Syracuse elementary school children publish bilingual book

Six Syracuse Elementary students published their second book this year as part of a program designed to help them master English as a new language.

A four-year-old girl draws the final feather on her hand-drawn chicken and with a toothy smile holds up the final project to show Syracuse artist, Juan Cruz.

He kneels down to her eye level.

She and her five preschool friends sit in a circle in the same library where this past May, six Spanish-speaking Syracuse Elementary School students wrote, illustrated and published the bilingual book, Palo, A Chicken Mystery/Un Misterio de Gallinas. Since May, copies have been sold online to the public in both hardcopy and electronic copy.

"It is good for these kids to have some place to come after school where they feel at home."
-Tere Paniagua

The six preschoolers came to La Casita’s building in downtown Syracuse once a week for the past two months for a summer dual-language program. The group leader, Anna Arango, is head of the preschool language program at La Casita Cultural Center.  

The center’s entrance hall is filled with shelves of artifacts from Puerto Rico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic donated by members of the Syracuse Hispanic community.

Facing the wall of artifacts is a library open to the public, lined from the floor to the ceiling with book shelves.

Held up by a gold stand, one book had a hand-drawn chicken on it and the title read, Palo, A Chicken Mystery/Un Mistero de Gallinas. Underneath the title is written "A publication of La Casita Cultural Center’s Dual Language Circles."

According to Jackie LeRoy, Syracuse City School District director of English as a new language, there are approximately 4,000 children in the district whose second language is English. Thirty percent of those students speak Spanish, she said.

The Spanish-speaking students at La Casita are part of its dual-language reading circle founded two years ago.

The program, sponsored by New York State Council of the Arts, is free for children to participate in. The program’s goal is to help students become comfortable with the English language while maintaining a connection to their Hispanic heritage.

Palo, A Chicken Mystery/Un Mistero de Gallinas, is the second book the students have published. The first book, titled What I Love About Me/Lo Que Amo De Mi, was written and published by the same six children last year.

“It is good for these kids to have some place to come after school where they feel at home because they are around their culture but they are also learning and being productive,” said Tere Paniagua, executive director of cultural engagement for the Hispanic community at Syracuse University.

Each of the 24 pages has a picture hand-drawn by the students supplemented by two columns of text, one in English and the other in Spanish.

It tells the story of a chicken named Palo who goes missing from a family farm, but in a surprise ending was hiding behind a tree on the farm the whole time.

Paniagua oversees programming at Punto de Contacto Art Gallery, which is around the corner from La Casita’s building.

While programming is different at both places, the end goal is to provide a place where students are learning English and more about their culture at the same time said Paniagua; oftentimes, the students come from families who have recently arrived to the United States.

Paniagua said that the next step is to develop a mentor program for the students involved in La Casita.

“It really develops a connection where these young kids begin to feel that there are so many options and possibilities open to them,"  Paniagua said. "They are still in their formative years and you can really help to shape these young person's mind in a very positive way."



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