Storytelling class with award-winning Jesse Berdinka will culminate with event in spring
NEW CASTLE – The seventh- and eighth-grade students at Serviam Girls Academy have stories to tell. And they have one of the region’s best storytellers around to help them.
Since the fall, the students at the all-girls middle school have met once a month with Jesse Berdinka, a former Marine and movie producer who last year won Philadelphia’s Moth Story Jam GrandSLAM, a premier storytelling contest sponsored by WXPN radio and Reader’s Digest. It is part of teacher Blair Borish’s English language arts class.
After each of the stories, Berdinka and the girls offered constructive criticism to improve the story. Add more detail here, expand on that emotion there, the girls were told.
“The way you expressed it, that is who you are,” Berdinka told one student.
A good story will interest people even if they have no connection to the event being discussed, he told the girls.
“People are interested in this,” he told one girl whose story is about a funny incident that occurred at the church she attends. “They want to know a world that they’re not used to.”
Another student read about playing as a child and how that has changed over the years.
“It only gets better every time I hear it. Any notes I have are miniscule. Love it, love it, love it,” Berdinka said.
Berdinka “retired” from his storytelling hobby after winning the Moth last year, but friends asked him to read at a fundraiser at Serviam. He talked to staff members, who suggested he visit and talk to the students.
“Instead of a talk, it ended up being a once-monthly thing to help these girls tell their own stories,” he said between classes on Feb. 28.
From the initial task of choosing a story topic, the girls have reached the stage of fine-tuning their narratives and are moving on to cadence, inflection and timing.
“How to make it conversational, how to make it for emphasis. That’s what we’re really trying to do right now,” said Berdinka, the chief creative officer for a virtual-reality company.
Eighth-grade student Zoe Abe said she likes writing and grammar, as well as talking in front of crowds, so the class is right up her alley. Her story is about how she fell at Serviam’s talent show when she was in sixth grade. Berdinka has helped her expand on the emotion she felt that night, not just on the fall itself.
“He wanted me to spread it everywhere else, and I did that,” said Zoe, who will attend Padua Academy next year. “So the story’s looking great now, but he also wanted me to work on how I gave the story and read it because when I read the story I read it as if I just typed it up like a robot. I need more emotion.”
The class will culminate in a storytelling evening sometime this spring, and Berdinka can’t wait to see his students steal the spotlight.
“Their stories, they’re really good. They’re natural-born storytellers. You can see their skills develop. They’re really, really good.”