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Student Keynote Moments (Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences)- EL Education 2013 (Spring) National Conference in Atlanta

This keynote speech, given by students from Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences highlights a project to promote literacy in their community.



- This is the fifth consecutive year that our keynote speakers are students from EL schools. We have a different vision. I could not be more honored this day than to introduce Elliot, Merari, Faridah, Indu, and Nathan from the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences.

- [Boy] The state of New Mexico is ranked 49th in literacy. Young people are giving up on their education every single day. When we learned these facts, we knew that we had to so something.

- Our school, the Santa Fe School for the Arts & Sciences had always taught us to believe that by changing our own character we could change the world. We decided that we would begin a city-wide program of exciting contests where kids could win fantastic prizes for reading a book. Some people said to us that reading should be its own reward and that we shouldn’t reward kids for reading. Yes, once you can read well, reading is its own reward. But until you are hooked, it really helps to have some motivation. Each of the contests involve the kids producing a work of quality, like an illustrated bookmark, a song, a rap, or a poem, a diorama, a collage, or an original book cover. The projects had to provide evidence that the kid had read the book, and then we the students voted on the winners.

- Before we even started our reading contest, we contacted schools and told them about the upcoming campaign and accepted entries for a logo and slogan. We ended up choosing an entry created by an 8th grade student. She called it Hooked on Books: Reel Kids into Reading! We realized that this project was much bigger than our own school and would be much more powerful if its leadership were shared by students in schools across the city. To raise funds for our program, Hooked on Books entered a national contest, the Albertson’s Community Challenge, where you could vote for your project online. Soon we were contacting everyone we knew every day, encouraging them to vote. We got 30,000 votes and won one of the $10,000 prizes. Never underestimate the power of nagging.

- As the project started gaining steam, we realized that a lot of kids were faced with the reality that they didn’t have any books in their homes. I could really identify with that since that was part of my own story. We never had any books in my home when I was growing up. So we thought about where we could reach these families and came up with the idea to put bookshelves full of books in places where low-income families and their kids often spend a whole lot of time waiting: in medical clinics, at the MVD, the welfare office, at the hospital emergency room. And these bookshelves would not only have books that you could read while you’re waiting. But you could also take the book home if you wanted to.

- This fall we dropped off a bunch of children’s books in Spanish and English at the local prison. The person we delivered the books to at the prison shared with us that after the parent records a story onto a CD, the book and the CD is given to their child, who then walks around for weeks hugging the book and listening to the CD over and over. It was really cool.

- As all of this was going on, we began to see that there were so many kids who just couldn’t read well enough to enter a contest or even read a free book, so we had to think, how can we help kids who are struggling with reading in school? The answer was simpler than any carefully constructed set of textbooks. The answer was fun. We called it the Reading is Magic Camp and designed our two-week camp with master teachers, incorporating hands-on reading activities and games with intensive phonics training. Each day, we would introduce a phonics concept in the morning. And then we would spend the rest of the day weaving that concept into games and songs and activities. Effort was rewarded not with grades but with magic wands and shields and promotions to knighthood.

- It was powerful learning. The kids in our camp had all been referred by their school teachers as being way behind grade level. Before the camp began, the campers were tested to determine their beginning level of literacy on two different standardized assessment tests. Near the end of camp, they were tested again to measure their growth during the two weeks. On average, each student grew one year in those two weeks.

- With each step we took, the program just got bigger and bigger, and people began to notice. We met with the mayor and asked him to make a proclamation declaring 2012 to be the year of the book. And he did. And over 1,000 students from 32 different schools have participated in our contest so far.

- And then to our complete surprise, our student leadership project was selected by PeaceJam International as the student service project of the year and we were invited to give the keynote presentation at their annual conference in Denver, where we shared the stage with Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee. Talk about an honor.

- Well that’s our story. We hope you are all as proud as we are to be part of the EL family working together to build a better world. Thank you so much for inviting us here today.

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