Last week’s visit to Columbia Elementary school in Wenatchee, Washington brought a swirl of emotions. It was our next-to-last school of the tour—and the only one where we had the fun of handing out the Build-A-Bear reading buddies in person.
We visited on a state testing day. Our host Roxana Vanatta and the admin team worked hard to fit everything in. We ended up having a free hour to eat potluck while chatting with teachers—each one a dedicated, hard-working hero.
The art teacher was fabulous. His students had done our drawing tutorials, and the walls were lined with wonderful bears and dogs, each bearing the unique personality of its creator.
We schemed with Roxana about how to stage the bear reveal for maximum excitement. We hid the boxes in the gym. At the end of our presentation, we thanked First Book and Build-A-Bear and announced every kid would be getting a reading buddy as the teachers handed them out. I wish you could have heard the gleeful shrieking.
As has been the case in every school we’ve visited, it was the first new stuffed animal some of the kids had ever owned. They immediately named and dressed and hugged their bears with no plans of ever letting go.
At the end of the day, we were out by the bus, not wanting the moment to end. It has been a privilege to stand in the middle of such joy—sharing our story and causing a purposeful stir.
A little girl came up to us and asked us to sign her bear’s shirt. We did, and it caused an avalanche. Parents arrived to pick up their kids and got swept up in the excitement, taking photos and requesting autographs. The dogs absorbed hundreds of delirious hugs.
It was hard to drive away, but every day must end. We prolonged the joy a bit by going out for ice cream with Roxana and her sons. We thanked her for her hard work and patience (19 months (!!) had passed since she’d learned Columbia was chosen for the tour).
Then we got back in the bus and kept driving, wondering what we’d left behind. Can a single day of books, bears, laughter, and love create a lasting difference? Will our bus keep on rolling in their memories? We saw the sparks. Where will they land?