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Author Visit Inspires Fox Lane Middle School Students

students raise hands during FLMS author visit

A line of excited, chattering students snaked around Fox Lane Middle School’s Suzanne Grant Theater. At a table at the front of the line, authors Caitlin Alifirenka and Liz Welch sat chatting with students as they autographed books, sneakers and cell phone cases and took occasional selfies. Alifirenka and Welch had just finished giving a presentation on their book, I Will Always Write Back, to a group of captivated sixth grade East House students. 

The event, which was possible thanks to generous funding from FLMSA, was a particularly exciting one. Not only did students connect with the book, but Welch is a Fox Lane alum. She shared photos from her Fox Lane Middle School yearbook and told them that she grew up in Mount Kisco and that she too was in East House.

“It was at Fox Lane Middle School that I discovered my love of writing,” Welch said. “Miss Oen was my English teacher in eighth grade and she was the first person who said, ‘You know, you could be a writer.’”

Welch wrote the book, which is a dual memoir, with Alifirenka and Martin Ganda. Alifirenka and Ganda met through a pen pal exchange program in school. Though they lived 10,000 miles away — Alifirenka in Pennsylvania, Ganda in Zimbabwe — the two quickly became best friends and completely changed the course of each other’s lives.

Alifirenka told students that she chose to write to someone in Zimbabwe on a whim. She wanted to write to someone in a place she couldn’t even find on a map.

“The choice of going outside of my comfort zone, choosing something I knew nothing about would change our lives forever,” she said.

Alifirenka told students about how different her life was from Ganda’s. While she argued with her mom about PopTarts in the morning, he had to hunt for his food. While Alifirenka tripped over clothes on the floor in her messy bedroom, Ganda lived in a one room house and his mom didn’t own a pair of shoes. Still, the two bonded and, eventually, Alifirenka brought Ganda to the United States. They are best friends to this day.

Students were enthralled with the presentation and the book itself.

“They are so intrigued by this whole story,” said sixth grade Learning Specialist Christy McGinn. “It’s so beautiful. Absolutely amazing.”

Hands were flying during the post-talk question-and-answer session.  Students wanted to know whether other relationships touched on in the book still thrived. They want to know what inspired Alifirenka to help Ganda and asked “What do you think your childhood self would say about you now?” 

In the end, the overarching theme from the book — and the presentation — was kindness. Alifirenka closed the presentation by encouraging students to “Choose kind words in person and behind your screen.”

Sixth grade ELA teachers took that theme to heart and worked with students on a toy drive as a way to demonstrate that small acts of kindness can make a big impact on the lives of others. Students collected unwrapped gifts, made festive decorations and packets of “Snowman Soup,” which were all donated to Neighbor’s Link.

authors Caitlin Alifirenka and Liz Welch signs books for FLMS studentsAuthor Liz Welch takes a selfie with an FLMS student