By Amy Matzke-Fawcett

An Old Dominion University student raised more than $300 to help the teacher who taught her a love of reading inspire the next generation.

Caroline Kelsick, a junior pursuing a degree in professional writing from the interdisciplinary studies program in the College of Arts and Letters, started a GoFundMe to benefit her eighth-grade English teacher, Sarah Morrison, a longtime Virginia Beach teacher. Kelsick raised $326, which she used to purchase 25 books. With $70 that was left over, she purchased a Barnes & Noble gift card that Morrison could use to purchase books in the future.

The project started as part of an online advanced composition class focused on writing technique and process, with the semester-long theme of hope, focusing on what it is and how it is turned into actions. The class is taught by Ruth Osorio, assistant professor of English and women's, gender and sexuality studies. She assigned the students an inquiry essay about something they hoped for - the students were not supposed to try to solve the issue, but rather explore unmet needs, Kelsick explained. After exploring their issues, the students were supposed to think of solutions.

"After the tough year that was 2020, I wanted to invite students to find and create hope in their lives through writing," Osorio explained.

Many students were passionate about various issues, including greater access to dental hygiene for low-income families or helping students with anxiety, she said. Kelsick's hope is that middle school students become more engaged in reading, much as she did in Morrison's class.

A teacher for 26 years, Morrison now teaches seventh-grade English. She has kept in touch with Kelsick, who interviewed Morrison for a paper her freshman year. "Safe to say she has been in my life since eighth grade as a source of education, friendship, and all things book-related," Kelsick said.

She had a few other ideas, all of which were more in her comfort zone than the fundraiser suggested by Osorio. But once Kelsick considered it further, she knew it was the right way to approach her project that she considers a privilege to work on.

"After logging out of the class meeting, I was able to see how doing the fundraiser would be the quickest route to actually getting books in the hands of students," Kelsick said. "My eighth-grade teacher is the teacher who, through her classroom library, got me more involved and interested in reading, which has been a hobby and passion of mine since. Approaching the project in this way allows me to actually get Young Adult books in front of students and hopefully stimulate a more engaging, relevant and interesting reading experiences for them."

Reading is often a solitary activity, but it helps students find ways to form connections, face challenges and lead to important discussions with teachers and fellow students, Kelsick said, especially in middle school, when students often feel awkward and misunderstood.

"Reading has this unique power to make us more aware and empathetic to all sorts of stories and characters, whether they be fictional or not," Kelsick said. "Reading experiences may not just develop a new hobby or interest in reading but they could also challenge them to be more understanding and empathetic toward their peers. That's why I feel this cause, and hope, is important."

Osorio added: "What I love so much about Caroline's project is she's giving back to the teacher who inspired her love of reading by inspiring the next generation of readers. That she is so willing to go outside of her comfort zone to fulfill her hope in a real, tangible way brings me hope!"

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