While working as a teacher and reading specialist in the Harrisburg school district, Debra Hervitz discovered that many children didn’t know where they lived.
When she asked the kids if they knew their addresses, some only knew the street name, others didn’t know anything at all.
“A lot of teachers are trying to hold on to [teaching basic knowledge],” she said. “But because of the state testing and everything, they’re so worried. So, basic types of things like their home address [aren’t taught.]”
Without the district on her side, Hervitz decided to take matters into her own hands. Hervitz, nicknamed “Ms. Read,” is now the author of the “Where I Live,” a series of books that teaches Pennsylvania students about where they live. To date, Hervitz has published two versions of the book: “Where I Live: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania” and “Where I Live: Pennsylvania.”
Both books start out with the solar system, outlining the names of the nine planets plus the sun. They then zero in on our planet, Earth, and its features such as the oceans, continents and countries.
The books then travel down to Pennsylvania. Hervitz describes the municipalities and counties that are in Pennsylvania. In her Harrisburg book, she goes more in-depth with some of the staples of the city such as the Capitol building and the State Museum.
“[Education] is something I am passionate about,” she said. “ It’s not like I’m an expert on geography. It’s just that I know that children need this.”
The first draft of “Where I Live” was actually created in 1998 by Hervitz and her daughter. At the time, Hervitz was teaching first grade English at Silver Academy and her daughter happened to be in the class. Hervitz wanted to incorporate geography into her curriculum, so she had her students create a “Where I Live” book for them to take home and read to their families. Since Hervitz taught her daughter, she was able to keep her book.
Nearly two decades later, Hervitz published her new version of “Where I Live,” with the help of the American Literacy Corp., local literary activist Floyd Stokes and illustrator Sheena Hisiro.
Since then, the retired teacher has read her book in classrooms across Harrisburg. She even had students set up a “geography bee,” with groups of teachers asking students geography questions based on her book.
Both books also have interactive sections for the kids to draw their neighborhood, sing a song, learn fun facts about Pennsylvania and more.
Hervitz hopes her books not only educate students on where they live but encourage teachers to teach students basic knowledge, such as their addresses.
“There are still a lot of good [teachers] out there,” she said. “When I walk into a classroom, and I see a globe by a teacher’s desk and not up on the shelf, I know it is a good teacher because they’re reading, their writing, their talking, and they’re pointing to that globe.”