'Snoopy teacher' noted in 'Peanuts' book
By Sharla Allard/ Correspondent
Thu Jun 25, 2009, 05:30 PM EDT

Bulletin boards at the Cottage Street School in Sharon 40 years ago when Joan Wernick started teaching first grade boasted big yellow school buses.
One day a student asked Wernick if she would, instead, hang up the black and white stuffed animal he was clutching. 
“Does your dog have a name?” she asked.
“You don’t know who Snoopy is?” the boy responded, amazed someone didn’t recognize, from the long-running Peanuts comic strip, the famous beagle inspired by its creator Charles Schultz’s own dog Spike.
Over the years, Wernick’s affection for the fictional dog grew. Her students began adding handmade and store-bought Snoopys to her classroom until, at one point, they numbered over two hundred.
All this is recounted in Donald Fraser and Derrick Bang’s book published this April called “Security Blankets: How Peanuts Touched Our Lives.”
People of all ages tell how they’ve identified with the anxiety-ridden Charlie Brown or his tormentor, Lucy, and Wernick explains how she came to be called the “Snoopy teacher.”
For one thing, each year her class celebrates Snoopy’s birthday. The students sponge-paint the dog’s face and make a quilt, and Wernick dresses up in Snoopy jeans, shirt, jacket and earrings.
“We get to sit on our desks and watch a Snoopy movie,” beamed seven-year-old Rachel. And the dog with street smarts teaches lessons, one of them up on a poster: “Reading is actually an adventure; it’s like a journey to a new place.”
Besides the Snoopy memorabilia her classes have amassed, Wernick has thousands at home, she said, several stacked next to and inside the family’s fireplace. “In the winter when we want to start a fire,” she said, “we have to move them to the basement.”
That reminded Tara Goodwin Frier, a volunteer in the first grade where her son Will is a Wernick fan, of the winter when a family of one of Wernick’s students couldn’t afford a Christmas tree.  Wernick organized her colleagues to buy them presents and a tree, fully decorated, Frier said. They carried the tree up a long outdoor staircase, rang the bell, and hid in the woods until the family had taken the gifts inside.
One contributor to the “Security Blankets” book Wernick has a chapter in tells of taking his gift of a stuffed Snoopy with him to a college softball tournament and, years later when he needed surgery, into the operating room.
It turns out a child’s affection for a dog with artificial fur translates to mutual caring when it comes to the real thing. Shoshana, one of Wernick’s first-graders, said she likes it when her dog, a Wheaten Terrier, licks her face, reminiscent of Snoopy’s giving characters going through some doubt and fear a juicy lick on the nose. Shoshana’s friend Madison said she enjoys walking her dog, Little Guy, “but not into the street.”
Everybody in the class loves Wernick’s dog, Miss Olivia, even though she’s still afraid of water, rabbits and ducks after having been to dog school three times. The class chanted in unison, “And she eats Peppermint Patties out of your pocket!”
Dogs like Snoopy and teachers like Wernick ensure a young learner’s life is never boring. And the students show much more promise than little Sally in the Peanuts strip, who mistook “Santa’s reindeer” to mean “Santa’s rain gear.”
Even as an adult, Schultz, who drew his last comic strip near the turn of this century, got a C-minus in a class on the Drawing of Children. But his kindergarten teacher had told him, “Charlie, one day you’ll be an artist.”
In one of his earliest strips from the 1950s, the sun is shown slowly melting Charlie Brown’s snowman.
“It’s gone!” Charlie Brown wailed. “There’s nothing left! Only a memory and a carrot!” Then, in the last frame, Snoopy comes along and eats the carrot.
For Wernick and her classes, the memory is definitely being kept alive.


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Schulz Museum

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