Bilingual Storybook Project Builds Strong Connections

By Stephanie Wise
Outreach and Engagement Communications Intern

A common thread connects Ohio State's Department of Spanish and Portuguese and Salem Elementary School - a desire to promote inclusion and literacy in both Spanish and English. The two were perfect partners to start the Bilingual Storybook Project - an initiative that allows elementary students, their families and Ohio State students to benefit.

A student with her storybookThe idea started when Jill Welch, a senior lecturer at Ohio State, talked to her daughter, who was involved in student-teaching at Salem Elementary. Her daughter worked with Celeste Guglielmi, an English as a second language teacher at Salem Elementary.

"We would talk about issues in the evening, and she said 'I have these Spanish-speaking kids who are learning to read in English, but they go home and their parents speak Spanish and read Spanish. It is tough because they are supposed to be reading together,'" said Welch. "And at the same time, my students in the writing course here were getting ready to write their stories, for their narrative chapter. I thought it would be cool if my students could write for (Celeste's) students in collaboration and it went from there."

The starting process is fun and simple on both sides. Guglielmi selects the children and they receive a form to fill out all about themselves, as well as a drawing. Once Welch receives these letters, she lays them out for her own students and has "match day" where her students get to pick who they want to write a story for. The students in turn write a short story in both English and Spanish incorporating the child they selected and their artwork.

The college students have the chance to deliver the books to the children, allowing them to meet them and read their story to them. Welch and Guglielmi agreed that this is one of their favorite parts of the project - seeing their students come together over something so impactful.

Guglielmi highlighted the impact that having something tangible like this means to the parents of her elementary students, especially those who are not native English speakers.

"We can send home documents translated that say 'Please be part of your child's education, please read to them 15 minutes a night, please do this and that' - and we do that sometimes, sometimes we provide materials to go home, on occasion," said Guglielmi. "But this is something real that comes from school that says 'Look, this is a project that was joint that you can share with your child.' I think it really makes them feel more connected. I think because it is in their language it shows them the value of that."

Welch agreed, seconding the impact that this project has - except this time for her college students.

Ohio State students with their storybooks"It gets them to real people who speak Spanish. It brings them to people who are vulnerable in that community and who have literacy needs. It brings everything they have been learning in the classroom to a practical light and a social light. So many of them say this was the best part of the writing course. It is so much beyond learning how to write clearly," said Welch.

Another fun part, Guglielmi explained, is that she gets to tell her students about the idea of college through this project. She is able to present the idea that there is something to look forward to, and that those students in college care about them.

Welch and Guglielmi recounted a story that solidified the importance of this project for the both of them, involving a student who had a story written about her but transferred schools before they could get her book to her. Welch decided to try and find the girl to give her book to her.

"So I went to Colonial Hills, and she happened to be coming down the hallway with her teacher at the moment I was there. I got to give her book and it could have not been better. The teacher she was with- it was the reading teacher, who my daughter had done work with when she was in high school doing pre-student teaching. It was so cool. This child's face lit up," said Welch.

Guglielmi smiled at the story, a favorite for both of them.

"This shows this is a blessed project," said Guglielmi.


Contact: Jill Welch, welch.112@osu.edu