At first glance you would know Heather was different. Her lips and cheeks were chapped from mouth breathing, constant watery eyes, and runny noise. Her body was slightly twisted and her gait was jerky. Her voice was husky and strained. No one anticipated she would enjoy, or thrive during, my 7th grade storytelling residency.
The theme of the residency was Storytelling Builds Communities. While clustered in groups, students were led through exercises which inspired the sharing of personal experiences. Groups were specifically designed to place students in new circles of people they didn’t usually hang out with. Heather ended up in a group well beyond her comfort zone, but when she started telling her stories they listened. There was a moment when she actually paused in wonder – because they were hanging on her every word! Throughout the week the size of the circles grew until the final day of the residency they told in front of their entire class. Heather had originally announced she wasn’t going to take a turn, but after being encouraged by her original group, she took the stage. The class loved her story. They laughed at all the appropriate moments and cheered loudly at the end. Heather beamed.
The final moment of the residency was a storytelling assembly in front of the entire student body. 10 students of the core group of 60 were selected to perform. Heather was one of those. There was a hushed silence as she took her slow and jilting steps towards the stage. A collective gasp rose up from the audience when she almost fell on the stairs. But Heather kept going. She took a moment when she reached the microphone to look out over the student body. This was a tough audience for any storyteller – Kindergarten through Eighth grade. But Heather owned the moment. The story she told was of her most embarrassing moment. Her pacing was excellent, her delight in the humor was obvious, and the crowd loved her. When she ended her piece they exploded in applause. Heather beamed and smiled from ear to ear then rose her clasped hands above her head like a champion athlete and soaked it all in.
It’s a moment I’ll never forget, but I believe the sweetest moment came after school. Heather was outside waiting for the bus with a cluster of students circled around her. They were reveling in her moment and telling her how incredibly cool she was. There’s only one word for the expression on her face – priceless.
I believe this transformative moment will be cherished not only by Heather, and I, but by the teachers and students of her school because they were given an opportunity to see past her disability into her heart.
That is the power of story!
Cherish Bound's “I’m An Author” program can bring that transformative power to your schools. I'd love to tell you how.
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