Gillette students edit books for students in Guatemala | national news

GILLETTE – Heidi DeStefano, now an educational author after more than a decade as a Kindergarten and Grade 1 reading recovery specialist with the Campbell County School District, took a vacation with her husband in Guatemala .

While enjoying a meal, she expressed a desire to visit a local elementary school during her stay in 2019.

Koki, their waiter, heard what she said and generously offered to show them a school where he had taught for a while. It would take a 30-minute ride on the Chicken Bus, an old American school bus used by countries in Central and South America to transport people and sometimes cattle. They would also have to travel through gang-controlled territory to get there; it was said it was not safe for chicken buses.

But they went there anyway.

Koki showed them around. He had been a teacher there when a volcano erupted and the school welcomed an influx of displaced students. It was hard work, he told DeStefano.

The school in Alotenango, Guatemala, opened in 2015 and today accommodates around 280 students. It is managed by Humanity First USA, an international philanthropic organization established in 1994 dedicated to disaster relief and development opportunities for vulnerable communities around the world. Guatemala is one of 12 countries where Humanity First operates, and the school is one of nine around the world.

“It was all concrete, and they didn’t have any books that I could see,” DeStefano said. “So I asked the director over there, ‘Would you be interested if I could provide books?’ She was very enthusiastic about it.

There was only one problem.

“My books were in English, but she needed them in Spanish,” DeStefano said.

There is a variation on an old saying that goes: “To a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” For some dedicated educators like DeStefano, there is a version of this line of thinking that says everything looks like a potential learning opportunity.

Instead of putting her growing knowledge of Spanish to work or depending on friends who could translate the relatively simple books, DeStefano reached out to Keri Shannon, the principal of Stocktrail Elementary School, with an idea.

“Your students, your third and fourth graders, would be able to translate the ones with me, and we could do that and ask them to donate the books to this school,” DeStefano recalls to Shannon.

DeStefano said she practiced her Spanish so she could visit Stocktrail students in their Spanish speaking class and present the idea in Spanish.

“It was a little brave of me,” she says proudly.

“She shared a video presentation about what this school is, what this school is like there, to get the kids excited and to share: ‘That’s why we want to do this and we needed your Spanish skills because that you are going to be presenting these books to children of the same age, more or less, who will be able to learn to read through the work you do using your language, ”Shannon said.

The children embarked on the project with enthusiasm.

“The kids are just wonderful that way,” DeStefano said. “They always want to help.”

And that’s what they did.

“We asked our older classes to do the translation in fourth grade, but COVID hit,” Shannon said. “So they did the editing this year in fifth year. … Our students really took possession of it.

Nathan Peters, now an 11-year-old fifth student, recalled doing the translation work last year before COVID-19 delayed the process.

“I thought to myself, ‘If these materials are being sent to children who speak Spanish, then I probably want to do my best to translate them from English to Spanish as well as possible,” Nathan said.

He was a bundle of energy, and it was easy to imagine him tackling the mission with a positive attitude.

“When I do it, it takes a long time because I have to think a lot,” he said.

He clarified that it didn’t take him long because he didn’t know a lot of words; in fact, he knew most of them, he said.

“I’m very quick at reading these and being able to translate because I read a lot,” Nathan said. “The reason it takes me a while is because I get, like, book after book after book after book after book after book after book in the time it might take some kids to not. take that one. “

It was just another day for a devoted Boy Scout like Nathan.

“The Scout slogan is, ‘Take a good ride every day,’ he said. “And that’s what I do. I try to do my best to help people. “

Adriana Dominguez, another 11-year-old fifth grader, was also eager to help.

“I thought it was sad because they didn’t have as many opportunities as we did,” said Adriana.

She felt confident in her translation skills.

“It was easy for me because I already had Spanish as my mother tongue,” she said.

The books told many stories about farms and wildlife.

“They were interesting books,” Adriana said. “They had a lot of pictures.”

The DeStefano Books, an educational series known as “Meet the Applemans,” is a guided reading series for kindergarten and first graders. The non-fictional stories focus on the daily life of a local ranch family, the Applemans, and the books are illustrated with photographs by Christine Appleman.

Each book comes with a lesson plan that helps students strengthen letter identification, word decoding skills, comprehension, and writing. Books have extra-wide word spacing so students can clearly focus on one word at a time. Simple sentences go well with Appleman’s photograph to relate what they read to what they see.

On the back of the books there are tips for teachers. The instructions were a bit advanced for the students, so DeStefano relied on Ruth Cloud, a Spanish teacher now at Thunder Basin High School, to translate these passages.

“I did everything I could with Google Translate,” DeStefano said of his efforts to translate the instructions before asking Cloud for help. She said, ‘I think you’ll be fine as long as you don’t use Google Translate. “”

DeStefano laughed at the memory and said she was grateful to have Cloud’s help on the project.

There are 38 books in the series, and a set of class books has six of each. This is what Stocktrail students will send to Humanity First School in Guatemala. All of DeStefano and his students’ hard work has been achieved through close cooperation with the Campbell County School District Printing Plant.

Mandy Love, the printing manager, oversees a small team of four full-time employees. They produce all the printed materials for the approximately 9,000 students in the district. One of the perks Love and her team could do was provide a feel that really sets Appleman’s photography apart.

“We helped them choose materials that would be right for them in the long run,” Love said.

“We just made a heavier weight paper instead of a regular bond which would hold up a bit better,” she said. “We laminated the covers to make them last a long time.”

Shannon praised the print shop’s willingness to help.

“I think it’s just something that shows the district is really okay with all the things that we end up doing,” Shannon said.

Like DeStefano, Shannon saw the project as having twice the value. It was an undeniable good deed to help the students in Guatemala. But she also had so much to offer her own students here at Gillette, she said.

“A lot of these kids didn’t choose to join a bilingual program,” Shannon said. “Their parents chose for them, obviously. Sometimes kids are like, ‘Yeah, we’re learning Spanish, whatever, but what’s the point? We do it because our parents told us to. ”

But do his students really understand at such a young age why a second language is beneficial? she wondered. The simple extension of their work in the classroom has enabled young students to recognize the value of the language skills they are developing.

“First of all, they saw a goal, ‘Oh I have a language, and now I’m actually going to use a second language to contribute to the world,’” said Shannon.

About Karren Campbell

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