Partnership between Longfellow Elementary EL teacher and Ohio State Spanish faculty member creates stories for Spanish-speaking students and families

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Longfellow kindergartner Bridget Moreno Serrano likes superheroes, mermaids and monkeys — all of which have the makings for an interesting story. 

After learning more about Serrano, Patrick McNally and Juliana Reising, two Ohio State students enrolled in Honors Spanish Composition, each created personalized children’s stories written in English and Spanish so Serrano’s parents who are native Spanish speakers can read it to her at home.

As part of the Bilingual Storybook Project, a new partnership between Ohio State’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Westerville City Schools, Spanish-speaking students at Longfellow Elementary work with Ohio State students in developing children’s stories that feature the students.

The Ohio State students are able to apply their writing lessons in a practical way while Longfellow Spanish-speaking students receive stories that they can read in English to practice their literacy skills or in Spanish to read with their parents. 

Kristin Potter, an EL teacher at Longfellow, said the project builds the home-school connection for Spanish-speaking students and their families.

“We want to make sure students are getting literacy and reading with parents at home so this provides students with literature in their home language so they can read at home,” said Potter, who started the project with her mother, Jill Welch, a faculty member at Ohio State’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese who teaches the Honors Spanish Composition course. 

Potter joined Westerville this school year, bringing the project to Longfellow for the first time. She has rolled out the project in Columbus and Groveport Madison, where she has previously taught.

The project, which received a grant from Ohio State’s Ohio Hispanic Heritage Project, starts with elementary students answering questions about themselves and drawing an illustration to be used with the story. Once Welch receives that information, she identifies the students to work on the project and matches them with an elementary student. This year, she had four students work in pairs with two Longfellow students. They met virtually to learn more about their Longfellow student and what they’d like to see in their story.

Her students composed short stories featuring their elementary student in English and Spanish, incorporating their artwork. 

In previous years, Ohio State students and the elementary students would celebrate the completion of the project with a party where college students delivered the books in person and read the stories with the kids. 

Because of health and social distancing guidelines this year, the Ohio State students met with their Longfellow students virtually this week to read aloud portions of their stories.

Ohio State students Austin Smith and Gabrielle Caito met with Longfellow kindergartener Alexa Ramos while McNally and Reising met with Serrano. 

McNally shared with Serrano how Bridget, a superhero in disguise, was called to rescue a mermaid princess kidnapped by a group of pirate monkeys. Meanwhile, Reising’s story featured Bridget as a superhero who was learning how to fly when her boss said she was needed for an important mission.  

“It was a really fun project to be a part of,” McNally said. “It was really rewarding to have a final piece that I can share with her.”

Reising said the project gave her an opportunity to dive into her passion for creative writing and reminded her of the stories she loved as a child.

“Little kids can be really creative and it’s a lot of fun to help them explore that and to be able to give them a final product that is really special to them,” she said.

Welch applauds her students’ work and their dedication to creating a story that would be special to the kindergarteners.

For Potter, the project gave her students a glimpse into how stories are crafted, making a connection with the people writing stories about them and reading the finished product. 

“It’s wonderful for my students to make a personal connection to Ohio State and learn about opportunities they will have in higher education as bilingual individuals,” she said.