For Alejandra Vega, her 15th birthday was a special day.
Now 16, she got the chance to tell the story of the day, known in Latin culture as quinceañera, in a special way.
Vega was one of about 15 English as a Second Language, or ESL, middle and high school students who took part in a digital storytelling camp this week at the Cumming library.
The program was co-sponsored by the library system and Literacy Forsyth, a program that helps adults improve their education.
Many of the participants are ESL students or those who don’t yet have a high school diploma.
Literacy Forsyth director Annaliza Thomas explained digital storytelling as a new spin on classic oral history tradition.
“It’s a relatively new thing where you take oral storytelling, a narrative, and you use digital tools like photos, video, sound recordings, music and you make one big video,” she said.
“It’s a little different than a documentary because you’re actually telling a story and most people think digital stories should be about personal real-life experiences.”
She said the camp, which dove-tailed another one for the ESL students last week by the public school system, was also a way to help the students with their English skills.
“We wanted to take [the school system’s] effort and extend it,” she said. “The idea was to expose them to academic language in the summer, when they might not have many opportunities to practice, before going back to school and using their second language eight hours a day.”
Thomas said all of the students volunteered for the camp, which included using Windows Movie Maker and getting advice from a professional Cuban-American photographer on how to take the best photos.
Several of the students noted that they enjoyed meeting other students.
“Making friends has been the best part,” said 12-year-old Carolina Rodriguez. “I also just thought it would be cool to learn something new in the summer while we’re not in school.”
Vega was glad to have the opportunity to capture her quinceañera, which in Latin culture symbolizes a girl’s transition from childhood to being a woman, in such a unique way.
“Everything about that day was special,” she added.
Thomas said Vega’s was also “the perfect digital story. She used videos, photos and music and put everything together.”
But Thomas was impressed by the all the students’ efforts which represented a wide range of stories.
“We got a lot of the typical high school stories like their best soccer game or their birthday, but some of them have kind of a new twist,” she said. “We have stories about identity … one girl recently moved to the states from Mexico and she talked about being a Mexican teenager and then all of a sudden being an American teenager and what does that mean and how do you mix those two things together.
“We had a lot of interesting things that a lot of teens don’t talk about.”
Stephen Kight, with the library, said he and other staff members were “thrilled” to be able to work with Literacy Forsyth.
“This is exactly the kind of thing we’ve been wanting to do,” he said. “They’re really teaching these kids some very valuable skills and, I mean, the whole idea of the camp was so exciting … we can build on that and they can continue to have some fun and learn some things about the resources here [at the library] and how to use them.”
Kight said the library recently installed the Windows Movie Maker program on all its public computers.
Added Thomas, “We wanted everything they used this week to be something that they could come back for themselves and know how to do everything.
“Digital storytelling is very new. We’ve instilled the idea that they’re very much pioneers in this.”