Good evening, everyone.
Gather ‘round the fire and let me tell you the story of the Festival of Tales. In 2010, Residential Faculty member Meggin Kirk first taught a storytelling class for Paradise Valley Community College’s Education department. Professor Kirk saw how much effort her students were putting into the course, and she didn’t want all their hard work to go to waste. How could she get her students an audience worthy of their commitment? Her answer was to create the Festival of Tales.
On one Saturday each semester, volunteers from local high schools and the community join with PVCC students, faculty, and staff to put on a Festival promoting education and literacy for community children. In each of its first few semesters, the event drew about 300 attendees, but enthusiasm is infectious, and great ideas have a way of gathering momentum over time. When the childhood-support non-profit “Southwest Human Development” partnered with the Festival, they brought more volunteers and more resources, donating $6-$8,000 worth of books per semester to the event. They also brought more community awareness to the Festival, and attendance grew to 600 per event, and then 800, and eventually 1,000.
The next leap forward for the Festival of Tales came when Paradise Valley’s Fine Arts Department joined the group. With their partnership, the Festival added more community groups, new alumni participants, activity booths, live music, dance, theater, school group performances, food trucks, and more. By this point in its history, the event was drawing over 2,000 participants per semester, and although attendance has dipped during the quarantine, each Festival still draws over 1,000 attendees.
Today, Meggin Kirk continues to lead the project with the help of Paradise Valley’s Education Club and Education Program, and with Music faculty Dr. Chris Scinto running the performance portion of the Festival. The PV Marketing team ensures that the event will draw a crowd and its Facilities team works tirelessly in the background to keep everything flowing smoothly. Although the storytelling sessions remain at the heart of the Festival, many other academic groups from the college have found ways to participate. As just a few examples, the Library faculty host a literacy booth, the Fine Arts department have a clay ornament painting booth and a public art scavenger hunt, the Science division puts on a microscope demonstration, and the Health & Exercise Science department teaches children how to grow lima beans. The event runs for 4-5 hours, and there’s never a shortage of activities to keep the children’s attention. The feedback from attendees supports this conclusion, with many families turning the Festival into a much-anticipated twice-a-year family tradition.
Now, it would be easy to dismiss this event as nothing more than a day of fun and diversion for attendees, but doing so would miss the deep benefits that it provides to the community. Through the art of storytelling, the Festival of Tales teaches young children that reading can unlock the mighty realms of understanding and imagination. Reading helps children develop problem-solving skills, and enhances many important characteristics in a child, including curiosity, self-confidence, empathy, patience, and morality. And, of course, reading also leads to greater academic success.
One final benefit of the Festival of Tales is that by inviting young children to come to a college campus, it teaches them that college is a place where they belong. Too often, first-generation and underprivileged students view college as a domain reserved for the elite, not for themselves. By demystifying college when they’re young, the Festival breaks down the barriers to college access, showing the children (and their parents) that college is attainable and inviting. When children from all backgrounds can see attending college as a viable path for themselves, the doors of higher education are opened to a much more diverse group of future students. This democratizes higher education and it also helps to ensure that Paradise Valley Community College will always live up to its slogan: “A Great Place to Be!”
Thank you for your time.