Over 1,000 elementary students filled the rooms of the Davis Conference Center Wednesday morning as they waited to hear stories from their peers as well as storytellers from Utah and around the nation.
"One goal of this story telling festival is to enhance their cultural experience," said the Weber State University Storytelling Festival Committee chair Ann Ellis.
The Storytelling Festival began 12 years ago in September with a few tents around the campus of Weber State University in the pouring rain. It has grown and expanded to include three days of storytelling, with dedicated times for pre-schoolers, adults, seniors and elementary students.
Every year, the festival includes stories told by elementary-aged students. In Davis County, the elementary schools have their own small festivals, then send students from there to read at Weber State's Festival. Students can tell their favorite story or tell a story they wrote themselves.
Davis School District Su-perintendent Bryan Bowles presided over one of the storytelling sessions and was able to introduce some of the regional and national storytellers. "You are in for a great time," he said to students as they filed into their seats. "Those who have been here before are coming back because they know they're going to have a great time, and they're going to learn."
The Storytelling Festival Committee worked months and months in advance to get some of these national storytellers. "We try to reach the minority groups and introduce other cultures to these students," said Ellis. She and the rest of the committee were able to get storytellers from Texas, Pennsylvania, San Francisco and St. Louis. "They bring a lot of variety with the stories they tell," said Ellis.
She also pointed out that the students who participate in storytelling themselves build up self-confidence. "They really learn a lot from this experience," said Ellis. Weber State University has done some follow-up studies on the students involved, and they have seen those same students be successful in high school dramas, public speaking and debates.
When the storytelling festival began 12 years ago, Regina Layton was one of the first storytellers. She is originally from Hooper, but spent some time living in Layton while she was married. Since then, she has moved from Utah to California to Colorado. On Wednesday morning, she was able to bring her youngest daughter to the Storytelling Festival.
"I wanted her to see what it's like," said Layton. "You can read a story and write a story, but storytelling itself is so wonderful to see. It is collaborative between the teller and the audience."
Layton is still a storyteller at her children's' schools and still loves it. "It's interesting to see the evolution of storytelling,"
Ellis said that there are many other things students and people learn through storytelling. "There are a lot of deeper things going on here," she said.
"Children who hear these stories go back and tell them at home. And people who tell stories of parents or grandparents remind people in the audience of stories of their own parents. Those people go home and write down the stories they remember," said Ellis.
The Storytelling Festival has goals of providing opportunity for creative expression, encouraging sharing of community histories and traditions, participation of diverse cultures in Utah, and enhancing the programs and activities of the University and school districts. Ellis and the committee have been working on these goals for 12 years.
"And I feel like we are accomplishing those goals."