Below is a letter from Kathleen Collins of Vecchia Publishing describing her experience working with Mrs. Neitzel and a group of her summer school students. The students reviewed a novel that is to be published in December of this year.

I recently spoke to a group of young students taught this summer by Mrs. Jessica Neitzel, a 6th grade teacher at Whitehall Memorial Elementary, on behalf of a New York author who is writing a Teen/YA fictional novel entitled ZIP CODE.

I would like to say how much I thoroughly enjoyed their feedback on the unedited manuscript, but mostly I enjoyed their enthusiasm for having me there twice and their all-around level of interest in learning; it is a testament to the entire community: parents, teachers, and school board alike.

Mrs. Neitzel and I stayed in communication for several weeks preparing for my first visit. Pre-reading the manuscript, schedules, content, class size, time frame for follow-up visit, and coordination with the author for live interviews are just snippets of the work which came before her, and she saw it through to fruition.

On my first visit, I spoke to the students about the book publishing industry discussing such topics as editing, book covers, and writing styles. At that time, they were given the unedited manuscript to read to discuss in subsequent classes with Mrs. Neitzel and were asked to use a critical eye upon which they could provide feedback to the author on what they felt the strong parts were and what they felt could be improved. I was happy when I returned a few weeks later to see how seriously they took this project. The white board was filled with colorful sticky notes with their comments. They had a great time reading those to the author, Louis Romano, while they chatted with him informally in between.

Because of the students’ feedback, changes to the manuscript are being made to make this the most thought-provoking and exciting Teen/YA novel to be used in sociology classes throughout America. A discussion guide will accompany the book. ZIP CODE is about two, privileged seniors from affluent Ridgewood, NJ High School switching places for their final semester with two, under-privileged, poor, minority seniors from the Bronx high school of DeWitt-Clinton. There are several harrowing moments on both sides as the four students experience prejudices, discuss their hopes and dreams or lack thereof based on their zip code, fat shaming, racial discrimination, school life, interracial dating, gangs, life-long friendships, cockroaches, and more. The important part of the book for the characters is when they present to their original classmates what they learned from their experience: determination, perseverance, creating opportunities for themselves even if it appears there aren’t any, and the challenge of will they break barriers and their own learned prejudices to pull up their peers regardless of their zip code to make the world a better place?

Students participating were: Nylah Lisowski, Suzanna Rodriguez, Sydney Matheny, Kelly Herness, Isaac Skoyen, Ciera Dubiel, Maggie Lindberg, and Andrea Sosalla. They and the school district will be acknowledged in the book and a copy of the novel will be donated to their school’s library. The release date for ZIP CODE is scheduled for December, 2016.