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West students creating book

Grants will allow teens to publish their compilation

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Everyone has a story to tell, but the diverse students of West High School will actually be seen after receiving a grant to publish a book compiling their work that proclaims "we exist and this is who we are."

Helene Schroeter, a language arts teacher at West High, wanted her students to make a deeper connection to the book "The House on Mango Street," an assigned reading by Sandra Cisneros that features vignettes of a coming-of-age Chicana's life.

She challenged students to take a closer look at themselves and their lives by producing their own series of vignettes or literary sketches.

"Everyone here (West High) is so unique — we come from all over and have so many stories to tell," said Schroeter. "I wanted to tap into that."

The response was tremendous. She received horror stories, sob stories, happy stories and magnificent stories all painting a picture of their neighborhoods, families and experiences.

"I was flabbergasted by the quality, and above all, the honesty in their writing," said Schroeter. "They really embraced it."

Now Schroeter plans to publish a book called "Glimpses of Me," with many of the students' works. And after 100% For Kids, a credit union education foundation, presented her with a $1,000 grant Wednesday, she will be able to start working toward publication.

The foundation, which was established last year and involves the majority of credit unions in the state, helps teachers in Utah by enhancing and expanding classroom-level resources and programs that support credit union values such as cooperation, empowerment and responsibility.

"We recognize the strain education is under in this state and are trying our best to help," said Scott Earl, president of the Utah League of Credit Unions.

Earl said the foundation has funded everything from mini-grants, or out of pocket expenses for the teachers such as pencils and paper, to major grants around $25,000. Every dollar raised goes directly to education with no administrative expenses.

"The need is incredible," said Earl. "Since December we have dispersed over $800,000 to school projects in 30 school districts, but I think we are still just scratching the surface."

The $1,000 grant won't cover all of the costs for the book, but Schroeter is both very grateful and excited to be one step closer to publication.

Students who participated in Schroeter's project said it gave them an opportunity not only to tell their own stories but to look at their culture and surroundings with an eye of new interest.

"Going into the project, we didn't know it was going to be like this," said Tuckett Slade, a senior at West High. "We had never really had the chance to go into our neighborhood and write like that — it had always been so textbook, but this was something we were really into. It was a change and a challenge and a lot of fun."

Along with the $1,000, West High was also given another $5,640 grant to support the newly founded School of Discovery and Design, an after-school program that is devoted to increase women and minorities in areas such as math and science where they are underrepresented.

"These are exactly the kind of programs we've been looking for," said Earl. "The innovative approach that these teachers are taking is commendable and exciting and we're excited to be a part of it."

E-MAIL: terickson@desnews.com