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Campers hone language skills
Use technology to shape stories
Cecilia Beltran, 13, left, and Rosa Gomez, 12, record videos of each other on iPads during the recent digital storytelling camp put on by Literacy Forsyth. - photo by Hilary Butschek

During Literacy Forsyth’s recent digital storytelling camp, 10 students learning English as a second language got to tell their own stories.

The children worked on a short video throughout the weeklong camp, writing narration to tell a story about a moment in their lives that changed their view of the world.

One exercise asked the campers to list qualities that described them and a sentence about who they wanted to be.

“We’re working with the students on writing and telling stories,” said Sarah Fox, the lead facilitator at the camp, “but we’re also teaching them technology that they can use on school projects.”

The goal of the second annual camp was to make the students feel more comfortable using English, as most speak Spanish at home.

“I think it will help me communicate and not be shy,” said Aracely Beltran, 15.

The stories the campers created ranged from subjects such as moving to and from Mexico to the United States, attending a new school and approaching the coming school year.

“We didn’t prompt them to tell these stories,” said Annaliza Thomas, the executive director of Literacy Forsyth.

Instead, the instructors asked the students to share stories they thought needed to be told but which often go unheard. Many got emotional in their narration.

Right before her video was set to play in front of the audience at the viewing party July 26, Beltran said she was nervous but excited.

“It helped me talk about it and not have that inside anymore,” she said of her video, which addressed her parents’ divorce.

Sponsored by Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, the free digital storytelling camp was held at the Cumming branch of the Forsyth County Library.

The library allowed the students to use brand-new iPads and laptops, which were waiting to be installed at the new Post Road library location. The branch is slated to open Aug. 24.

“It really says something to the kids that they trusted them with all this new stuff,” Fox said.

The children learned how to take photos and video recordings on the iPads and how to edit them on the computer.

The finished product was a short film that each student could submit to a national competition next month called “Short and Strong,” which spotlights stories about immigration.

Fox, who also taught at the camp last year, said she hopes it will help the students learn more English, though it wasn’t exclusively in that language. She let the students speak Spanish whenever they wanted, though she always taught in English.

“My goal wouldn’t be that they spent a week learning the language and feel more comfortable with it, but that they are more comfortable telling stories,” Fox said.

The students paired up to make their videos, and Fox said she has seen friendships grow from the partnerships. The camp teaches them to tell as well as to listen.

“I like the friends I’ve made because it’s really hard for me to make friends at school,” Beltran said.

Having the camp at the library allowed the students access to resources they may not have seen before, said Denise Leeson, the branch manager.

“I love hosting the storytelling camp because I get to meet the students,” she said.