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Elementary education students join second grade class to meet creator of Pete the Cat

James Dean shown discussing the origins of “Pete the Cat” on Zoom with second grade class

James Dean, creator and illustrator of the children’s book character Pete the Cat, visited College of Education (COE) alumna Whitley “Whit” King’s (’15) online second grade class at Sally D. Meadows Elementary School in Vidalia, Georgia, via Google Meet on Feb. 26.

King reached out to former mentor Kathleen Crawford, Ed.D., assistant professor of elementary literacy education, to invite her and a select group of students to join the special event. Crawford extended an open invitation to her ELEM 3233: Elementary Language Arts Methods classes and several teacher candidates joined King’s second graders to meet Dean.

“During the virtual class, King’s second graders shared letters they wrote to Mr. Dean and asked questions,” said Crawford. “This experience was an ideal representation of Writing about Reading, a literacy practice coined by Fountas & Pinnell (2017) where teachers have students expand and share their thinking about texts through thoughtful conversation, writing and drawing. My elementary education teacher candidates have been learning about this practice in our language arts methods class this semester and, through this experience, were able to see this literacy strategy in practice with children.

“It was so much fun listening to what students had written for James Dean but even better to have him respond personally to each child,” said junior elementary education major Grace Jenkins. “One thing Georgia Southern University College of Education is teaching me is to be personal with students. This part of the Google Meet was so personal to the students and exemplified how much it engages student learning when a teacher goes the extra mile for their students. I was grateful to be invited to this Google Meet because I learned so much about ways to be a great teacher and how to engage my students in the future.”

Dean spent nearly an hour sharing how Pete the Cat was brought to life, transforming from a realistic depiction of one of his own cats into a blue minimalist representation of what we see featured in Dean’s books today.

James Dean (left) and Whitley King

He also held a how-to session on drawing Pete. Following, the students shared their work and prompted a creative session in which students and Dean shared ideas for new adventures for Pete the Cat.

“You may see some of your ideas come to life,” Dean told the class. “You have such good ideas (and are) such talented writers!” 

Dean ended the meeting with a top-secret sneak peek at a future Pete the Cat book cover.

“It was so exciting to engage in this virtual meeting with Mr. Dean, my current students, my former student and her second graders,” said Crawford. “I am so proud of the teacher Whit has become, and her success is evident in the meaningful experiences she plans for her students. She served as an outstanding model for my current ELA students, and I am confident they learned an incredible amount from this experience. Whit is the type of teacher that we, as faculty, strive to develop in our elementary program, and I look forward to being able to follow her teaching journey.”

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