Originally published Feb. 15, 2016.
A classroom project in Beth Beery’s Advanced Placement Spanish Class at Huntington North High School is making an impact on youngsters thousands of miles away.
The 20 students in the class are creating children’s storybooks in Spanish, each coming up with his or her own unique story. Any number of subjects may be the focus.
“Some of them make them personal, about their own lives,” Beery explains. “Some of them make them kind of like a moral-to-the-story type books. So they have all different kinds.”
The books will also be illustrated, either with clip art or original artwork. They will be finished with either plastic binders or written into already-bound blank books. When they are finished, the books will be sent to children in the Dominican Republic.
“I realized that if we made some books for children it might give them a gift that they didn’t have yet — something that they can use for their education,” Beery says.
Her AP Spanish classes have done the project for at least eight years, she says, adding the students benefit in multiple ways from participating.
“One of the neatest things for me about all this is for kids to see how they can use their skills to help other people, and do something meaningful in life,” Beery says. “I like to try to find something that they can apply with it — in their community or the worldwide community.”
Once the assignments are completed and the books are “published,” Beery will turn them over to Huntington resident David Dean, who has gone on regular missionary trips to the Dominican Republic for the past 10 years.
“Once we’ve completed the books, he’ll come into our class and tell us about his experience of giving these to the children and what life is like for them in the town that he visits, so they get to hear more about the town,” Beery says. “I’ve shown them some pictures and talked a little bit about it, but he gets to give them a more personal story.”
Dean says it’s not just the handmade books that fill the box he’s taken to the Dominican Republic the past five or six years, but also other books in Spanish.
“They actually collect some funds and money out of their own pocket and from fund-raisers they do, and they purchase at least 30 to 40 children’s books en Español, on top of the students making their stories in Spanish,” he said. “So it’s really two-fold — it’s a blessing.”
Dean recently returned from another trip to the country, in which he partners with an organization called New Missions, of Orlando, FL. He says when he first embarked on missions trips to the “D.R.,” located next door to Haiti on the island of Hispaniola, he would take tennis shoes and baseball gloves to give to the children.
“Those things are very valuable, but the books — education — you can’t put a price tag on education. The kids just eat it up,” he says, adding that the focus of the trips is to provide holistic support to the people, physically, mentally, emotionally and educationally. “It’s hard to get down there, and try to give truth to people, when they’re hungry … Oftentimes we need to meet some physical needs first and foremost, and even healthwise.”
The books give a more realistic picture of Americans to the children who read about the lives of the teenagers in Beery’s class. Dean says they get false impressions of America by what they see on television, comprised of images of people such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Kardashians. It’s a personal connection for a Dominican student to read the book and know that they’re connecting with an American teenager.
“To read a book from a senior at Huntington North High School in Beth Beery’s class that talks about their life — ‘I get up, I go to school, I’m in school all day and I have a part-time job, I’m saving money for college, I love my family, I’m in 4-H, I’m involved in my youth group, and what a pleasure it is to be able to share this story with you, a young Dominican child’ — I mean, that’s a connection that a Dominican child would never, ever have,” he says. “It’s very, very exciting. These kids are just so thrilled.”
It’s the first time that Alexa Hill, a senior in the AP Spanish class, has made a children’s book for the project. However, she has accompanied Dean on a previous missions trip to the Dominican Republic and has experienced first-hand how much the books minister to those who receive them. She was struck by how prevalent poverty is in that country and how much the books helped.
“The places we went to and the kids were all — you could just tell that they were living in poverty and the houses that they were living in weren’t clean or nice,” she says. “We brought (the books) to the head lady that was doing ministry there, and she said, ‘I know that they bring them every year, but every year I cry.’ So she cried and just said how thankful she was for them, and that they use them all year round. It’s such a blessing and the kids love reading them. It’s like a little way that we can invest in their lives, and they really appreciate it.”
Hill says she will probably write her story about a family and their interactions. She has been brainstorming ideas with fellow students as to the plot and how to present it. Declaring that she is not artistically gifted, she plans to use photos or pictures from the Web to illustrate her story. However she does it, she knows that she and her classmates will get more for their efforts than just a grade.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for people in our school. I don’t think they realize the impact they have,” she says. “Technically, it’s an assignment for us, but I don’t think some people realize how much they appreciate it down there.”
Another senior in the class, Alana Arellano, is writing her second book to be sent to the Dominican Republic.
“I’m writing about a little fish that lives in the sea and he’s going to be showing the different creatures and structures that are in the sea,” she says, adding her previous book was about a giraffe who wanted to be taller.
“He would try to make himself taller by doing all these crazy things,” she explains. “So eventually, his mom told him that he has to wait.”
Although it’s a class assignment, Arellano says it’s hardly been work.
“I like to write things, and I also like to draw, so I actually plan on painting my illustrations,” she says. “It’s just a fun, creative project.”
Arellano receives joy from knowing that her creations are being enjoyed by others.
“To think that you can give to somebody who has less than you and they can appreciate that, with you just putting down your own ideas, your own thoughts on paper and just handing it to them,” she says.
However, her inspiration comes from her family, some of whom live in Mexico.
“They live in dirt houses, and stuff like that,” she says. “I think of that and I think of how my grandparents and the other half of my family lives.”
The books will be completed in March before spring break. Dean plans to take them to the Dominican Republic when he returns to the country in June.
Beery’s students often get feedback about their stories from the school, located in the town of Bombita, close to the country’s northern shore. Oftentimes the children will write a letter thanking Beery and the students. Dean adds the teacher is also one of his friends on Facebook, making use of modern social media to keep connections.
“When I first started going years ago, the little school in Bombita, it was very rare for them to get their hands on books. You just don’t go into town and see a public library. There’s just no funding for books,” Dean explains. “When I took this box down, that was the start of a mini library within the Dominican school. Beth Beery and her class, they have single-handedly created this wealth of knowledge of books in Spanish right in this public school that most of the schools in the D.R. don’t have access to.”
For more information about David Dean’s missions trips, look up “David Dean’s Mission Possible” on Facebook. For more information about New Missions, go to www.newmissions.org.