Skip to main content

South Valley Journal

Teacher’s passion for books takes center stage

Apr 03, 2022 05:15PM ● By Jet Burnham

Bluffdale Elementary students rehearse for their production of “Matilda Jr.” (Photo courtesy of Kate Walters.)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Kate Walters has about 500 books in her third grade classroom library at Bluffdale Elementary.

“With 47+ students each year, it's important that I have a lot to accommodate everyone,” Walters said.

It is unusual to have such a large classroom selection. By contrast, second grade teacher Vitor Bispo only has 150 books. As a Portuguese immersion teacher, his books are in Portuguese, which are expensive and hard to find.

Walters has spent her 16 years as a teacher building her library. Initially, the books came from thrift stores and garage sales. Then, she got them with Scholastic book credits, grant money and at teacher workshops. Some have been donated by retiring teachers and by parents during Book Fair week.

“I'm tremendously grateful for every book that makes its way into my classroom,” she said.

Not only is Walters passionate about books, but she also loves drama. She often applies her two passions to create interactive classroom activities and is currently taking classes to earn endorsements in arts integration and in drama.

“We do a lot of drama activities in class to make the stories we read come alive for the students,” Walters said. Activities have included writing a class opera, performing a readers' theater and reading books aloud.

Walters just finished reading “Matilda” by Roald Dahl to her students in preparation for the school production of “Matilda, Jr.,” a musical based on the book. It will be performed April 11-13 by a cast of 62 third through sixth graders.

Walters is directing the play and also acting in the role of the intimidating headmistress of Matilda’s school.

“I'm playing Miss Trunchbull because I think the actor who plays her needs to be really formidable, much bigger than the rest,” Walters said.

“Matilda” tells the story of a small and clever girl who learns to stand together with friends against the adult bullies in her life.

Walters and Bispo are directing, third grade teacher Kylee Butterfield is choreography director and parent volunteer Kara Allen is the music director.

Allen said the story has several good messages relevant to students—standing up to bullies, believing that you can accomplish whatever you set out to do, and the power of friendship and teamwork.

Bispo said another of the play’s themes is “Everyone is special in their own way and no one should be treated poorly because of their diversity.”

“Matilda Jr.” features humorous characters, energetic dance numbers and clever songs.

“My favorite part is the music,” Bispo said. “It is very catchy and the lyrics are very powerful.”

The cast’s favorite song to perform is “Revolting Children.” It’s a high-energy number that celebrates when the children turn mean Miss Trunchbull’s insult into a call to stand together against her bullying. Allen said as the cast members sing together, they really get caught up in the power and message of the song.

“There’s strength in numbers and there's also energy—you get a few timid kids together and all of a sudden they become really powerful,” Allen said. “I love big huge ensemble numbers that are high-energy and that everybody can participate in and feel like they're part of something great.”

Some of the students were reluctant to participate in the play at first, but taking on that challenge is an experience that will help them for the rest of their lives, said Allen.

“I think anytime they do something that's hard and out of their comfort zone, they can draw back on that,” Allen said. “It can give them confidence in whatever else they do—maybe writing a report, or trying a new sport or playing piano—anything that's hard. They can draw back on the experience and say, 'This was hard, I pulled through and I did it.'”