'Storyslam' helps students relate life's tales
NEWBURYPORT — If you don't know your own story or are unable to tell it, someone will tell it for you. And with that in mind, the Newburyport High School junior class, with the help of English Department Chairwoman Susie Galvin and the massmouth program, is endeavoring to learn how to spin a compelling, real-life tale that will captivate audiences.
They've started from scratch, with little experience in sharing their innermost secrets to their entire peer group. And along the way, some have understandably experienced a wee bit of anxiety about the public portion of the program, Galvin said.
But Galvin and other English teachers say they have been blown away by the effectiveness of the nonprofit educational group's program in getting students to open up and express themselves.
"One young man in front of his class told the story of his first kiss, and it was very raw because it was the first day," Galvin said. "But he told it with a humor that really was sweet, and certainly, the kids could relate to it.
"Another boy told the story about being in a foreign country and getting separated from his mother and his grandmother and how he was able to find them, and there was a nice twist to that story."
It's not just the most successful students who have been the most open and animated in this workshop-based series of classes, Galvin said.
"You don't have to have theater qualities or acting qualities or exhibit the necessary speech intonations, although that naturally evolves and the kid gets comfortable telling their story," Galvin said. "You get the feeling the stronger students would grab onto it, but that's not really been true."
Guided by representatives of the StoriesLive organization, which is implemented by massmouth with grant funding from Masshumanities.org, students have been learning for several weeks how to organize their thoughts and learn how to construct a story others will want to hear. They met with massmouth storytellers yesterday for the third time and those who were ready to read stood up and tested their material in the classroom environment.
"They're telling personal narratives," Galvin said. "What they have to learn is they do have stories to tell. There is a uniqueness to who they are."
Those who have struggled are encouraged to use the tools offered by massmouth to foster and cultivate the creative spark within, she said.
"We had a boy say the other day I don't have any stories," Galvin said. "The teacher said you are 16 years old — yes, you do. You have stories. You just have to take these exercises and allow yourself to express it."
Students will select some of the best stories to come out of these classroom "slam" workshops to be presented in an end-of-year slam on stage before the entire junior class, Galvin said. Those storytellers who are voted the best of that bunch will go onto a state slam.
But even those who don't end up on stage will reap benefits from participating in the project when it comes to crafting the kind of effective, individualized essays required in their application this year to colleges and universities, Galvin said.
"They try to get the kids to understand what a story needs to have in order for it to be interesting," she said. "The kinds of stories that they do activate that kind of thinking."
Students are forced to ask themselves what the audience can learn from their story, what the message is that their story is sending and how they portray themselves.
In the end, the inaugural program is experiencing tremendous success, she said.
"It's been working out well. The feedback has been great. The kids are having fun with it," Galvin said.