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The road to “The Adventures of Berkeley the Bear”

By Staff | Oct 26, 2018

Judy Pharr, left, of Shepherdstown, talks with 2014 West Virginia Teacher of the Year Erin Sponaugle about Sponaugle's writing process at the Scarborough Library event. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — As the 2014 West Virginia Teacher of the Year, Erin Sponaugle, of Martinsburg, spent a year traveling around the state and country representing her home state.

As the 2003 Shepherd University graduate began spending countless hours in classrooms throughout the state, Sponaugle realized she needed a tool to help students connect with her. She soon found the key to her success in those classrooms and in her future endeavors as an author and illustrator a puppet in the form of the state animal, the black bear.

“I really wanted a way as teacher of the year to connect with students. That’s where I came up with Berkeley the Bear I came across Berkeley the Bear on Amazon,” Sponaugle said, mentioning she named the puppet in her county’s honor.

Sponaugle took the puppet with her wherever she went, photographed a photo of him in each place and published the photos with a description of each trip on her blog. Her fifth grade students at Tomahawk Intermediate enjoyed keeping up with her travels through the blog, and soon became attached to Berkeley the Bear, as well.

“Where ever I went across the state, I took him with me. I even put him in my purse, and took him with me when I met President Obama at the White House,” Sponaugle said. “It was a way to teach kids about West Virginia, and connect them with other parts of West Virginia as well.”

Because of the love her bear received from her students, Sponaugle decided to turn his adventures into a children’s picture book, “The Adventures of Berkeley the Bear,” which she published in 2017 through her publishing company, Next Chapter Press LLC. Sponaugle is currently working on her second book about Berkeley the Bear, where Berkeley the Bear learns about space and meets students from The West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind.

Although she is now excited about pursuing a side career as a book publisher, author and illustrator, Sponaugle said the path to where she is now wasn’t an easy one.

“Being an author and illustrator was not something I anticipated doing, until I became an ambassador for other teachers across the state,” Sponaugle said, mentioning she learned how to draw, write and publish books within a three-year span of time. Her learning experience not only paid off, but also reminded her why education in the Arts is needed in schools.

“The benefits of drawing alone show why we need to encourage creativity in school. When you draw, it releases chemicals in your brain that make you feel good. It also teaches people to have a longer attention span, improve hand-eye coordination and aid in memory by adding synapses to neurotransmitters,” Sponaugle said. “When you take that away from kids, you’re removing a positive influence in their lives.”

Sponaugle was the featured speaker for the first event of the 2018-2019 Scarborough Art and Lecture Series on Oct. 18 at Scarborough Library. The series is funded by the Scarborough Society and Shepherd University Foundation. For more information about the book, visit www.erinsponaugle.com.