and WCE faculty member Jeanne Swafford in partnership with PECHS principal Edie Skipper ’13 Ed.D. and English teachers Christa Tompkins ’97 and Justine Chew ’11. Ousley is coordinator of WCE’s Secondary Education program and Swafford is an associate professor and coordinator of WCE’s Language and Literacy graduate program. Tompkins is currently working on her master’s degree in language and literacy education at the Watson College. Both Tompkins and Chew are WCE PDS partnership teachers.

Watson College seniors Raye Scales and Nick Welsh also participated in the project. Each completed an internship at Pender Early College High School this spring and graduated in May with an English degree and secondary teaching licensure.

Swafford, a former elementary and middle school teacher said, “I learned so much about the students’ perspectives, their concerns and what they wondered about as they read; the teachers were amazing and scaffolded instruction so that students not only read the book as literature but examined the text and questioned the author from a historical perspective. Working with the teachers and students was truly the highlight of my year!”

Ousley is a former high school social studies teacher. “I loved the book, I loved planning the project, but what I loved most was connecting with teenagers again,” she said.