Carly Ellison '17 reads to students at Heartwood Grove.
Books written by R-MC students will be
sent to children in Haiti.
Students enrolled in Randolph-Macon College Professor Jennifer Shotwell’s
French 112 class were given the option to write a children’s book. The project
was an exercise not only for writing practice, but also for service learning, because
the hard copies will be sent to children in Haiti for use in their elementary school
classes, where French is a compulsory subject. Electronic versions of the books
will be distributed among schools in Haiti that participate in the Unleash Kids
and Internet in a Box programs.
“These non-profits are involved in a mission to get laptops and educational materials
into the hands of children in developing countries,” explains Shotwell. “Many children
in Haiti would otherwise not have access to such resources because most have no
internet connection in their communities.”
R-MC Computer Science Professor Ben
Burrell has worked with the technical side of Internet in a Box, which is a small
server that holds thousands of resources such as Wikipedia articles, street-view
maps, Khan Academy videos, and books like those Shotwell’s students wrote, accompanied
by pedagogical lesson plans.
A Collaborative Effort
In fall 2013, students in French 111 learned about Haitian culture and wrote letters
of introduction to children Shotwell had previously met in
Haiti. At the beginning of the spring 2014 term, the same students (who
continued into French 112) learned about children’s literature by working with children
and teachers from Heartwood Grove, a French immersion school in Richmond, Virginia.
They read selected books to the children and listened to the children reading their
own favorite stories.
“By mid-term, the students had completed storyboards and began thinking about coordinating
images with the text,” says Shotwell. “In order to get a better sense of where their
books are destined to be distributed, the class participated in a Skype conversation
with the curriculum coordinator of Unleash Kids. She talked about the themes Haitian
children enjoy, and helped them realize this is a project that will serve children
who are learning French as one of their two main languages.”
At the end of the semester, after four rounds of revision for content and mechanics,
students turned in their final products – beautifully illustrated books in French.
Having seen only the text for each, the children at Heartwood Grove voted on their
“We then hosted a children’s book award event in which prizes were awarded for ‘children’s
choice,' ‘funniest plot,’ and ‘most heroic character,’” says Shotwell. The director,
faculty, and children from Heartwood Grove, as well as Burrell and R-MC students
who had traveled to Haiti in 2013, were present to congratulate the students and
thumb through the completed books.
A Rewarding Experience
“I really enjoyed working with the children from Heartwood Grove,” says Carly
Ellison ’17, a sociology/anthropology
major. “It was admirable to see the children taking steps to learn the French language
so early on. When creating my children’s book for the children of Haiti, the Heartwood
Grove students helped me get a sense of what the children may want to read. It was
a pretty challenging process for me to write a children’s book in French, but I
really love that my project will help children learn to read and write.” Ellison,
who also drew the illustrations for her book, titled L’Aventure de la tortue,
is eager to hear back from the children in Haiti. “It makes me feel good to be able
to help in some way,” she says. “That was all of the motivation I needed to create
Shotwell says her students took ownership of their work, knowing it will ultimately
help others. “They felt a sense of pride in the results and were happy to turn in
a tangible representation of what they had learned in elementary French,” she says.
In 2013, Shotwell traveled to Haiti with a group of students. R-MC was awarded a
$10,000 grant from the Davis United World College Scholars program, and the grant
was used to support a Davis
Project for Peace that was created by
Kethelyne Beauvais ’15,
Phuong Bui ’15, Nana Adwoa Ohenewaa Bamfo ’16,
and Shuyan Zhan ’15. The students traveled to Haiti to implement
their project, “A Spark of
Hope for Peace.”
Burrell, who has traveled several times to Haiti in conjunction with the R-MC course
Computer Service-Learning in Haiti, has helped Shotwell make valuable connections
with the Unleash Kids program.
To spread the word about the book project, in September 2014 Shotwell will present
Not Just Another Composition: Writing for Children in the L2 as Community-Based
Learning at the Foreign Language Association of Virginia annual conference.