“Friendship is caring and sharing,” kindergartener Costes Lerner explained as she sat with her 19 classmates on the colorful classroom carpet at Daniel Webster School in Weehawken on June 1. The class, led by 10-year kindergarten teacher Rhondi Banta, had just completed their book on friendship, and patiently endured a question-and-answer session with the Reporter while cupcakes and sparkling cider served in plastic champagne glasses awaited them as a reward for their hard work.
“Friendship is caring and sharing.” – Costes Lerner
It was a veritable book-release soiree worthy of a New York Times bestselling author, with all the proper dignitaries in attendance including parents, Mayor Richard Turner, Board of Education President Richard Barsa, and Superintendent of Schools Kevin McLellan. Principal Anthony Colasurdo worked the crowd and alternated between tables, seated with dignity in some of the too-tiny chairs made for very small people, (non-alcoholic) bubbly in hand, to toast the students’ success.
“We’ve been talking about all the things that a good friend does, what makes a good friend, and how to be a good friend,” Banta said. Moonlighting as publisher, she had assembled all 20 of the hard-cover book copies herself, which she distributed to the students amidst much applause. “This is a nice little rite of passage for them, because kindergarten is a unique year that will soon come to a close.”
“How many days of school are left?” Turner asked the kids in a post-cupcake session.
The room roared with a resounding, collective “Ten!”
“Who’s that guy?” he asked, pointing to Colasurdo. They all immediately knew.
“Who am I? Do you know who I am?” Turner then asked.
“My brother’s baseball coach?” kindergartener Rocco Onterveros answered with a giant smile.
“Friendship is sharing my toys,” Aja Alverez said. “My favorite thing to do together is play with my toys with my friends Mia and Miranda.”
Mrs. Banta’s end-of-year book production is in its seventh year. She was inspired to engage her students in the activity when a reading specialist mentioned her son’s kindergarten class had put a book together. At first, it was a “simple” alphabet book her students illustrated, then they did a Weehawken book in honor of the town’s 150th birthday (which went into the town’s time capsule), and over the years the themes have more deeply evolved.
Banta chose the theme of friendship this year as an age-appropriate “positive spin” to complement the district’s anti-bullying activities held throughout the year. “Rather than talking about what a bully is, we focused on the positive aspects of friendship,” she said.
Each of the 20 students wrote a few sentences on what friendship meant to them, and their colorful illustrations were set on the facing page. Banta also compiled a biography for each child in the back of the book, prompting them to finish the sentence, “When he/she is not reading or writing books, he/she [insert child’s response here].”
For example, Nathaniel Dette said that he enjoys telling jokes, Christian Hernandez likes drawing pictures, and Joseph Quinones “enjoys using his imagination to play.” Emily Benson enjoys singing and dancing, Raahi Mehta enjoys cooking with her mom, and many, many others really enjoy playing in the park.
“Kindergarteners lead a rich imaginary life,” Banta explained. “One might say she loves playing with her dog, and she might not have a real dog, but that’s the beauty of artistic expression.”
Gennarose Pope may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org