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AYER — Page Hilltop fifth-grade English Language Arts teacher Julie Tobin teaches from the heart, and wants her students to learn the same way.

“I love it when the kids get passionate about a topic,” she said. Tobin found a way this spring to ignite the minds and excitement of her ten and eleven-year-olds. At the end of March, Tobin introduced a two-month Cinderella unit to her students. The students read many different version of the popular story, and then went a step further by researching analyzing different culture’s renditions.

“I think this lesson is worthwhile because they learn that culture shapes art and literature. I hope they learned that across cultural lines, we may find differences, but there are also a lot of similarities between us, like the stories we tell,” said Tobin. Cinderella is part of the folk tale genre because it is a story that is passed from generation to generation and it is common to a culture. Because of this, fairy tales give people a glimpse into the cultures where they originated.

Tobin’s students knew from the first day of school that this unit would be one of the final ones of the year. “I have done this project for seven years now and it just keeps getting better each time,” she said. One might think young boys might not enjoy this stereotypical “female” story, but Tobin reported that almost all of her students admitted that this was one of the highlights of their year.

After studying the tale, which dates back to the first century B.C. and the Greco-Roman tale of Rhodopis, the students got to debate whether or not Cinderella is a good story for children to read. “This was a fun part of this lesson,” Tobin said. “The kids got so involved and enthusiastic about it.” She mentioned that the students who were pro-Cinderella said it was a nice story of happily ever after and that it showed compassion and true love. The anti-Cinderella debaters questioned why Cinderella couldn’t have gone to college and bettered her own life instead of thinking she had to be pretty and get married.

With the research and story-dissection finished, the students moved on to creating their own “Cinderella-esque” stories. Each student had to write their own novel incorporating over 30 points in their tale that were central to the Cinderella story — including a magical helper, the number three, a mistreated hero, and social status. Then on the morning of May 10, the students were able to present their works in the presence of fellow students, teachers, families, and friends.

Some students stuck close to the plot line of the original mistreated stepdaughter with three wicked siblings, but others were more creative. There were fairy quails, male lead characters, and hockey-playing heroines.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for the children to use their imagination and couple it with great writing skills,” said Page Hilltop principal Fred Deppe. “It is great to see the kids who even sometimes struggle to produce work doing a great job and being inspired by Ms. Tobin and this project.”

Tobin, who appropriately wore a tiara and carried a magic wand for the event, was very pleased with the process that the class underwent and the keepsake products that evolved from that process.

“I am incredibly proud of the quality of work the boys and girls produced. They have grown and their writing has evolved so much over the course of the year,” said Tobin.