Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Eagle Experience: A Community-Wide Experience that Began with a Book

One of the most rewarding days of my educational career occurred last week when months of planning and preparation materialized into an unforgettable experience at my school. I'll begin this story in the spring of last school year. I wanted to create a community-building experienced centered on meaningful summer reading for all my high school students, faculty, staff and administration. My vision for this experience, known at my school as The Eagle Experience, was threefold:
  • Provide a meaningful book for all students, faculty, staff and administration to read over the summer
  • Devote a class session or two in each content area to some aspect of the book during the following school year soon after all returned to school
  • Bring the author of the book onto campus to address the high school and then to spend some intimate time with students and faculty
After several meetings with campus leaders to discuss possible books for The Eagle Experience, we decided on a gripping and true story by Ltc. Brian Birdwell, Refined by Fire. The book, initially recommended by one of last year's seniors, tells the story of Birdwell, a survivor of the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. Badly burned over most of his body, Birdwell overcame incredible odds to survive and to eventually return to work. In the book, Birdwell tells of his agony, his faith and his family's struggles throughout the ordeal.

We contacted Birdwell's publicist, ordered over 500 books and made arrangements for Birdwell to come to our school in August. Everyone in the high school received a book then read it over the summer knowing we would be discussing the book in class and hosting the author for a day. It didn't take long for parents and grandparents alike to borrow their students' books to read. Everyone got in on the act over the summer and in the first few weeks of school.
After much anticipation, Ltc. Birdwell arrived and told his story to an awestruck audience. Tears flowed freely as students and adults sat motionless listening to the miraculous story of his struggles, his faith and his recovery. After addressing the students and adults in an assembly, Birdwell spent time with several students, the student council, the senior class officers and a number of classes.

A number of media outlets sent reporters to document the day. Two television stations ran the story, The Advocate ran a print story and two local magazines are working on their print stories now. The buzz generated by this experience, not an original idea by any means, has been phenomenal.
The Eagle Experience has made an immediate impact on our school community. Additionally, we may never know the long-lasting and far-reaching impact of the experience for our families. The extensive amount of work and planning required to make this happen for our school pales in comparison to the benefits received by all who participated in The Eagle Experience. Now, how to top this next year...
Below: Ltc. Brian Birdwell and I shake hands after he spoke to the students, faculty, administration and families.

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