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Puerto Rican students learning English & reading in a folkloric way

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) – Mixing theater and Latino roots. It’s a new approach to improve education for children who recently relocated from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. 

Students are learning to effectively read and learn a new language from a folk tale that they’re familiar with at a second grade bilingual class at Henry Hudson School 28 in Rochester. 

It’s a book that is brought to life. The last few weeks the second graders have been learning to read the whimsical story of “Kiki Koki.”  It’s based on the Taino Indian legend that captures the rich colors and spirit of Puerto Rico while sharing a lighthearted lesson about what it means to be part of a community. 

“The children did a reader’s theater and they were able to bring the book to life, it was wonderful,” said María Vásquez-Ramírez, dual language teacher. 

“Cuando la moon goddess estaba brillando,” said Naylin, a student in the classroom who said she liked the part where the moon goddess character in the book was shining.

“A leer en voz alta,” said Naysha, a student in the program whose the narrator in the play and said she learned how to read out loud through this project.

Teachers and community leaders said they hope reading stories the children are familiar with will enhance their ability to read while learning a new language. 

“We’ve been really working with them around the essence of reading, and reading for understanding. Then they got to act out the story and add little props, used their imagination and creativity and many of them have found their voice in this experience,” said Annette Ramos, Executive Director for the Rochester Latino Theater Company and Teacher Artist in the project. 

“To see the story performed in a folkloric way in both Spanish and English, it was a beautiful celebration of our heritage,” said Samantha Parisi, diversity committee member for the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

The children are getting help from the Rochester Latino Theater Company. It’s an effort at School 28 that’s supported through a grant from the National Network for Folk Arts in Education. 

“We have to carry our cultural traditions into new places that we live and form community,” said Ramos. “In this way, our children stay connected to their ancestors, their culture and traditions. They also enrich a community that they bring these wonderful elements into.” 

A folk tale that will keep them connected to Puerto Rico while living in Rochester and learning English in hopes that one day they too will become storytellers for future generations.

Each child got to take a book home to keep after it was donated by the Greater Rochester Association of Women Attorneys.

If you’d like to learn more on how you can incorporate the arts from local community members in your classroom, there’s an informational session Saturday November 2nd,  at the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s auditorium. It’s from 10 a.m. – 12 p.m.

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