I would like introduce you to some individuals that you probably have never met. At least not yet. There is Misha the Panther who has a great singing voice and Blake the Snake who loves to play soccer. And we cannot forget about Ian the Wolf who cannot seem to sit still or Summer the Mammoth who loves to draw. They are just a few of the characters created and developed through the fertile and vivid imaginations of the eleven students in Mr. Jeff Mazurowski’s fourth grade special education reading class at Delta Elementary for a book entitled The Bad Creek Gang.
The inspiration for the book came from a poster of a raccoon Mr. Mazuroski had hung on the classroom wall last Fall of an almost-forgotten and unfinished book project called The Bad Creek Gang. Mr. Mazurowski, you see, is a former journalist turned published author turned construction manager turned steel worker turned educator and he was just looking for something to decorate his classroom for his first year in the Pike-Delta-York school system. When his students asked about the poster he explained its history and then asked them, “Would you guys like to write a book?” “Yes,” they responded enthusiastically. “We’ll write a book.” And a year-long project was born.
The first order of business was character development and Mr. Maz, as his is known to his students, told the class their characters had to be animals, like the raccoon. By answering certain questions about what their character would be like, each student injected some of their own likes and dislikes and certain personality traits into their respective characters, creating animal avatars in a sense.
Next up was to create a story line. They decided, since Bad Creek runs through Delta and they were the Bad Creek Gang, they would build a fort by the side of the creek to meet every day. Soon after the fort was built, however, they found that Summer the Mammoth could not fit through the door so they had to construct a bigger fort.
During the new fort’s construction Mr. Maz the Raccoon, of the Animal Construction Association, happened to walk up on the job site and was impressed by their work. He told them his company built houses for people that could not afford them and asked if then would like to help him do that. The Bad Creek Gang quickly agreed.
As the story evolved it occurred to Mr. Maz the Teacher it was taking on a Habitat for Humanity theme. “I know Heidi Kern (Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity in Fulton County) so I called her and asked if she wanted to come in and talk to the kids, said Mr. Mazurowski. “She said yes and came in and gave a presentation to the kids.”
When asked how well the story of The Bad Creek Gang related to the mission of Habitat for Humanity Ms. Kern said, “They nailed it.” With no pun intended. “I told them they didn’t just write a very creative book they wrote a great book with a realistic outcome. I was very impressed.”
Along with the written word the book needed illustrations. With varying levels of artistic abilities among the eleven authors it was determined that collages would work the best. Using paint, construction paper and glue, the young authors became artists and produced a unique and consistent series of illustrations that highlighted their story.
“If you had asked me in the beginning of the year if it would look like this at the end of the year I would have said no way,” said Mr. Mazurowski. “They took it and ran with it and did a really nice job.”
Along this incredible journey the students learned far more than just how to write a book. They learned the importance of helping others, especially within your own community and how to work as a member of a team towards a goal and the often hard work it takes to accomplish that goal. And, perhaps more importantly, they learned a lot about themselves, about their previously untapped abilities and the inner strength required to finish a lengthy project.
“My favorite part was getting ideas for the book and doing the pictures and collages,” said Misha “The Panther” Curry. “Some of it was very stressful at the time. But it was fun.” And her construction colleague, Blake “The Snake” Brown completely agreed. “When it was fully finished,” replied Blake when asked what his most enjoyable moment of the project was. “I’m happy we did this. It was very cool.”
The school year has ended but it is safe to say that we have not heard the last of The Bad Creek Gang. The original 25 copies of the book were quickly scooped up and another 25 were printed. There is even some discussion of publication.
What is known, however, is the impact that this project, devised by Mr. Mazurowski in his first year of teaching at Delta, had on his eleven students. It instilled a strong sense of pride and confidence and raised their self-esteem to heights unimaginable when the year began. The time these students invested in this creation will yield dividends that will last a lifetime. We cannot wait to see what Mr. Maz does for an encore.
Bill O’Connell may be reached at