Local teacher on “African Tales”: ‘Culturally, we’re not as different as everyone believes’

By Ariel Worthy

The Birmingham Times

Jessical Badio
Jessical Badio

Jessical Badio hopes her eighth-grade students at Berry Middle School in Hoover will realize the universal themes in the performance of African Tales currently showing at the Birmingham Children’s Theater through Oct. 21.

Every culture has universal themes that it values, she said.

“We value honesty, we value courage, so I’m hoping that students will realize that even though they may consider other cultures different from their own, we really have a lot in common,” Badio said.

All students can benefit from seeing cultures other than their own, she said.

Badio, has taught English, Spanish, and American history at Union School, a small, private college prep American school in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She hopes students realize that cultures are more alike than different.

African Tales, which tells the story of Rumpelstiltskin and the African story of King Kalulu, has a theme about honesty in both stories.

“If you change the language, the costumes and turn it into modern art, the kids can understand that even the old literature that you think has nothing to do with your life actually does,” Badio said. “Culturally, we’re not as different as everyone believes.”

Even the classics have a powerful message for today’s students, Badio said.

“We looked at the original telling of Cinderella, and it is only a page long,” she said. “That’s not going to appeal to modern audiences but if you show kids something like ‘Ever After,’ where there is a strong female lead, and she ends up saving her Prince, it still shows you the same lesson that good things come to good people.”

That’s one of the benefits of bringing her students to African Tales, Badio said. When they return to the classroom, students will be challenged to turn classic folklores, tales and fables into modern stories.

“Maybe a storybook or skit,” Badio said. “But they are going to add the things that modern audiences expect: developed characters, maybe some humor, but it will be about keeping the modern audience in mind.”