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Harry Potter books inspire class activities

October 13, 2017

JEFFERSON — As Jefferson prepares to host the Harry Potter Festival USA, more than a touch of “Hogwarts” can be found at its public schools.

The arrival of the Harry Potter fest has provided the inspiration for a lot of Harry-Potter themed activities, from literacy promotions to enrichment opportunities to fun celebrations. The no-longer-fictional sport of Quidditch also is getting a boost in local gym classes, although the brooms players use here aren’t the flying kind.

It’s a natural fit, really, given that J.K Rowling’s books inspired a generation of videogame-obsessed youngsters to pick up and finish gigantic and complex tomes. For many young readers, early exposure to the exciting stories of Harry Potter and his Hogwarts classmates gave them a voracious appetite for reading, spilling over into other books, other authors and even other genres.

Across the School District of Jefferson this month, Harry Potter fever has beenat full-pitch, with costumed events, art projects, games of Quidditch and the related sport of Quad-Pot, and lots of reading set to coincide with the month of the festival, which takes place Oct. 20-22.

At East Elementary School, students will be invited to “Find the Snitch” in a scavenger hunt throughout the school. For the uninitiated (i.e: “Muggles”), the snitch is a small, golden winged ball that yields the top prize in the game of Quidditch.

Meanwhile, lucky students will have the opportunity to try Quidditch for themselves, with Quidditch lessons occupying gym classes next week.

Finally, at the end of the month when East holds its traditional costumed Halloween parade, the theme for the theme will be — you guessed it — Harry Potter.

Students can come dressed as whatever they want, as always, but each year, East staff members all try to wear costumes that fit a certain theme, such as “Minions.” This year, it only made sense that the theme be Harry Potter.

At Jefferson Middle School, Harry Potter characters and themes were being worked into the school’s annual Fall Festival, which was taking place today, Oct. 13.

Beth Walthers, a member of the school’s leadership team, said that the fall festival was to include a number of Harry Potter-themed games.

“We have our own interpretation of the Goblet of Fire, in which students will be dropping a ball into a bucket made to look like the Goblet of Fire (From the Triwizard Tournament in Book Four of the Harry Potter series),” Walther said.

From there, students were to get a puzzle piece to solve a puzzle, giving them a little taste of the challenges that the wizardly competitors have to go through in the Triwizard Tournament. In the afternoon, the school was to host a game called Quad Pot, which Walthers described as a “toned-down version of Quidditch.”

Finally, the annual pumpkin drop was to have a Harry Potter flavor this year, as students were invited to dress up their pumpkins in a Harry Potter theme. The goal of this competition is to create packaging that would allow the pumpkins to survive a drop from the roof of the school. Win or lose, this competition always is a real hit with students, with smashed pumpkins getting as big a cheer as those that survive.

Students from both Jefferson High School and Jefferson Middle School will be helping out with the Harry Potter Festival opening ceremony and parade on the evening of Friday, Oct. 20, although the school district is not an official sponsor of the festival.

To determine who could participate in the parade on behalf of the schools, student volunteers were and participants were chosen in a lottery drawing.

At Jefferson High School, Lynn Weyer’s art students have undertaken a couple of Harry Potter-inspired projects.

Her Stagecraft classes, which build sets for all of the Drama Department performances, created truly terrifying Dementor sculptures at the end of the last school year, which have been mounted on the school wall near the auditorium/Performing Arts Center.

More recently, her students made a series of high-quality wands — not the little painted stick craft projects some schools and libraries are doing with younger students, but highly crafted wands that resemble real wood and would stand up as convincing props for the movies.

One version used “Sculpey” material, which was baked and painted. Another was designed with hot glue flourishes, covered with glossy varnish and finished to look like wood.

On Thursday, art students were making “Death Eater”-inspired masks.

Weyer said the original plan was to exhibit the spooky, Harry Potter-themed masks at the school, but instead, students will be taking them home because so many of them wanted to wear them throughout the festival.

Individual students also have used the Harry Potter story as the inspiration for their own artworks, Weyer said. For example, Gonzalo Leal-Maldonado made an amazing Harry Potter-themed sculpture.

Elsewhere at Jefferson High School, Cathy Crucius, an English teacher and yearbook adviser, has been holding Harry Potter meetings during the school’s individualized education/flexible instruction time, and those students are creating a float that will go in the Harry Potter parade on the Friday of the festival.

Meanwhile, psychology classes and the school’s Psychology Club will be examining themes in the Harry Potter books.

West Elementary School and Sullivan Elementary School interim art teacher Meg McMahon has devised several Harry-Potter themed art projects for different grade levels. Two grades will be doing each project, with them getting more complex as the students get older.

Kindergartners will be making their own version of pumpkin pasties, a sweet treat popular in Harry Potter’s wizarding world.

First- and second-graders will be painting mythical/magical creatures. To prepare her classes, McMahon plans to show the children a PowerPoint presentation on creatures from the Harry Potter movies, such as a hippogriff, phoenix and centaur.

Third-and fourth-graders will do a project inspired by the “Marauders’ Map.” They’ll investigate the tradition of mapmaking and, in the creation of their own maps of whatever they want, they’ll learn to add hues of brown to artificially age those maps.

Fifth-graders will be creating their own Patronus (a ghostlike animal that serves as a protector for the wizard who casts that spell) using white chalk on black paper. Students will work on creating different hues of white through shading.

In every case, the inspiration comes from Harry Potter, McMahon said, but if students want to go in their own direction within the confines of the assignment, they’re free to do so. They can take off on one of the elements of Harry Potter’s world, or create their own their own mythical creature, whether it appears in Harry Potter’s wizarding world — or any world — or not.

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the Forbidden Forest or the magical village of Hogsmeade might be featured in some of the children’s maps, while others might choose to map their own neighborhood or an imaginary world of their choosing.

And students can choose to portray whatever animal inspires them for their Patronus, real or imaginary.

“I’m really excited about the projects,” McMahon said, noting that Harry Potter books and films provide a great source to inspire students’ own creativity.

Down the hall at Sullivan, an entire classroom has transformed into a mini version of Hogwarts School, with all of the students sorted (arbitrarily) into the different Hogwarts houses (Slytherin, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor) and house points awarded to each group according to their behavior, just as in the Harry Potter books (see story on A1).