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Telling a Story Out Loud

San Juan Hills High School students finish out the year by acting out stories they wrote in Spanish for first-graders at San Juan Elementary.

With Facebook pages popping up with such posts as “After AP tests, I'm not going to do ANYTHING anymore :)” and Tumblr feeds with posts such as “MY LAST AP TEST EVER!” it would seem that the last thing any student would want to do is more work.

Advanced placement tests were taken in May, leaving teachers with up to six weeks to keep their students engaged and showing up for class (or that might have just been my issue in high school).

Last year,Spanish-language AP4 teacher Lorena Sanchez faced this very issue. She had her students write and illustrate a children’s book in . What she received were half-baked efforts with no real dedication to the assignment.

So this year, she took it up a notch. Partnering with Fernanda Villalba, Spanish literature AP5 teacher, she assigned the same project with a twist. The students were told to read and act out their stories to the first-grade at San Juan Elementary.

With the support from the high school administration, Sanchez and Villalba shipped their 50 or so students on a self-funded bus, down to the . Four classes of first-graders greeted the teens with hugs and cheers.

The high school students set up more than 10 different stories to act out. Several groups had props and costume; other students had puppet shows depicting the different characters they created. Each story was read aloud, all in Spanish, to the excited 6- and 7-year-olds.

“These kids have taken what was a terrible assignment to something fantastic,” said Sanchez, of her students. “In the classroom, they choose to only speak at a basic level. In this atmosphere, they are speaking at much higher levels than they have shared with me.”

I watched as each of these teens served the sticky-handed, overly loving, space invaders. Teens, often mislabeled as, selfish, lazy and unmotivated (wait, that might have been just me, again)—were anything but.

They acted each of their stories with full passion and commitment. “The best part was seeing the laughter and smiles on the first-graders as they listened to our story.  It was crazy knowing that they understood the [Spanish] at such a young age!”  said student Brooke Fryer.

Sanchez and Villalba said they’d like to continue this assignment next year.  
I certainly hope so. Older students have the opportunity to see how community service can be so effective, even self-satisfying.

“Reading with the children was such a wonderful and special experience," said Isamar Negrete. "I definitely feel like we, as older students, made a difference in our community.” 

And that, readers, is what it is all about. 

Cathy V June 20, 2011 at 04:33 PM
Hi Melissa. What a great assignment for the students at San Juan Hills, and an even greater opportunity for the two schools to connect via their Spanish-language programs. Maybe unique teaching/learning opportunities like this will encourage students to broaden their language skills beyond the classroom.

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