Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Highlight of our Trip

When we originally were throwing ideas around for our Fund For Teachers proposal, fairy tales and folktales was one of our first ideas, but we really lucked out once I contacted some random storytellers in Dublin, and one of them referred us to Liz Weir.

From Liz Weir is a storyteller and writer from Northern Ireland, with an international reputation. Formerly children’s librarian for the city of Belfast, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children. She organizes workshops, appears at major international festivals (including the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee and the Australian National Storytelling Festival) and has performed in Israel, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. Liz is the author of two collections of stories for children, Boom Chicka Boom and Here There and Everywhere (The O’Brien Press) . Having worked extensively in prisons has written When Dad was Away a picture book about a child whose father is in jail to be published by Frances Lincoln in January 2012. She has presented The Gift of the Gab, a storytelling series for BBC Radio Ulster, and has written scripts for five television animations aimed at young children in Northern Ireland. The latter project was created by the Media Initiative for Children, a joint effort by the Early Years Organisation in Northern Ireland, and the Peace Initiatives Institute in Colorado. These adverts use mass media and classroom experience to teach young children the value of respecting – and including – others who are different.
Liz Weir firmly believes in the power of storytelling to promote understanding and aid conflict resolution.

Liz picked us up at the Belfast airport, with a a warm hug and lots of energy. We were off right away to watch her in action at Lurgan Model Primary School, a school that is almost 150 years old. We received a warm welcome from the school where we had a tea break with the teachers and chatted about the differences between schools in Northern Ireland and the US. We sat behind Liz so we could see the young children in the first group (Kindergarten age, i think). We were just as spell-bound as the young students, though they were a group that was full of energy. It was a a great opportunity to see how a storyteller handles young students who have a hard time sitting still. She was with them for about 30 minutes and in that period of time told too many stories to recount. Liz does not use visuals or props, but does keep the students engaged and talks to them throughout. As she told the different stories, she took great care to ask the children about their families and their cultures, and encouraged them to tell their own families the stories in their own languages. Some of the students spoke Polish or German or other various languages. We learned at some point in the day from Liz that Northern Ireland had not been very diverse for a long time during the "troubles," but since there had been peace, many people from other countries had started to move there. We traveled to the next classroom with her that had older students, and tried to absorb all the stories she shared with the next class. She also wanted them to ask her questions about being a writer, and since I have always aspired to be a writer myself, her answers were very interesting to me. The children were very interested in what Liz had to say, and we all sat hanging on to her every word. We jetted off for a quick lunch with Liz at a sandwich shop close by. After a quick lunch we rushed back to the school for Liz to do one more session with an older group of students.

While she told the students stories, Eva and I were called into the principal's office....LOL. The school had recently had an after school program where students created their own digital stories, and he had been kind enough to get the cd with the different stories for us to view. It was very helpful to see what the children had created using their own pictures and narration to tell a story, and we felt very inspired after see them. One student made a story about his guitar and the history of Fendor and another student created one about their baby sister. I had a great idea afterwards about our Star Students in our classrooms having the opportunity to share about themselves and their family by bringing different objects and pictures to school, which we can then put together with their narration to create their own digital story. I think it may be complicated at first, but after we get the hang of it, I think it will be easier week after week
As soon as Liz finished at the school, we jumped in the car and headed for the bus station in Belfast to pick up one of her friend's daughters who is 14 years old named Una. She is a breath of fresh air and just a beautiful spirit. As we drove out of the bus station, Liz drove all of us on a quick tour of Belfast to tell us about the history of the troubles and what she had experienced as a librarian in Belfast. We also went to the murals and were struck by their messages. We learned so much from Liz on that car ride through Belfast, and it was a wonderful history lesson. While Belfast had been very peaceful in recent years, unfortunately riots began in part of the city later that evening. It is hard for me to understand all the fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants because this is not something we are used to in Texas, USA, but Liz did her best to explain it.

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