Thursday, September 1, 2005

Students inspire teacher to write

Published in the Current

SOUTH PORTLAND (Sep 1, 2005): Mike Bogart never really thought of himself as an author, but his first book is due out shortly and he has two more in the works.

Bogart, a South Portland resident who works at Scarborough Middle School, was inspired by his students to write the book he has been working on for a couple years.

He teaches 19 STRIVE students, kids with academic or emotional challenges, and was “looking for something that would be interesting to our kind of students,” namely a “high-interest, low-reading-level” book for the kids who are struggling with reading.

“They’re all bright,” Bogart said. He found that if the students could read about a subject that interested them, they would read a lot. If they couldn’t find anything they liked, they would be less likely to read.

The demand is strong. “There’s not a lot of stuff out there,” said Bogart’s co-teacher Phil DelVecchio of Westbrook.

“A lot of the stuff that’s easy reading is more fantasy or science fiction,” and some kids just don’t like it, DelVecchio said. The teachers have also been working to get the students writing more, about “what they have in their head” as a way to keep up their interest, he said.

Bogart, a former Massachusetts firefighter who has coached Little League and Babe Ruth baseball for the last 12 years, thought he could use some of his life experience to get the kids reading.

So “Meet the Henderson Twins in Matt and Mike Henderson Play Hardball” was born. “Part of this is me trying to role-model” the writing he encourages in his students, as well.

Bogart, one of nine children, had two younger brothers who were twins, based a lot of the material on things he knows well.

The book follows the adventures of twin 12-year-old boys growing up in Boston. They love baseball, and play in their local Little League. They get to visit Fenway Park and meet their baseball hero, as well as see Boston firefighters in action and handle other challenges of daily life.

The boys live with their little sister, their grandmother and their widowed father. Their mother died when a drunk driver hit her car, and the book addresses the effect of that on the boys.

He included that theme as a warning to the kids, many of whom are on prescription medications in middle school but go off them in high school, choosing instead to “self-medicate.”

“I’m just finding that a lot of these kids are getting into alcohol and drugs,” said Bogart, who this week began his sixth year in the Scarborough schools. He wanted to “plant a seed” of warning in the kids while they are still young – 11, 12 and 13 years old – that drugs and alcohol can be very dangerous.

“When I wrote it, I read it with my STRIVE students,” who told him what they thought of it, said Bogart. One piece of advice they gave him was to make the language easier for them to understand. In some places, he had to choose different words or other ways to say something to help the kids move through the story.

The project took a big leap forward when Bogart’s friend and colleague Sue Lahaie, a longtime Scarborough teacher who died this summer, read it to a group of her students. Lahaie’s group wrote Bogart letters about the book and also held an “author’s tea” to discuss the book.

“She and the students suggested that I get it published,” said Bogart, who also has drafts of books with the Henderson twins playing football and hockey.

The baseball book will be out later this month. Bogart hopes to use the royalties from the book to purchase more books appropriate for his students, and will use his own work “if I come across a group that I think would enjoy it.”

People can buy the book at Nonesuch Books and Borders in South Portland, and get more information at www.freewebs.com/hendersontwins. The book is also available online through www.PublishAmerica.com.

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