A desire to connect with elementary school students and a love of reading led Meysha Riviere, a ninth grader at Bellingham High School, to dream up the idea of a bilingual, virtual reading room for elementary school students in Bellingham.
Before the pandemic, Meysha volunteered in her brother’s school, Birchwood Elementary School, and when schools closed in the spring she missed those connections. Originally from Puerto Rico, reading was a path to learn English, “When I moved here, I didn’t know English and reading really helped me and I’ve always loved reading.”
After sharing her idea with Superintendent Greg Baker, Meysha was connected with another BHS student, tenth grader Gillian Spilker, and the two began working together to record themselves reading picture books together in English and Spanish. Soon, more students joined, with eight readers in all.
By following the link to the Creando Connections virtual room, students see avatars of the readers and a book display. Students can click on a reader avatar to watch a video about them, or on a book to see a video of the book being read in two languages including English, Spanish, Japanese and American Sign Language.
In the introductory videos about the readers, high school students offer encouraging messages for the younger students, such as, “I am excited to read to you. Reading opens your mind to different worlds and it is amazing.”
“To work with such phenomenal people on this project that started with Meysha and I reading a book aloud on zoom, and has transformed into something as wonderful and wholesome as Creando Connections, is just enchanting,” said Spilker. “My hope is that with this program, we have reached out and given the kids in our community a big hug. Everyone deserves a hug right now.”
The students were supported by various staff across the district including Jennifer Gaer, volunteer coordinator, Kristin Cleary, library media specialist at Silver Beach Elementary, and Bill Palmer, director of teaching and learning. Meysha’s parents, Melissa and Rodolfo, helped set up the virtual rooms using Google virtual rooms and Rodolfo helps coordinate the meetings.
“We are so proud of her,” said Michelle Riviere of her daughter Meysha. “She is a hard worker. We came to Bellingham, WA from Puerto Rico when she was in fifth grade, knowing little English. She worked really hard in the process of learning English through ELL and all the staff and teachers have always been so supportive. We, as a family, are so grateful. Now she is trying to give back and connect students from different cultures.”
“Creando Connections exemplifies the equity, diversity and inclusion arm of The Bellingham Promise,” said Gaer. “By translating books and culturally diverse materials, these highly motivated and compassionate students provide a valuable learning resource for younger students, families and teachers. The response from early learning teachers, literacy coaches and librarians has been incredibly positive.”
“I am really impressed how many people have seen the virtual room already,” said Meysha. “I’m proud how many teachers have used it and that students have learned off of it.”
The project has also facilitated connections between the participating high school students leading to new friendships during a time of disconnection.
“There’s a lot of people in our group that I didn’t know before and now I have new friends,” said Meysha.
Building off the success of Creando and as a member of the BHS Dance team, Meysha and her fellow dance team members have created another virtual room to showcase dances and cultures from around the world.
“With the divisions in our country, I believe we have the responsibility to step up and unite, communicate, and create connections,” said Meysha. “I hope that Creando Connections project can become a tool for showing our students who we are as a community.”