Improving Esteem of 1st Graders

Posted to Storytell on March 3, 2007:

I was invited by the Alcohol and Drug Awareness Council to participate in an ongoing storytelling program for first graders throughout West Feliciana parish specifically aimed at preventing the use of alcohol and drugs. I spoke with the principal and the sheriff and highly recommended a slight shift in programming to focus on self esteem. I pointed out that kids already know what drugs are and telling them "not to" was like a giant promotion sign in favor of drugs. They actually liked my ideas so we scheduled the program this past week.

There were nine programs, one for each first grade class. One of the questions I asked each class was did they know anyone who used drugs. Nearly every hand went up in each session! I worked unceasingly to instill precious instinct into these children about the power of making good choices providing them with clues to "read" and understand their bodies so they can make better choices. Not only do smart people make good choices, but they feel good about the choices they make and it is the right thing to do just because doing the right thing makes you feel good inside.

I was bone tired both evenings, but it was well worth it. I also emphasized that good behavior is self directed. I placed the responsibility of behavior management squarely on the shoulders of the students reinforced with examples in the stories I told.

Later, teachers told me horror stories about what some of these first graders encounter on a regular basis. I told two stories to each class and interspersed impacting, useful self esteem messages to the children. In one story I told of a young boy who accidentally found the value of using his inner strength and good character traits to rise through the ranks of his village to become the leader.

The chief felt responsible for helping the people in his village so he pondered how best to reach them and came across the idea of telling stories . He taught the children how to find their inner strength by listening inside through storytelling. He was wise enough to know the children would in turn unconsciously teach the adults when relating the stories to their parents. The climax of the story was the first graders got to "assist" the chief in saving the village.

The second story was indirectly aimed at teachers, and told the story of a young girl who learned skills to use her brain in fun ways so she became a better student and changed her self perspective thanks to a creative teacher. Teachers learned new ways of presenting information so students can store it creatively to retrieve the info when needed. The students learned vicariously through the girl in the story as she transitioned from being an incorrigible pain in the you know what, to one who learned the satisfying power of using her brain to become a straight A student thanks to her creative teacher. The principles shared in the story were not difficult for teachers to add to their daily regimen and came from my arsenal of working with at risk kids. The principal sat in on one session each day. She was so enthusiastic about what I shared that she required teachers of the other classes to come in during their planning time to hear the stories the second day!

I hope my drop in the bucket helps long term. I wish I could return each month to continue nurturing what was planted. They will continue the program next year for incoming first graders, while the second graders will be treated to a storytelling assembly recapping what was taught this year. Mostly I hope first graders can begin to determine that they can make better choices for their lives than what others around them have exhibited and they can do it by first believing in themselves.

Thanks for letting me share a bright spot in my week. Our work is so rewarding. I am in NY this week and we're heading cross the border to Canada for a little fun. Arjo, my husband is going to meet his uncle he hasn't seen in ten years! The snow is a nice contrast to all the rain we've had down south. The sun is shining here in Rochester and winter looks delightful! I can say that because I don't have to live in it constantly. I certainly feel for everyone who has had a rough winter.

In the spirit of sharing,
Angela Davis
Storyteller: Spinning Tales of Light, Joy, and Love