To build community between elementary and high school students, Sylvia and Lily Sandhorst created the Stuffed Animal Sleepover Project for all students in second grade at John Cline Elementary School. Each student chooses an animal to bring to the DHS library, and as a class they walk to the high school where they are met by high school volunteers, including National Honor Society members. The second graders get the opportunity to read with the high school students as well as share important information about their stuffed animal, including their names and how to care for them. 

When the second graders return across the street to John Cline, the high school students create and document “sleepover experiences” for the animals, including roasting marshmallows, reading books, playing games, and even catching the critters being unruly. Students have caught the animals taking pictures of their faces on the copy machine and ordering pizza online. 

To share the escapades of the animals with their owners, Sylvia and Lily Sandhorst, with the help of Britann Mettille, create a slideshow to share with each class.

Gabe Twedt, second grade teacher and high school speech coach, showed his students the slideshow and shared this with Shannon Horton, teacher librarian for Decorah High School and Decorah Middle School: “This was amazing. You brought so much joy to their faces. I loved seeing my high schoolers and 2nd graders intermingling with a love of reading.”

Horton added, “The high school students are clearly having as much fun as the 2nd graders!  It’s really such a privilege to have the elementary school in such close proximity.” 

“This has provided such a great opportunity for high school students to connect with those younger than them and take the lead on helping the second graders become more excited about all the opportunities in school. It’s a really great thing to be a part of,” remarked Lily Sandhorst.

Senior volunteer Britann Mettille shared, “I am glad to be part of this project because I get to share my love of reading and the high school library. But most of all, I love seeing the second graders’ faces when they describe what their stuffed animals like, don’t like, and their favorite hobbies. 

“I think my favorite part of this has been the opportunity to share the high school library with younger kids, said Sylvia Sandhorst. “It’s so different from the John Cline Library, and I love seeing the kids’ faces when they walk in. Yes, getting to take pictures of their animals is really fun, but getting to share one of my favorite parts of our school with them and getting them excited for high school (in a few years) has been my favorite part.”

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