Harborview Elementary students find that coffee, books go together

Kids raise funds to bring children's author to Juneau

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

Some students at Harborview Elementary have created their own blend of Heritage Coffee, and they are selling it to raise funds to bring a New Hampshire children's author to Juneau.

The route from writer Mary Lyn Ray's old farm near South Danbury, N.H., to Juneau is a circuitous one.

It started, in a way, with letters that Harborview's fourth-grade extended-learning class, under teacher Sue Baxter, wrote to Ray last school year. The correspondence continued this year for the 13 extended-learning fifth-graders under teacher Dawn Pisel-Davis. "Extended learning" refers to gifted and talented students.

Or you could say the project started when Emily Garrett, the daughter of Heritage Coffee president Grady Saunders and vice president Gretchen Garrett, asked Pisel-Davis if that was Heritage coffee she spied her drinking in class.

Students joked that teachers drink so much coffee that there should be a special blend for them.

In what used to be called improving the moment, Pisel-Davis said the children could do just that.

They call their coffee company Keen Minds. The product is Schoolhouse Blend.

They visited Heritage Coffee's roasterie downtown and researched various topics about coffee. They learned about coffee from the farmers' standpoint to the sellers' standpoint, even discussing commodities markets, Saunders said.

The students did market research by asking teachers to taste coffee made from each of the beans, but no favorite emerged. A later test was held for Kenyan versus Brazilian beans. The students asked for a blend based on the percentage of teachers who liked each one, Pisel-Davis said. That was the math lesson.

"They created a very good blend," Saunders said. "It's very full-bodied. It's got great acidity."

Student Matthew Staley designed the label, based partly on other students' ideas. Every student came up with several designs, following advice from Commercial Signs and Printing. That was the graphic arts lesson.

The label shows a coffee cup with an old-fashioned school house drawn on it and a pencil sticking out of the cup like a stirrer. Wavy rays of steam emanate from the cup. The first letters of the alphabet run in a row under the cup.

The students decided to raise money to bring Ray to Juneau.

"So now we have this huge project on our hands," Pisel-Davis said.

The students pay Heritage $5 a pound and sell it for $10 a pound, Pisel-Davis said. They have raised about $1,300 so far at Harborview, but plan to branch out to other schools and a grocery store.

They also have scheduled a fund-raiser for 3 to 6 p.m. March 5 at the Heritage Cafe on South Franklin Street. The event will include poetry reading, storytelling and music from children and adults.

Students are researching transportation methods and fares for Ray, and arranging for her entertainment and accommodations..

They also are buying some copies of Ray's books and will present them to Harborview classrooms, along with suggestions for an activity related to the book's topic.

Ray, 58, is due to arrive in Juneau on May 9 and stay a week.

"She'll be going to other classes in the school - and there will be activity boxes for the school to do - and teach them about writing," said student Vera Hermano.

"To entrust them with the research and planning for this trip is just beautiful," Ray said from New Hampshire. "It's so much richer because the children are taking this on."

The students began writing to Ray last year when they were puzzled by some aspects of her book "Pumpkins," said student Krista Thomson.

"I personally really like the books because they had a lot of description," said student Christie Adams. "I felt like I was actually in the book. In 'Pumpkins,' I would feel like I was the farmer buying the land."

Ray said she receives thousands of letters from children, but it's unusual for her to have a relationship with a class for more than a year.

"For me, this is very, very special," Ray said. "In some ways we already know each other before I come. It gives a very different tone to the visit."

• Eric Fry can be reached at eric.fry@juneauempire.com.

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