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Hispanic Heritage Month: "Story Studio" Program Teaches Hispanic Students English In A Creative Setting

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A pilot program is allowing young Hispanic immigrants to learn English through public speaking. NY1’s Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

When Leonel moved to New York from Ecuador two years ago, he didn't know any English and had a tough time in school.

“I was bad because I just played around. I didn't know what the teacher was saying,” said Leonel.

He's far from alone. Nearly a quarter of students in the city's public schools come from homes where Spanish is the primary language.

Thus, it's left to the schools to help them learn English, but it's an area where the system continues to struggle. Almost half of English Language Learners remain stuck in remedial classes after three years.

Luckily for Leonel, there's a new program called “Story Studio” that's being tested. He says it's already made a difference for him.

“The difference about Story Studio is that it was fun,” said Leonel.

It's a federally funded program run by the Urban Arts Initiative. Students learn English by sharing personal stories. They start by expressing themselves through art, then speak before their classmates and finally tell their stories before the whole school.

“If you connect personally and deeply with it, it's easier for you to want to learn to speak that language so you can express yourself, so you can share with other people,” said Kira Neel, a teacher at the Urban Arts Partnership.

Immigrant students at IS 145 in Queens have big stories to tell.

“I came here to see my dad because I didn't see him for six years. So my mom died two weeks later. So I can’t went to the cemetery when she died,” said Mariel, who emigrated from Colombia.

“I tell when I came here to USA and it was hard because I came here walking and I was sad at that time but I was strong to come here,” said Norberto, who emigrated from Mexico.

Story Studio is still a very small program in the testing stage, but Urban Arts representatives say early results are promising, with a higher percentage of participants passing the English fluency exam.

“In other classes they are going to laugh at me, but in that class they cannot laugh at me,” said Jose, who emigrated from Mexico.

“It made me feel brave to speak with the other kids and express myself,” said Jennifer, who emigrated from Ecuador.

The hope is that many more Hispanic students will soon be able to express themselves in a new language.

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