Hidden in the back of the Cooper Library is a place where students can go shopping. Inside, they are able to buy everything they need. This shop is not like the bookstore – snacks and spiritwear are not for sale. What they can find, however, are items they can carry with them for the rest of their lives: the General Story gives them a purchase on the tools of storytelling.
The General Story was imagined into existence last year by Elizabeth Johnson, director of Cooper Library and co-director of the Literacy Fellows Program. She knew the space would be available once the EDI classrooms were relocated into the new Lower School addition, so she went to work this past summer to create an area with a theme that would hold meaning and be a viable work space for students of all ages.
“This is a third space – it’s not a classroom, it’s not home…it’s a place that doesn’t feel like school,” said Ms. Johnson. “It serves as an entry point into reading and writing, giving students the ability to articulate what they like while they deconstruct the idea of narrative into central parts.”
Set up as a general store, the General Story offers students opportunities to “purchase” items necessary to craft their own tales. A shopping list is available to pick up as they enter, which they use to ultimately write a story out of their ingredients. In this case, there are no produce items or baked goods to be selected; rather, students will find plot twists, characters, and a point of view finder. Ms. Johnson makes it a point to note that authors write with the same ingredients.
It is a rare moment in time to walk into the store and not find a few students working on their latest literary piece.
“Sometimes, a book is not the best place for a story,” said Ms. Johnson. “This space allows us to showcase student work in different ways. There are so few restrictions on it, they are encouraged to be creative.”
Second graders have all compiled gratitude journals, which they were given the liberty to decorate. (Hello, decoration tape and stickers!) Fourth grade girls are creating a magazine, the Cooper Quarterly, and are publishing their first issue soon. Fifth graders are learning about imprints - a publishing group under a larger publishing umbrella - and creating their own to author short stories for kids and teens.
Lower School students are not the only ones utilizing the space. Literacy Fellows of the Batten Leadership Program congregate in the Back Story – a room attached via a door in the back of the store – to work on their own projects. These Upper School students also interact with and assist the students working in the General Story when they have time.
“It is so important for kids’ work to be honored and validated, and this space gives them that. When I tell kids that their work is amazing, I really mean that,” said Ms. Johnson. “It really is great what they can accomplish in here – I feel like I’m living out my fourth grade dreams!”
Stop by the General Story during your next visit to Cooper Library and browse the extensive selection of ingredients for your narrative needs!