Elementary school students from both sides of the Texas-Mexico border grew closer Wednesday during an international book discussion hosted by the Dustin Michael Sekula Memorial Library as part of The University of Texas-Pan American's weeklong Festival of International Books and Arts (FESTIBA). The festival began March 24 and runs through April 1.
The event, sponsored by the South Texas Literacy Coalition (STLC), of which UTPA and the library are partners, involved having fourth and fifth grade students from St. Matthew's Episcopal School in Edinburg and the Oxford School of Reynosa in Tamaulipas, Mexico, work together on art projects and play trivia games based on the book both schools read: "How to Train Your Dragon" by Cressie Cowell. The schools also received books from the STLC to take back to their libraries.
This is the second year the library hosted the event between the two schools during FESTIBA, library staff said.
So far the program has been a huge success, said Alexa Tressler, the children's librarian at the Sekula Library. In the past year, she has seen an increase in children attending youth programs the library offers. It also has helped students from both sides of the border to learn more about each other, she said.
"I think incorporating culture with literacy and the importance of that, among our children, who are going to be leading someday, it's just a good foundation for them to start off with," Tressler said.
While working on art projects about the children's novel, the first thing students will tell you is the book and the movie released by DreamWorks in 2010 are completely different.
"The book is more funny," said Diego Garza, a fourth grade student at the Oxford School.
He and a few other boys from the two schools worked on a shield depicting the book's protagonist, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III and other characters in the story. The other boys agreed with Diego about the book being superior to the movie.
"The book shows more stuff," said Tony Ballesteros, a fourth grade student from St. Matthew's Episcopal School.
Maria Fernanda Ayala, superintendent of the Oxford School, who graduated from UTPA with a bachelor's degree in international business and economics and is currently a student in UTPA's master's program in educational leadership, said her school became involved with the program through a mutual friend of hers and Sekula Library Director Letty Leija.
Ayala said Leija had heard about the Oxford School's initiative to promote literacy by inviting children from area colonias to read and receive books from the school's library and invited Oxford students to participate in the book discussion. The program between the library and the schools has helped her students greatly, Ayala said.
"It opens so many doors to be able to interact and learn about other countries, other cultures, other languages," Ayala said. "This is an opportunity for them to use what they learned in school and grow on those communication skills."
Laurie Cantu, a fourth and fifth grade English language arts and science teacher at St. Matthews, said her students really connected with the characters in the book and enjoyed decorating the classroom with artwork and other projects they did about the book. Having the opportunity to share their love of the book with the Oxford students was another great learning experience.
"The neat thing is the similarities," Cantu said. "Even though they are on opposite sides of the border, they're the same age and have the same likes, same interests."
FESTIBA was created in 2006 to promote an interest and appreciation for reading and early literacy, celebrate and appreciate the arts and humanities, and broaden cultural awareness within the South Texas community.
Activities continue Thursday, March 29 with the Texas Book Festival's Reading Rock Stars Program, in which children's book authors visit elementary schools throughout the Rio Grande Valley to read their work and pass out books to children, and GEAR UP Days, where children from area secondary schools will come to UTPA's campus to find their voice through the arts.
For more information on FESTIBA, visit www.utpa.edu/festiba.