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Burnsville High School students build community, develop as storytellers as they share original stories with elementary students online

Burnsville High School students build community, develop as storytellers as they share original stories with elementary students online

Students in Sheana Eggers’ creative writing class, a hybrid course designed to help every writer develop as storytellers through fiction and non-fiction writing, had just finished an edgy assignment called “Taking Risks,” where they had to write about an experience they thought they would never do in real life such as swim with sharks, sky dive and more. Eggers thought it would be fun to switch gears and have students write a children's story. At first, some students were apprehensive and some even felt like it was below them to write a "kid's story," but they quickly found out it was a lot more difficult than they thought it would be. 

high school student working on her laptop

The class spent approximately three weeks working on their stories from start to finish, taking time to create their characters and visualize what they would look like. They also had to come up with a conflict and story map, and finally, they had to illustrate or digitally design their own stories. 

Eggers, a BHS language arts teacher who also teaches in District 191’s online school, One91 Virtual Academy (VA), took the assignment one step further. Students were assigned to read their stories in front of a very selective audience — a VA classroom of kindergarten and first-grade students.

“I told them pretty early on that I was hoping we could read the stories to a young audience, but I wasn't sure how we could make it work,” said Eggers. “About a week into the assignment, one of my students, Tylani Tuy, said that she had a first-grade sister who was currently enrolled in VA and she would love to read her book to their class. Tylani connected me with her sister's teacher, Tanja Putman, and we set up a time that would work to read to her class.” 

“We thought it was really cool to be able to have the first graders and high schoolers together for this,” said Putman. “The younger kids were so excited about it.”  

The high schoolers each took turns reading their story to the group over Google Meets. As each student read from their book, illustrations were shown on screen. At the end of each story, the first graders cheered for the reader and asked questions about the book. 

“I always knew I wanted an opportunity for my students to connect with an elementary class, but I had no idea how fun and rewarding it would be for everyone involved,” said Eggers. “This was the perfect opportunity to share their creative stories with a captivated audience. Watching my students' faces light up while sharing the stories they worked so hard on was truly the best thing I could have asked for. As a teacher, you hope that your students are proud of the work they create, and this opportunity allowed me to see their writing come to life.” 

“I was so impressed with what the high school students wrote,” said Putman. “I thought it was adorable that my students wondered if the books were books they could check out from the library.” 

“I really enjoyed reading to the kindergarteners and first graders, even if I was nervous reading my story to them,” said Alexandra Reyes-Herrera. “I'm glad they seemed to enjoy it. They asked if they could find my story in their library. It made me happy they thought it was a real book!”

student reading a story on her laptop

District 191 culture actively encourages and embraces each member of the community, creating a sense of support that fosters their individual growth and pursuit of learning. This unique exchange between younger and older students is a perfect example of that.

“Some of my students were very excited to share their stories because they want to go to college to be teachers, and they felt like this was a great opportunity to experience a little of what it would be like,” said Eggers. “Every single student left class that day with a giant smile on their face and a feeling of happiness. The elementary kids were so wonderful and welcoming. My only wish was that every one of my students could have experienced what it felt like to read their stories to Ms. Putman's class.”

Eggers hopes to continue sharing her students’ stories with other elementary classes. She also plans to publish a couple of the books and donate to One91 elementary school libraries.