Preps’ Service Learning Project
The 9th annual 8th Grade Service Learning Project has just been completed. Since the middle of February, the 8th grade students, under the guidance of their ESL teachers, have been busy with this exciting project. The students worked in pairs on writing, illustrating, and publishing original fairy tales.
This year a total of 81 books were made. Meanwhile, the 8th graders visited their younger partners from 39th Elementary School three times. During these visits they got to know their younger partners and presented the plots of the fairy tales to them. On March 25, the students from 39th School came for a visit to ACS campus. During their time here, they were entertained by the four fairy tales performed by 8th grade students on stage in Whitaker Auditorium. After that, the guests were invited to the ESL classrooms in Sanders Hall, where they received the books that had been made especially for them. Each book had a dedication page with the younger partners' names. The books themselves were color-copied and bound at Orange Center, whose cooperation was ensured thanks to the efforts of Ms. Natalia Manolova, ACS Alumni Relations, Development, and Admissions Office Coordinator. We would like to take this opportunity to thank her for her assistance and hard work to make this project a success. Special thanks go to ACS Cafeteria staff for preparing the snacks for our guests and to the Maintenance Crew for being there for us whenever we needed them. As always, this project would not have been possible without the encouragement and support of Dr. Johnson and Ms. Angelova, both of whom carved time out of their busy schedules to attend the performances on March 25. Last but not least, thank you very much, 8th grade students and ESL teachers! You have turned this project into a great ACS tradition. It is a brilliant way to convince the students that through giving one obtains a lot for oneself.
Undoubtedly, service learning is an effective approach to education, and it will continue to be part of the 8th graders' ACS experience.
ESL Department Chair
DO THEY BELIEVE IN FAIRY TALES?
A recent major project involved ACS preps writing a fantasy tale for kids of grades one to three from the local 39th school.
by Rada Popova 8/8
There is perhaps no work of literary fiction that illustrates the raw power of words like a fairy tale. And it is through words that my classmates and I attempted to impact the lives of the third graders we were working with during the ninth annual ACS Service Learning Project.
It is during the first of three visits to come that I first meet the two kids my partner and I are assigned to work with: their names are Ivelina and Cathy, and they both have blond hair, fair skin, happen to be wearing pink, and balance enthusiasm and realism in a way I am now almost sure just children are capable of. We hear about their good teachers, their bad teachers, how the remains of one child’s food are transferred to the plate of another at the school cafeteria, how the little attempts of introducing healthy food have been frowned upon, and how fun it is to play games. When asked if she enjoys reading, Cathy pulls me aside and whispers (as if telling a mischievous secret) that she is carrying a book in her bag that day, to which I only wink like the accomplice I am, then try to smile without making apparent my concern. And I am honestly concerned, because how can a fairy tale’s message come across, how can words be revered in an environment where reading is an almost shameful activity?
At the beginning of the second visit, during which we wouldn’t be playing games but learning words, my partner and I have the difficult task of breaking it to Ivelina and Cathy (everybody else has to do the same with their children). Because of our missing graphic summary, the two of us give everything we can with pencils and paper, drawing, spelling and transcribing words like hero, book, scribe, water, and staff on the spot. It is important to note that most of these kids barely know the English alphabet, and also that at first they seem bored almost out of duty. After all, nowhere in their mind can a school subject like English be remotely interesting, even when a bunch of older kids from another school begin horsing around with words such as fire.
“I learned ten new words! Ten!” Cathy exclaims when they are done writing in their vocabulary notebooks. During the rest of the class, most of the girls are busy messing with a classmate of mine and throwing my journal around the classroom (Cathy’s original idea). When told that we would talk about them in an article, the youngsters assume a cute state of pride, saying that these would be the best articles we could ever possibly compose. After parting with the kids and climbing down the stairs, I bump into a second grader carrying a tray of doughy snacks which is half her size. I think about her and the opportunities I hope she has on my way back to the private school full of supportive faculty members and organic chocolate bars.
“I like it that my school has a library, but I hate it when the entrance to the building is covered in stray dog litter,” Ivelina said to me once with a face of complete seriousness. That just goes to show that 39th school “Peter Dinekov” in Sofia can be viewed as a small-scale illustration of a problem so big no scale can illustrate. It is the battle of youth, enthusiasm, creativity and a desire to learn against the conditions of the Bulgarian public school, an atmosphere many ACS students may have forgotten. The kids there spend their English classes drawing in the margins of their books, math classes trying not to give up completely, and every other class just sliding through. And that is not because they don’t want to make an effort, but because it’s what they’ve been taught. When given the get-to-know-you English handout, Cathy shrugged mechanically and said, “I do not understand this.” The scariest part of that is not that she didn’t even try, but how well-rehearsed the reaction was. That is the way these children handle new things just because nobody has stepped in and shown them a positive approach. They don’t have the luxury of enjoying, interpreting and nuancing words just because, in their minds, they are a dangerous tool of people who are too absorbed with their other duties to care. Parents leave that responsibility to the institution, but members of the institution refuse to step over their most basic obligation. Before visiting the school, I honestly didn’t believe we could have an actual impact on anything, but since the events of the visits, I’ve started considering that coming in contact with the environment, students, and fairy tales of ACS might actually have begun the process of transformation for these kids. I know a project of this measure cannot really bring about a palpable change, but it doesn’t have to. For the scale we were working on, even the thought of one child’s slightly different reactions is both wonderful and frightening.
“I don’t mean to sound like a cliché, but the power of words is enormous. They can make you or break you, put you in a very uncomfortable or wonderful position depending on how well you use them. I am fascinated by words,” said Ms. Roumyana Ivanova, the lead Service Learning Project organizer and ESL Department Chair.
Our actual writing centers on a protagonist, but the most iconic character is an object: a dream catcher. I once said to Cathy that she could be a word catcher, clinging to every unknown piece of language until she had woven it all together. Then, I told her, she could decorate it with beads and feathers, start giving her own character to words, and reflect herself in the language she uses. In our fairytale, we appeal not to allegory, but to applicability, so I have the right to hope that, in the same way our protagonist fights his way through with sheer determination, the children from 39th school “Peter Dinekov” will do the same.
ANNUAL ACS PROJECT HELPS CHILDREN TO LEARN ENGLISH
ACS students read fairy tales to kids from 39th school
by Anastasiya Peltekova and Mark Staykov
Kids of all ages love fairy tales; not only the little ones, who don’t go to sleep without their bedtime story, but also the grown-up ones, who no longer openly, but often secretly, believe in magic, fairies, and everlasting love. The children from 39th school are no exception. Each year, ACS 8th graders take part in a project in which they write their own fairy tales and read them to kids from 1st-3rd grade at the 39th school in Sofia. The purpose of this initiative is to help younger students develop their English and learn new words by playing different games, such as pictionаry and hangman. This is a unique experience for both the 8th and the 3rd graders as they interact and get to know each other.
The most difficult, but also the most interesting, part of the project was creating the fairy tales. In order to come up with something the children will enjoy, we needed to see the world from their points of view. I recalled the stories my grandmother used to tell me, focusing on what I liked about them and what I thought was wrong. That way I could think of a suitable moral lesson, one that the kids would understand and at the same time could relate to. In the end, my partner and I decided to write about a bully who swaps his life with one of his victims and realizes that what he is doing is wrong.
I was a bit nervous about my first meeting with the kids. I didn’t know how much English they knew and how they would react to us. Would they be enthusiastic or indifferent? They must have felt the same way because they didn’t talk much at first. However, as we got to know each other, they felt more relaxed and answered our questions.
Our 3rd graders were Slavi and Petar. Slavi was a charming little boy with no real knowledge of English but a lot of enthusiasm. Petar was a quick learner with advanced vocabulary who also enjoyed taking part in the project. They both liked the summary we had prepared for them, where some of the words had been replaced by pictures and they had to guess their meaning. I don’t think they learned a lot of new words, but they surely enjoyed the fairy tale.
The first three times ACS 8th graders visited 39th school, but the last week ACS hosted the children. Four of the fairy tales were staged and the kids enjoyed this part of the project the most. Slavi, who didn’t know a lot of words, said, “I didn’t get what the actors were saying, but I still understood what the plays were about. They were very funny.” Petar was over the moon at this moment because he had understood every single word of the script. We gave them the books we had made for them and they were very impressed when they that it was dedicated to them. We then said our goodbyes and our project was completed.
I have never been part of a project like this before, and I think it was a very valuable and memorable experience. It was the first time I had actually written a fairy tale and read it to children. I learned that in order to work with kids, you have to be very creative so that you can keep their attention engaged, and patient, because sometimes you need to go over the same thing multiple times. Even though I don’t think Slavi and Petar learned much English, it feels great to know that we have taught them something, even if it is only a single word.