Storytellers Revive Age-Old Art : HIGH LIFE

Jennifer Turner is a senior at Orange High School, where she is editor of the Reflector, the student newspaper, and secretary on the ASB Cabinet. She also runs track and takes ballet lessons

A classroom full of second-graders sat on the floor in rapt attention.

There was no TV set turned on, and the film projector was silent.

Instead, the focus of the 30-some children in Maria Peck's class at West Orange Elementary School was on Jim Perez, who did nothing more than tell them a story.

Perez, a sophomore at Orange High School, was taking part in the ancient art of storytelling--not just reading, but actually memorizing the tale and then telling it to an audience.

The Storytellers program, begun by Orange High librarian Marge Waters in 1983, trains teen-agers to use their creative skills to relate a story without pictures.

The students use their memories to tell the stories so that the "images build up in your mind," Waters said. "The whole thing is done through eye contact and enthusiasm."

There are 10 teen-agers involved with Storytellers, but before they make their once-a-semester visit to a local elementary school, they must first choose, memorize and practice telling their tales.

"They choose a story to fit their personality and to reflect on themselves," Waters said.

Perez told the story titled "The Funny Little Woman," and fellow sophomore Sarah Munawar told the tale of "The Three Little Pigs."

Some of the teen-agers told their stories in a foreign language. Senior Oriana Batalla gave an account of "The Old Woman and the Magic Pot" in Spanish, as junior Marisol Cruz did with "The Three Bears."

"I thought this year was one of the best they've ever had," said Peck, who has had the teen-agers telling stories to her classes for five years.

"I really liked the foreign-language telling of the stories," she said. "It opened the eyes of the English-(only) speaking students to see what it felt like not to understand what was going on."

After a story is selected--and, Waters stressed, it must be a traditional fairy tale--the student reads it into a tape recorder and listens to it over and over again to memorize it. After that, the tale-teller is videotaped to help improve communication skills.

Sophomore Aaron Stokes, who has been in the program about a year, enjoys telling the tale of "The Spider and the Lion," an African story in which, Stokes says, a lion takes advantage of a spider, but the spider uses cunningness and intelligence to get even.

"There's a meaning to each story," Stokes said. "And the kids really learn from it."

Along with learning a lesson in morality, Walters says, the young audience finds the experience special. "To have someone sit down and tell them a story means a lot," she said, "and they worship the (high school) kids."

Peck said her pupils "are amazed that they (the teen-agers) had nothing to read by but had to memorize their stories."

Kathy Anderson, a junior, first came across the program when she went looking through the 1989 Orange yearbook. She decided to give Storytellers a try because "it seemed like a lot of fun."

Her first experience--she told an old English version of "The Three Bears"--had her a little nervous, but now she says: "I had a ball. I'm definitely going to do it next year.

"I like working with kids and it also helped me develop my speaking skills."

Also involved in Storytellers are sophomores Melinda Nicol ("The Secret"), Michelle Bentley ("Patrick O'Donnell and the Leprechaun"), Jennifer Barrows ("Briar Rabbit") and Angeline Williams ("The Story of a Mother").

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