Elizabeth Bell cultivated and led Bilingual Short Stories in Muncie City Schools. The immersive learning class gave Ball State students the opportunity to create, illustrate and publish stories with first-grade students. Elizabeth Bell, Photo Provided
Immersive learning students create bilingual short stories
There are books that linger in a person.
Classic stories like “Goodnight Moon,” “The Poky Little Puppy” and “Charlotte’s Web” never grow old and continue to thrill generations of children and their parents.
When Ben Barry thinks about a book that has touched him, he thinks of one he helped create: “The Return of Michael Jordan.”
As part of his Spanish intermediate composition and grammar class, the sophomore telecommunications major was one of 22 Ball State students who had the opportunity to collaborate and write, illustrate, and publish bilingual short stories with first-grade students at Sutton Elementary in Muncie.
“Working on the project was a fantastic experience,” Barry said. “Getting to work with kids is always rewarding, but getting to share language and art with someone whom I never would have met otherwise made it so much more engaging than taking a final or doing an in-class project.”
The immersive learning class, titled Bilingual Short Stories in Muncie City Schools, was an idea cultivated and led by Elizabeth Bell, assistant professor of Spanish.
When Bell started exploring her vision in Spring 2017, she was aware of the lack of initial funding. But once the idea was approved by the university, Bell immediately got to work and started contacting different schools throughout the Muncie community. Sutton Elementary was eager to collaborate.
“I wanted the objective for the course to actually be meaningful for my students,” Bell said. “My goal overall was to give my students something to do that would be more than just, ‘Oh, I wrote this story because I had to for class.’ It was actually attached to a real child in a real community.”
Through the project, each pair of college and elementary students was assigned the task of creating their own unique story book from scratch, which Bell said matched perfectly with the elementary students' curriculum at the time, as they were learning about fiction, characters, scenes and how to tell a story.
After crafting an idea, the groups got to work. The Ball State student wrote the story, one version in Spanish and one in English, and the elementary student drew illustrations, which would later become the front cover of their books.
Every story was unique. Words and illustrations ranged from main characters being family members to superheroes, or in Barry’s case, he was paired with James Jackson, who loved basketball legend Michael Jordan.
“He drew Michael Jordan playing basketball with Steph Curry and LeBron James during the NBA Finals, which also happens to be what the story was about,” Barry said.
The class partnered with the Book Arts Collaborative in the Madjax building downtown, where they got to hand-sew the pages and build the cover for the books, before giving a copy to the children to keep.
Bell said watching the interactions and relationships being fostered between her students and the elementary kids, especially once stories were read to the class in Spanish, was impactful.
“Watching them interact in person was just really adorable,” Bell said. “First graders are so enthusiastic and they want to show off, and they want to be silly. The authentic conversations about Spider-Man or the Easter Bunny [were] really fun and touching to see.”
The project was even more impactful as the students and Bell were aware of the future of Sutton.
Sutton Elementary, along with Mitchell and Storer schools, permanently closed last academic year after the district decided to make cuts due to an $11 million budget deficit.
“We were all aware of the school’s future and it made it kind of even more poetic in a way,” Bell said. “You know, it's like we can't fix the Muncie school system as a group of Ball State students, but we can be that change for the kids.”
Eric Grim, Northside Middle School principal, said he appreciated the efforts made by Bell and her students during his time as Sutton’s principal.
“We had many meaningful partnerships with Ball State University,” Grim said. “The Spanish class was a very meaningful … The kids enjoyed the change of pace, learning something new, and working with new people.”
The immersive learning class made such an impact that Bell was recently awarded the Immersive Learning Award, which was granted to four professors for “excellence in the creation, mentoring, and execution of immersive learning projects,” according to bsu.edu.
Even though Bell is not teaching the course currently, she is hopeful for more initiatives like this in the future that further connect Ball State with the Muncie Community Schools because of the lasting impact it had on students.
“We both learned a lot from one another working on this project. He and I are very different people, as I discovered. He’s really athletic and loves to play basketball and baseball; I did theater in high school,” Barry said. “All in all, though, it was a great opportunity for the both of us to learn more about our respective interests. It’s a memory that I’ll definitely be keeping with me for years to come.”