Enriched English students “Ben”efit from cartoonist’s visit
The École de la Passerelle in Waterville welcomed Quebec cartoonist and illustrator Daniel Shelton as a guest speaker on Tuesday morning. Best known as the creator of the “Ben” comic strip that has appeared in papers around the world, including The Record, for the last 22 years, Shelton met with the students enrolled in the school’s Enriched English program to talk about his work.
“The students in grades five and six; it is difficult to get them reading, but they love comic strips,” said Édith Lapeyrie, the teacher overseeing the program, explaining that she has been building a library of English books and comics in her classroom, but has also asked the town of Waterville to expand the availability of English books in its municipal library as well. Shelton’s visit, she said, is a cultural activity coordinated as a part of that effort.
Although the students haven’t been explicitly studying “Ben”, the comic strip’s perfectly bilingual cartoonist was, in some ways, the ideal guest for the group. He described to the students the details of his work and process, which involves not only drawing 300 individual strips a year, but also writing and then translating all of the stories and dialogue for publication in both French and English.
“I am always happy to do this kind of thing,” Shelton said, noting that it is a very different experience to get feedback from readers face-to-face. “I have a fairly solitary job, and it is always nice to have any occasion to meet readers,” he added.
Ben was introduced to Record readers on Friday, October 4, 1996 in the lead-up to the strip’s launch on the following Monday, and has been running on page two of the paper ever since. Shelton, who grew up in the Townships, recalled working with the paper even earlier in his career.
“My first dealings with The Record were when I was 16 or 18,” the artist said. “I published a comic strip for a summer. I think it was Charles Bury who gave me my start.”
He told the students that his first love and true love has always been comics and comic strips.
“I am very privileged in the sense that I get to reach an audience on a daily basis, and tell them the stories I want to,” Shelton said. “I’m very happy to do that.”
The artist spoke, sketched the character of Ben Hatley, and answered questions first in English and then in French for those students who didn’t feel confident asking their in their second language.
Sixth Grade Student Léonie Hazelbros said that she liked seeing Shelton’s drawings and hearing about his passion for the work of a cartoonist.
“I think it is cool,” she said, making the effort to answer questions in English.
Hazelbros said that she is excited about the opportunities that the enriched English program affords her as she looks ahead to high school.
“Being in this program means I will be able to learn more things,” she said, explaining that the students engage with their second language through different kinds of games and activities.
“This is a new program we implemented last year,” Lapeyrie said, expanding on her student’s thoughts. “This is a small country school and we really wanted to do something to attract students.”
The teacher explained that, by contrast to the English programs in other local French schools, the enrichment program at la Passerelle begins in grade five and offers more time in English to its students.
“They start younger and they spend five and a half hours per week in English,” Lapeyrie said. “It is a full day and it makes a real difference.”
Added onto the “Anglais pour tous” program that sets up additional English language instruction across all levels of the school from kindergarten up, the teacher said that the program is proving to be a real draw for the school, and one that is getting support from the community and all local levels of government.
In this year’s grade six class, 90 per cent of students are enrolled in Enriched English, and nearly 70 per cent will be going on to the International baccalaureate program at the Ecole Internationale du Phare or other similar programs next year.
Outside of academics, however, Lapeyrie pointed out that learning English has another important social benefit.
“Half of the town is Anglophone,” the teacher said, arguing that students being able to express themselves in two languages is ultimately a benefit for the whole community. (The Hut) 300 St. Francis, Lennoxville Admission $10.