Titans' Story Time Initiative Takes Local Children Around the Globe
Feb. 24, 2016
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— A group of preschoolers who gathered around Ruth Tadesse stroked
the intricate embroidery on her dress and peppered her with questions about the handwoven
garment called a habesha kemis.
“We wear these dresses anytime we want to be a little dressed up,” said the native
of Ethiopia, a first-year student at Illinois Wesleyan University. “We want to represent
our culture at weddings, graduations, or any event where we want to be festive.”
Tadesse was wearing the habesha kemis and introducing local children to her Ethiopian culture during Global Story Time
at the Bloomington Public Library. The initiative brings together an IWU international student with Titan classmates majoring in elementary education and in International Studies.
Students present stories, songs, dances and crafts from various countries on Saturday
mornings at the library.
Director of International Studies Scott Sheridan, who initiated the project, said the cooperative effort takes advantage
of the wealth of cultural resources and experiences of international students, international
studies majors who want to share their experiences studying abroad, and elementary
education majors who seek additional experiences in teaching children.
“Global Story Time not only highlights the dynamic programs of Illinois Wesleyan,
but it allows local children to be exposed to and appreciate the diversity of our
world’s cultures, languages and rich oral traditions,” said Sheridan, who is also
associate professor of French and Italian.
Tadesse introduced crafts and stories relating to Ethiopia along with fellow Titans
Lizzy Mavrogenes ’17, an International Studies major from River Forest, Ill. and Amy
Sanchez ’17, an elementary education major from Waukegan, Ill. Tadesse described the
long journey that takes 24 hours of travel by plane to get from her home in Addis
Ababa to Bloomington. She told the children that more than 80 different languages
are spoken in Ethiopia, and also referenced a ubiquitous coffee chain to talk about
her country’s most important export product.
“You know Starbucks where your parents get their coffee?” Tadesse asked the youngsters.
“It’s likely the coffee beans came from Ethiopia.”
Coffee beans were also used in a craft project designed by the IWU students. Children
colored a paper turtle and glued coffee beans to the paper to represent the turtle’s
shell. Tadesse then wrote each child’s name in Amharic, the official working language
of the country. In a truly international moment, Sanchez spoke about Ethiopian coffee
beans to a Spanish-speaking toddler and his mother living in central Illinois.
Assistant Professor and Coordinator of Elementary Education Pennie Gray has organized the student presentations, which have already covered Bulgaria,
Japan, China, Nigeria and Vietnam.
“Scott’s idea was such a nice way to bring students together from different academic
departments,” said Gray, noting even she has learned fun facts about each country
on Global Story Time mornings. “These students might not otherwise have an opportunity
to work together.”
Mavrogenes agreed. “I have been able to travel a lot with my family, so I wanted to
share the experiences I’ve had and help teach kids about the world,” she said. “That’s
a big thing for me, so I was really honored when Professor Sheridan asked me to be
a part of this.”
Sanchez said she was interested in leading a Global Story Time in order to learn as
much from the experience as she hoped the children would. “It’s important to expand
my horizons so I can take that into my classroom and teach my students to be more
inclusive about different cultures,” said Sanchez. “It also ties back to the IWU mission
of commitment to social justice. This is just one way to portray that.”