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The Patch Primary School stages Willow the Wonderer: Inspirational storybooks for schools

primary school children on stage performing Willow the Wonderer - inspirational storybooks for schools
The Patch Primary School's production of Willow the Wonderer (Photo Credit: The Patch Primary School)

A story too good not to share


It's not everyday that a lifelong educator - and her entire school - gets behind your storybooks. So, I thought I'd share this wonderful story with our community.

 

Writing this reminded me, like I hope it does you, of 'that teacher': The one who went the extra mile and made all the difference to your life.

 

Enter Stage Left : Debra Herrmann


On November 12th 2022, we received an order for several copies of our Willow the Wonderer picture books' box set. The buyer was Debra Herrmann, but there was little other detail.


We fulfilled the order, just like we would do with any other - and that was that.


Exactly a month and a day later, we received the folllowing note:


Firstly, Reeta and Darren your books are incredible and as a previous Prep teacher the message resonates very strongly.
The reason for this email is to let you know we wish to use your book to be the catalyst for our School Production next year.
We were wondering, with your permission, could we use the illustrations as our back drop?  We will narrate the story and the children will come up with their thoughts and ideas as to how they reflect each section.
Added to this we also thought it may be possible to have sales of the book available.
Please let me know what you think and how we can work together.

I looked at the signature - Debra Hermann, Principal, The Patch Primary School.


This was the first time, a teacher had written to us about the books.


It been a couple of decades since I've left school but you know something, school never leaves you ... this felt like getting a fantastic grade on an essay!


I was over the moon and already smitten with Debra (who doesn't love a teacher who gives you good grades ... ;-) but curious : Who/What/Where is this 'Patch Primary school'?


Like any other modern human, I turned to Google.


Meet The Patch Primary Schoool - where learning philosophy is part of the weekly curriculum


The first thing that gets to you about The Patch Primary School is the location : It's situated in the beautiful Dandenong ranges.


Darren had spent his last year in Melbourne living here, as he sought to escape the hustle and bustle of city life, ground himself and decide, where to next. I too have visited on a number of occasions and loved the quaint villages, cafes, walks and gardens.


We were already sold on the place and sure enough The Patch Primary School made the most of its natural environment -- boasting large playgrounds with sustainable student designs, offered nature based learning and even had a Forest Classroom program.


a sign at a school playground with many natural environments to discover
The Patch Primary School makes the most of the beautiful natural environment (Photo credit: The Patch Primary School)

My inner child was already singing but it was the unique approach that this public school had towards education that won us over. In their own words:

Our school offers students a comprehensive education based on the Victorian Curriculum including Literacy, Numeracy, Physical Education, the Humanities, Auslan, Art, Music and STEM. In addition, students take part in Philosophy each week.

Here was a place and people who not only understood the importance of Philosophy but also the importance of starting these conversations with children early on in life.


We'd met our soul mate - and we were happy to help. But there was more to the story...


'That Teacher'


In subsequent emails, Debra shared with us that she'd donated the Willow the Wonderer books she'd bought to the school library - the perfect storybooks for schools that now sits in their philosophy collection.


She had also read the book in her graduation speech for the year sixes that year (which she shared with us). Allow me the indulgence of sharing how Debra introduced Willow the Wonderer:


"...I often read the book at this time -- “The places you will go!” by Dr. Seuss. Although still a favourite, it is time for a change of message for this extraordinary group of students.
I have discovered new book by author Reeta Dhar and illustrator Darren Pryce – this message is for us all but very much for our students as they graduate..."

But it was her final message to the students after the book reading that spoke volumes:


"As you race around in haste in our busy world remember to be like Willow - take the time to reflect. May you always, find the happiness that lies within you and stretch your boundaries to as far as they can go. It has been a privilege to have you as our year 6 students."

When Debra's email had come through in mid December 2022, Darren and I were finishing up on the year.


Huddled up in my small and dark one bedroom unit, which also serves as our makeshift office, we were feeling like most people do at the end of the year - a little tired from the effort and wondering if all this work was going somewhere, anywhere ... and whether we continue.


Decades after having left school, a teacher's selfless words and actions founds its way to us and yes, made all the difference. Every effort we've made starting Wise As Stories and publishing Willow the Wonderer books felt worth the while in that moment.

Side note: Finding inspirational storybooks for schools is just one example of the 'extracurricular' work teachers do


Since starting Wise As Stories, one thing I've seen first hand is that teachers tend to spend quite a bit of their personal time and resources gathering inspiration for their students -- that extends well beyond the curriculum. Finding wonderful storybooks for their students to enjoy is just one example.


This initiative usually goes unnoticed by parents and politicians - but for their students, it can mean a lifetime of difference.

Farewelling a lifelong educator in style


Debra had planned for Willow the Wonderer to be staged in School Production the following year, 2023. There was another notable milestone.


After 48 years in education and 16 year as a Principal, this was also going to be Debra last year of service - she was 'officially retiring'.

The School Production of Willow the Wonderer was also going to be Debra's farewell.


The School Production of Willow the Wonderer - Book I


The production was going to be based on the first Willow the Wonderer book in the series.


For those who maybe new to the book, here a short synopsis:

Willow the Wonderer series kicks off with our protagonist waking up one morning and wondering about happiness and where it lay? This sets him off on an epic quest through the natural world to find happiness. He explore mountains, forests, oceans, campfires and the night sky. As you can imagine, Willow has a wonderful time but still wonders, where is happiness? The realisation comes to him later that night, as he lay quietly pondering the question a little more deeply ... he had been looking in the wrong place!


And no, I won't give away the ending - there is a strict 'no spoilers' policy in our line of business!


The plan was simple enough (on paper at least): Each year was going to stage one of the scenes from Willow the Wonderer whilst a narrator would read the verses from the book out aloud.


All we had to do was provide the illustrations from the book for use as backdrop (and the permission to stage the production).


The students and teachers of the Patch Primary School would do the rest - and looking at the photos of the production, they mostly certainly did ... The school production surpassed every expectation we had!


The Patch Primary School stages Willow the Wonderer (Photo Credit : The Patch Primary School)


Fittingly Debra was the narrator - and in her words:


"I had the best time. The kids were fantastic and it was an amazing farewell."

A school teach narrating a school production of Willow the Wonderer
Debra Herrmann, School Principal narrates Willow the Wonderer (Photo Credit : The Patch Primary School)

Willow pitches in for school fundraising


The Patch Primary School was also planning to use the school production to fundraise and had the wonderful idea of getting students to design T-Shirts and Bags on the Willow the Wonderer theme. They reached out to us with the idea and requested the permission to do so.


We were happy to oblige and also pitched in Willow the Wonderer books at a discounted rate for the school fundraiser.

From what I could see, the community really got behind the fundraising drive.


Fundraising itself is something I realise that parents and teachers may have mixed feeling about ...


In an ideal world, we should be able to do without it and our public education system would be 'fully funded' but as the Gonski review revealed, this is just not the case.


Our public schools remain underfunded relative to student resourcing standards - and this needs to change.


It's especially urgent now as there is no certainty around what skills children will need in the future - say 20-30 years from now.

According to historian, Yuval Noah Harari, this is unprecedented in human history: "It was never possible to predict the future but people could always tell what kind of skills would be needed in a couple of decades... now, on one knows for certain what our societies will look like in 20 years let alone the labour market ..."

 

The current generation of teachers facing this unique challenge should be receiving all the resources and help they need to mould 'well-rounded' humans who are resilient and can adapt to the rapidly changing world they find themselves in.


So whilst politicians battle the budgets out, if there are any other schools out there needing help with fundraising, please reach out to us - we'd be happy to help!

Standing ovation all around


To The Patch Primary School community - all the students, parents, teachers and ofcourse Debra - we extend our warmest gratitude.


Hats off to you all for the community you have built, values you foster and inspiration you have brought into our life.

Wishing you all another great school year - and many more great years after that!


 

Add Willow the Wonderer's adventurous tales filled with timeless wisdom and knowledge to your collection.




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