When The Bad Creek Gang decided to build homes for families in need, the members caught the attention and admiration of its real-life counterpart and learned about the true meaning of giving.
The gang’s eponymously-titled book, written and illustrated this school year by Jeff Mazurowski’s fourth grade special education class at Delta Elementary School, became an exercise in accomplishment and self-confidence. But it also evolved into a lesson about altruism Mazurowski hopes will remain imbued in the students.
“I was confident we could get a book written, but I had no idea it would turn out this good. What we started with and what we ended with is totally beyond what I imagined we could do,” he said.
A former construction company owner, and an author with two published children’s books, Mazurowski moved from Wauseon schools to the Pike-Delta-York district this school year. One of his classroom decorations was a poster produced years earlier for a book he had intended to write, “The Bad Creek Gang.” It inspired his 10 students.
“We decided, ‘Let’s write a book,’” he said. “My kids became The Bad Creek Gang. They led me through the book. I had them come up with ideas.”
The book developed over the course of the school year. The characters became animals, and each was given a distinctive personality by an individual student. With those details finished, the students decided the animals would build a fort.
The plot thickens when a raccoon representing Mazurowski happens along and compliments the animals on their construction skills. He then proposes they build houses for people in need, which the animals turn into a building contest between three groups of them.
His students wrote the story and illustrated the book with pictures made of painted paper and construction paper.
“It was really neat to watch them create this book,” Mazurowski said. “They were amazed at themselves, very proud and amazed. They realized they are capable of doing big things. They were very proud they were able to accomplish this. This gave them confidence that they can actually read and write well.”
“The Bad Creek Gang” was completed three weeks ago. The teacher made 25 copies, and has found the need to make 25 more. There are very preliminary plans to sell it, possibly in both printed and online versions.
But what excited Mazurowski more was the inadvertent but obvious connection the book’s story line has to Habitat for Humanity. Through donations, the international, non-profit organization builds homes for families in need to help break their cycle of poverty and reestablish their financial stability.
So he contacted Heidi Kern, the director of the Fulton County chapter, who visited his classroom May 19 and spoke to the young authors about the real-life version of their story. Kern found it to be a heartwarming presentation.
“I was completely stunned that a group of young people could write about absolutely anything, and they chose to take their creative talent and write an imagined story that ended with a realistic outcome. That impressed me,” she said.
Kern told the students that through Habitat for Humanity, and with the assistance of volunteers, “we help people who cannot help themselves by themselves. I told them how the people we build for put in work, too, so they can make a better life for themselves.”
She also discussed how it feels to be a person in need, someone who may find it difficult to ask for help. She offered a personal story of how an unfortunate playground incident when she was a child was turned around by a fellow student’s compassion.
“I remember the feeling of someone helping me when they could have chosen to make me feel worse,” Kern said. “The boy could have laughed at me instead, but he chose not to turn his back. I don’t remember that boy’s name, but I’ll always remember what he did for me. I think (the class) related to it.”
So much so, that several gave her pocket change to donate to Habitat for Humanity.
“That brought tears to my eyes,” she said. “This honestly gives me hope for our future. We’re planting the seeds right now.”
Mazurowski hopes to turn his future students into book authors as well.
“It’s a good exercise for the kids. A good confidence builder,” he said.
David J. Coehrs can be reached at 419-335-2010.