Putting a fine point on it

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Pencil problems sharpen Greywolf students’ civic skills


Sequim Gazette

Early in the school year, these students were having zero success with their No. 2s.

Students in Sheri Burke’s third-grade Greywolf Elementary School class were finding the graphite in their Ticonderoga pencils was breaking easily, so much so that they were getting up during class many times each day.


Teacher Sheri Burke shows off items her class
received from the Ticonderoga company.
Photo courtesy of Sheri Burke

“It went on for about three weeks,” Burke said. “They were out of their seats constantly.”

“It’s also the sharpener,” Miles Van Sant said. “We couldn’t sharpen designer pencils, just theirs.”

“As soon as I touch it (the pencil to paper), it breaks,” Carson Yancy said. “I thought, ‘I need to write a letter.’”

Instead of getting a different brand of pencil, Burke and her young pupils decided to take action — and learn a lesson in civic action — by turning the experience into a class project. Students wrote letters to the Ticonderoga company expressing their frustration with their graphite-and-wood instruments.

“Dear pencil company,” Colton Shook wrote, “I am writing to you because I am not!!! going to use your pencils until you make them right … It broke while I was writing this … and broke again and again.”

Student Kylynn Stringer noticed the slogan on the side of the Ticonderoga pencil box: “World’s Greatest Pencil.”

“In my letter I wrote NOT next to it,” Stringer said.

“While I was writing this letter,” Hope Glasser wrote the Ticonderoga company, “10 people got up to sharpen their pencils and I was one of them.”

Burke and her pupils got a surprise a couple of weeks later when a package arrived containing 200 new pre-sharpened pencils, plus pencil sharpeners and markers — all thanks to the class’ letters.

“I was very surprised; she (the representative) called the day she got them,” Burke said. “She said it was the first time they had a group of children complain about their product.”

Said Alexis Smith, “I think they were excited that they got our letters.”

Now armed with working pencils and markers, Burke’s students are back at work on regular class lessons.

But the lesson they learned with their experience with the Ticonderoga company won’t soon be forgotten.
“We learned that if we want something you have to stand up and say it,” Devan Lauria said.

Added Miranda Muasau, “Words are powerful, aren’t they?”

Reach Michael Dashiell at



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