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'Once upon a time...' in Longmont

Volunteers bring the art of storytelling to St. Vrain Valley schools


March 11, 2020

Courtesy Photo

A Spellbinder storyteller volunteer in the classroom.

In an era of instantaneous digital communication and screens everywhere, the art of traditional storytelling is still alive and thriving in the Left Hand Valley.

In March, eight new volunteers will join the Longmont chapter of Spellbinder Storytellers to bring this art to local children.

Spellbinders was founded in Denver in the late 1980s by Germaine Dietsch and is now a thriving nonprofit, connecting elders directly with children through storytelling.

"Children need older adults in their lives to help them understand what community is," according to founder Germaine Deitsch, in a video message recorded for Spellbinders in 2019. Her vision grew slowly in the early years, starting with just 20 trained volunteers in the early 1990s. Now there are 454 storytellers nationwide, in 14 chapters in Colorado and on the east coast.

Deitsch imagined elders "creating magic in the classroom through the spells of the storytellers," hence the name "Spellbinders."

In addition to making connections between generations, her vision was to give elders a sense of meaning and purpose in a world where generations are more and more isolated from each other. She also wanted to promote continued activity and engagement through life, while giving children access and connection to the wisdom and talent of older generations.

Professional storyteller Kathy Santopietro Weddel first got involved with the Spellbinders around 2007 when they reached out to her to help train new volunteers. She was at the time, and still is, a member of the professional organization Northern Colorado Storytellers.

Santopietro Weddel now acts as a Spellbinders' certified trainer and will be conducting the upcoming Spellbinders training in Longmont in March.

"One of the things that I've found as a trainer and as a volunteer is the teacher's positive reaction to oral storytelling in the classroom," said Santopietro Weddel.

When a Spellbinder comes into the classroom, "There are no written words, there are no pictures, there's no screen: no TV screen, no computer screen. It's just the teller's voice and images created by the listener," according to Santopietro Weddel.

What transpires for the students and the teacher is the ability to involve with the story through "very active listening" that sparks the imagination and creates a connection between the storyteller and the listeners.

Additionally, the Longmont Spellbinders encourage and enhance cultural diversity by telling "traditional folks tales, fairy tales, literary tales, and historical tales" that come from a variety of traditions and countries, according to Santopietro Weddel.

She emphasized the importance of the Longmont Spellbinders' partnership with the Longmont Public Library, which acts as a program sponsor by providing space and resources. Santopietro Weddel said their involvement and support is "so positive for promoting storytelling."

Santopietro Weddel summarized the experience of a Spellbinder, saying, "In my mind, when listeners are imagining something from my words, I know it."

"I can see in their eyes that they are seeing something happening. They see the plot unfolding. And the connection while you are telling is so powerful because when you are creating an image or an opportunity for an image, you gain strength and energy as a storyteller."

The Longmont chapter of Spellbinders serves the St. Vrain Valley School District elementary schools, kindergarten through fifth-grade classes at 18 schools. There are 40 active trained storytellers in the program, serving 162 classrooms a month and approximately 3,000 students each year. Eight new Longmont Spellbinders will be trained this month, with another eight coming on board in the fall.

While the upcoming training is full with a waiting list, those interested in volunteering are welcome to visit one of the Spellbinders' monthly meetings that are held on the first Monday of each month at the Longmont Library from 2-4pm. Those interested in the program are encouraged to reach out to Kathleen Kunau, Children and Teen Services, Longmont Public Library, kathleen.kunau@longmontcolorado.gov or 303-651-8781.


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