Prof. Robert Forrant Celebrates McAuliffe Elementary Students’ Work with ‘Book Party’

Book Party 1
McAuliffe Elementary students from Tara Bedard's second grade class hold up the books they worked on with Prof. Robert Forrant.

By Marlon Pitter

Distinguished University Prof. Robert Forrant spent months helping a class of second grade students from Lowell’s McAuliffe Elementary School write and publish books about their neighborhoods.

In turn, the 25 students dedicated their books to him during a recent “book party” event at Lala Books in downtown Lowell to culminate their partnership. Many of the students read from their spiral-bound books, which were decorated with their artwork, and expressed gratitude for their experience with Forrant.

“The second graders are the best,” said Chancellor Julie Chen, who attended the event. “You can see how excited they are. Every one of them dedicated their book to Bob (Forrant), and I think that speaks to how much of an impact he's had on their lives.”

Lala Books owner Laura Lamarre Anderson ’92 said she was proud to host the event and celebrate the partnership between the university and the community.

“When we opened the store, we wanted it not to just be a store, but also a community space,” said Lamarre Anderson. “We'd really like to see opportunities for all of those students to be able to come off campus and show their stuff, whether that's their artwork or their (writing).”

The collaboration began in September when Tara Bedard ’02, who earned a master’s degree in education at UMass Lowell and works as a second grade teacher at McAuliffe Elementary, invited Forrant to read to her class. After multiple visits to the school, Forrant and Bedard brainstormed a long-term project with the students.

“Maybe there's something we can do all year so that I can keep coming back, because I was having such a great time,” Forrant said about the potential for a long-term collaboration with the class.

Forrant had the students use atlases of Lowell to locate their neighborhoods and compare the differences between the 1900s and today. Forrant and Bedard gave the students “homework” over their winter break to write five things they liked about their neighborhoods, which became the foundation of the books they wrote.

When it was time for the students to illustrate the books and design the covers, Forrant asked Assoc. Prof. of Art Ingrid Hess, who specializes in educational books for second and third grade students, to offer her expertise.

“I went that day and we talked to the kids about what needs to be on a cover,” said Hess. “There are three main things: the title, the author and illustrator, and then some kind of image that gets you excited about opening the book.”

Book Party 3
The students' spiral-bound books were on display for the celebration.

The books were on display at the event, boasting titles such as “Good Morning Neighborhood,” “Lowell! Home of the Mills” and “Great City of Lowell.”

Chen said Forrant’s efforts with the McAuliffe students this school year will have a lasting effect on them and the community at large.

“It’s awesome to have a faculty member working with second graders,” she said. “We have to recognize that a love of education starts at the earliest age, and we want it to continue all the way through college and beyond.”