Fairview Park Lewis F. Mayer Middle School students learn art of storytelling

Photo by Mike Sakal

Longtime video producer Natalie Bauman looks over Lewis F. Mayer Middle School eighth-grader Ryan Hinojosa’s work for the school’s ‘Tell Me Your Story’ project.

FAIRVIEW PARK - As a visiting artist, longtime video producer Natalie Bauman is teaching students at Lewis F. Mayer Middle School the art of storytelling so they can record and preserve old family stories and traditions in a digital way.

That might sound foreign to people from an era before laptop computers, the Internet and cell phones, but Students in grades six through eight - who might be a little more "tech savy" to an extent - are learning how to connect with their family members through Bauman's app, "Simply Told."

"It's about making the everyday person's story part of the online collection," said Bauman, a visiting artist at the school. "If that history isn't recorded, it's lost and not available to future generations."

For about the past month, each student has been interviewing three family members and recording those interviews as part of the school's social studies, English and Operation Advantage (psychology) classes to produce videos. The videos were part of "Tell Me Your Story: Family Traditions" on Thursday in the school's gym.

A video producer for more than 30 years, Bauman developed the "Simply Told" app, which provides interview prompts or questions to guide users through producing a video that tells a personal or family story. Subjects can talk about topics such as "Family Traditions," or "How I Came to this Country." She also advises students on where to interview subjects, how to help them look and sound good on camera, how to interview them at eye level and where to start and end the video.

"Storytelling is an art," Bauman said. "This gives me the chance to share my storytelling ability in schools to help guide students in recording theirs or their family's stories. Kids often are a little more ‘digital native,’ than adults, so learning how to record and produce the videos on their laptops or cell phones isn't too hard for them. The videos can be up to nine minutes and 45 seconds long, but they work better when they're shorter."

As Bauman taught the students in Don Britton's Operation Advantage class how to edit their videos recently, eighth-grader Ryan Hinojosa, who is part Mexican and Honduran, said he interviewed his grandmother, uncle and mother about his family's traditions around Cinco de Mayo.

"I think it's pretty cool," Ryan said of the project. "On Cinco de Mayo, I have dinner with my family and my grandma. We eat tacos and enchiladas. It's like the history of Cinco de Mayo, but with my family talking about what we do to celebrate it."

"It's different," eighth-grader Kalyb Slusser said of the project. His videos center on his family's tradition of going to the Cleveland Oktoberfest at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds on Labor Day weekend. "In my video, I want to say how it's fun and other people should learn about it."

One of sixth-grader Alexa Cruz's videos is of her mom telling the story of when and where she got married.

"I think recording people for videos is fun," Alexa said. I used to record myself for fun on my Kindle.”

The project was made possible through a $4,400 grant from the Fairview Park Education Foundation to the Center for the Arts-Inspired Learning in Cleveland Heights, where Bauman teaches.

Bauman also works with museums, the Western Reserve Historical Society and senior centers, where she records people’s stories. She is preparing to record seniors' memories of watching baseball games at League Park, the original home of the Cleveland Indians, for the Baseball Heritage Museum at League Park.

Overall, Bauman said the videos the students produce for the exhibit will follow a common thread.

"This is a wonderful project," said Melanie Wightman, director of teaching and learning for the Fairview Park City Schools. "It wouldn't have been possible without the generous help of the education foundation and the Center for the Arts-Inspired Learning. We're always looking for ways to add depth and dimension to the students' experiences."

Contact this reporter at msakal@westlifenews.com, or 440-871-5797.

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