“Cuentos de mi Familia”

Hasty Elementary students on campus

When Bagwell College of Education Dean Arlinda Eaton welcomed a group of 14 elementary students to campus last week the first question she was asked was, “Are you like the principal of the campus?”

The dean's explanation of how a college campus operates was just one of many lessons the Hasty Elementary students learned following a six-week pilot program that paired the youngsters with faculty and students in Kennesaw State University’s Department of Inclusive Education.

“We brought these children to campus because in order for them to recognize themselves as scholars, they need to see themselves in this environment,” said Patricia Alvarez McHatton, chair of the Department of Inclusive Education. “Bringing them to campus reinforces the idea of higher education in their futures, and they can see themselves at KSU.”

The campus visit was the culmination of the program, which focused on literacy skills for English language learners. Each week McHatton, Linda Shuford Evans, assistant professor of TESOL, and three undergraduate students traveled to the Cherokee County elementary school to work on an oral history project with the fifth and sixth graders. The students were tasked with picking a family member they wanted to know more about and interviewing them.

The result was “Cuentos de mi Familia.”

“She didn’t have no shoes or clothes,” said Domingo, who interviewed his Guatemalan mother in Spanish, then translated her story into English. “It made me feel sad.”

Juana wrote about her father: “My dad liked school but it was really hard because he started really late, and he did not know how to write. He was 10 years old when he started school, and he only went for three years. He had to walk to school and it took him about 30 minutes to do so.”

Each of the students’ oral histories was compiled into a bound book, and while they were on campus, students had the opportunity to read their stories for KSU faculty and staff attending a reception. Work will begin this summer to archive the recorded interviews on iTunes U.

“Literacy is so important for kids,” Evans said. “A lot of them are learning on a remedial track, instead of an enrichment track.”

Through this project, the students not only practiced basic and more advanced literacy skills, but they also practiced language skills, both English and their native languages, and they learned interviewing and presentation skills.

“This project connects the kids to their families, and their home language gets a lot of affirmation,” Evans said. “It makes them feel like the school cares about their families.”

--Jennifer Hafer