Westgate Elementary - Arlington Heights, IL - When a district legend walks into your classroom, you stop and listen; when that district legend walks in with artifacts from her recent trips through Africa, you rush to get a front row floor seat to the show.
That is what Sandy Tassi’s and Kristen Gattuso’s 1st and 2nd grade multi-age students did when former D25 teacher, principal and leader Mary Stitt visited.
Tassi and Gattuso have classrooms across the hall from one another, and they often join to form one big, collaborative “Gattassi” classroom for events and projects.
The students were in the middle of a unit where they traveled the world visiting the seven continents, exploring mapping and landforms along the way and Tassi invited Stitt to make their unit on Africa come to life.
“In the villages that I visited,” Stitt told the students, “the native villagers and children plant and harvest their own food and they gather their own water, all while attending school. Imagine that!”
Students peppered the 91-year old Stitt with questions, hoping to gain some insight from someone who has traveled there many times.
“How long does it take to get to Africa?” one student asked.
“Why is it so hot in Africa?” asked another.
“What language do Africans speak?” another student asked.
Stitt answered each question by opening it up to discussion, allowing the students the ability to come to their own conclusions. One student even surprised Stitt with the knowledge that there are 53 total countries in Africa.
After Stitt was finished presenting and answering questions the “Gattassi” students ventured around the room to look, but not touch, the different artifacts from Stitt’s travels. The students discussed with one another how the dolls and different mini statues and masks were constructed and decorated.
“I think they crushed different berries to make the paint for these [mini statues],” said one second grade student.
“Yea, and they used sharp rocks to form them too,” another responded.
Stitt’s travels to Africa through her Rotary Organization brought joy and support to many villages and Africans and on that one day in early January 2017, her travels brought home some joy and knowledge that the Gattassi classes loved.
Stitt was a part of D25 for 37 years, most of which were as Principal of what was just Olive Elementary School. That school has since been renamed in honor of Stitt to Olive-Mary Stitt Elementary School.