Thousands Volunteer for Great American Teach In

By Mitch Traphagen (

RUSKIN - Nearly 8,000 volunteers from almost every imaginable career fanned out to share their experiences with students across Hillsborough County.

At Ruskin Elementary School, students were able to meet a cake decorator, a television news anchor, a veterinarian, and even a pitcher from the world champion Florida Marlins, among many others.

I was fortunate to be asked to speak at both Ruskin Elementary and Eisenhower Middle School about my job as a photojournalist for the Observer News. During the presentation, I shared photographs of everything from school children to celebrities and talked about both the good things and the serious responsibilities of reporting for a community newspaper.

One facet of the presentation invited the students to become journalists for the day. They were given student press passes and, in the case of Eisenhower, interviewed eighth-grade history teacher Mr. Grevert. At Ruskin the students interviewed school counselor Sue Chapin.

The students were told that they could ask any question but were reminded that they had to be respectful of the person they interviewed. They were also told that the person was not required to answer any given question. Additionally, the real-world of journalism has taken place in the form of editing. As virtually every parent knows, children are rarely shy about asking questions that most adults would not be excited about seeing in the newspaper. The middle school students, in particular, tended to ask questions about topics that, to be blunt, rarely, if ever appear in the pages of the Observer News. In other words, the personal and non-essential stuff has been edited - just like the real world of responsible journalism.

The students from both schools, however, were able to ask the questions necessary to give a good picture to the reader. The picture they created does much to show the outstanding level of dedication on the part of our local educators.

In the end it was a fun experience for me - hopefully the students thought so as well. Please continue reading for the work of some future journalists:

Mr. Grevertís Eighth Grade History Class:

Question: Mr. Grevert - what was the most memorable moment in your life?

Answer: Thatís a tough question, there have been quite a few. Probably when I proposed to my wife.

Q: Did you play football in college and if so, what was your number?

A: I played intramural sports in college - that was enough for me.

Q: When did you decide to become a teacher?

A: Thatís a good question. Basically when I got out of college, I went into the business world. Just when things started getting good, I started making money, I realized that it was just not something that I wanted to do. It kind of hit me - I always liked working with kids. Thatís what hit me - I wanted to be a teacher, to work with kids, to help them make decisions.

Q: Why did you want to be a history teacher?

A: Thatís a good question because Iím certified in two different fields - math and history. I love history. Iím always watching the history channel, Iím always learning about history. You guys are living through history now. I think itís important - so many kids do not know why we are where we are today. I think itís important for you to know.

Class: Thank you!

Ruskin Elementary School Fifth Grade Class:

Q: Ms. Chapin, what do you do for a living?

A: Iím a counselor at Ruskin Elementary.

Q: How long have you been working here?

A: I became a history teacher here in 1971 - and I had already taught one year up north. In 1973 became one of the first 15 counselors in Hillsborough County.

Q: Do you have any kids?

A: I have two children - actually theyíre not kids anymore. I have a son whoís 26 that lives in Boston and I have a daughter who is 25 that is working on her third degree. She has a bio-chem degree and she will soon be a geologist.

Q: Did you first go to school at Ruskin Elementary?

A: No Iím from Pennsylvania.

Q: Do you have a husband?

A: Yes I do and he flies a helicopter for News Channel 8 (oohs from the students).

Q: Do you like your job?

A: Like is not the right word. I love my job because I love you guys. I hope by now you know that because youíve been with me for six years since kindergarten.

Q: How much fun is your job?

A: My job for the most part is lots of fun. As long as things are going well and you are happy that makes me happy. The times my job isnít fun is when you are sad or in trouble or when you are not doing your best work.

Q: How long did it take you to be a counselor.

A: To become a counselor I had to go back to school to get a masterís degree. I had to get a second degree.

Q: When did you start school?

A: I started school in 1955 (oohs from the audience). I was five years old.

Q: How old were you when you started college?

A: I was 18 years old but I graduated when I was 20.

Q: How old were you when you started teaching?

A: I was 20 years old.

Q: Do you ever miss your family?

A: Thatís a good question. My mom died about five years ago and her birthday was Nov. 17. These past five years Iíve really missed her.

Q: Why did you want to be a counselor?

A: I think that as a counselor I can do more good. My job is to help you put a smile on your face, to help you do your best work and to help you get along with each other. If I can do that, to help you become successful adults then Iíve been successful.

Class: Thank you!

At Ruskin Elementary, the sound of a landing HCSO helicopter brought the interview - and my presentation - to a close.

Mitch Traphagen Photos

Observer News Front Page

© Copyright 2003, M&M Printing, Inc. and the Observer News and Riverview Current. All rights reserved.