FARMINGTON — Students from McKinley Elementary School took center stage Monday evening to share stories of their families by playing the role of their grandparents, siblings, parents and the family dog.

In partnership with the teacher education program at the University of New Mexico's Farmington campus, UNM students coached third grade students in Jena Roberts' class to perform a storytelling piece about a family member in front of a crowd as part of the "Chautauqua Family Storytelling Night Program."

UNM teacher education instructor Frances Vitali said the program started at Apache Elementary six or seven years ago, but due to scheduling issues moved to McKinley after Roberts expressed interested in hosting the program.

Clara Ledesma tells the story of her dog George during the Chautauqua Family Storytelling Night Program on Monday at McKinley Elementary School in
Clara Ledesma tells the story of her dog George during the Chautauqua Family Storytelling Night Program on Monday at McKinley Elementary School in Farmington. (Jon Austria/ The Daily Times)

Vitali said the program helps the teaching students hone their skills in a classroom setting.

"Instead of just a lecture, we wanted to find a classroom and apply theory we were learning," Vitali said.

Roberts had participated in the storytelling program when she was attending UNM-Farmington and enjoyed the project. She said she hoped her students would feel the same.

The project also challenges students by asking them to research and prepare papers on their performances, which helps meet the requirements of the Common Core education initiative.

"It was exciting to see who the kids picked as their heroes and the people they look up too," Roberts said. "We have a lot of writing that comes into Common Core now. They have to do revising and editing, so with the (UNM) coach, they were able to do that in a small group."

Each of the five teaching students coached a group of six third-grade students during six weekly sessions to prepare for the event.

Students, some dressed as their character, approached the microphone in front of parents and fellow students seated in chairs in the gym to share tales of eating strawberries and whipped cream with their grandparents, favorite vacations with aunts and more.

With hard hat in hand, Joshua Hobbs appeared as his "Papa," grandfather Gary Hobbs.

Joshua Hobbs worked with UNM student Juan Robles on writing the paper and practicing his performance.

Joshua acted out the story of his grandfather being hit in the face with acid while working in the oil fields and how Gary was left blind for three days as he recovered.

"It's kind of different, not being yourself," Hobbs said. "You just get nervous if you are in front of lots of people."

Hobbs said the most difficult part was trying to remember what to say without his paper in front of him.

Other students like Garrick Nez appeared as his twin brother Errick, Brooke Calvert donned a beard to play her father Brad and Clara Ledesma showed up as George, the family's dog.

UNM student Pamela Tallman said the students had a lot of interesting stories to share and she enjoyed helping develop them and flesh out details that improved the papers.

"One of the Common Core standards is listening and speaking and this gives them an opportunity to speak and be part of an audience and listen," Tallman said. "For some of them, getting up and speaking is a big accomplishment. It's a scary thing but they rose to the challenge."

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.