A group of St. Mary’s High School students recently donated a set of bi-lingual children’s books they had written as part of a class project to a Long Beach elementary school whose library had been decimated by Hurricane Sandy.
The students, members of Linda Lipani’s Honors and AP Spanish classes, visited East End Elementary School just prior to the start of Easter break, joining kindergarten and first grade students in class and reading their work to them.
“Like typical high school students, they had to start doing the work to really understand what we were trying to do,” Lipani said. “But you could tell from the first day that there was a bigger purpose, that the books would do some good somewhere.”
The students were supposed to write a children’s book in both English and Spanish to learn the differences in sentence structure between the two languages.
But after Lipani spoke with science chair Kathy Smith about integrating potential service projects into her curriculum, the Spanish teacher had other ideas for the project and recruited St. Mary’s president Grace Cavallo to help the books find a home.
“I couldn’t thank [Lipani] enough for integrating the mission here at St. Mary’s, one of service and outreach in the community, into her program,” Cavallo said. “When she came to me with her idea, I immediately thought of Long Beach.”
Cavallo, a Long Beach resident who had been displaced by Sandy, said East End had been ravaged as badly as any other in the district, and visited the school along with Lipani and the nine students selected from a lottery system.
“Just to be in the room to see our 18-year-old students interacting with 6-year-olds, and to see their warmth and compassion, it brought a tear to our eyes and really affected our students as well,” Cavallo said. “They didn’t want to leave.”
The students were initially going to rotate between the kindergarten and first grade classes, so that each class could hear three stories, but Lipani said the youngsters didn’t want her students to leave. Instead, the high schoolers stayed and helped with reading and writing assignments.
“When we got there, the kids seemed so happy to see us and to have stories read to them,” junior Jack Palma said. “Not everyone got to go, so it was special.”
One of Lipani’s guidelines for the project was for the books to teach readers a lesson, and most of the students wrote stories that sought to instill a sense of hope amid adverse circumstances.
“We wanted to get across to these kids that in times of struggle, there’s always someone there willing to help,” senior Abraham Seide said.