Novela Project Institute reaches out to education professionals


The Novela Project Institute recently conducted a professional development course for teachers through the Adams State College Extended Studies Program. The Novela Project Institute explores the "living history" of the San Luis Valley. Kathy Naples, district media specialist for East Grand Schools in Grand County, Colorado, said she appreciated the course and its meaning. "I was drawn to a completely new definition of living history, and what it means to live history in the San Luis Valley community."

Founded in 2006 by Sandra Santa Cruz, adjunct professor at Adams State College, the Novela Project is an academic, creative and artistic endeavor that explores the rich historical and cultural legacy that has shaped life in the San Luis Valley for over two hundred years. The undergraduate Novela Project course is offered during the academic year at Adams State.

Rich Utech, Elvie Conley, Leland Romero, Kathy Naples, Dr. Mario Castaneda & daughter Maya, Sandra Santa Cruz, Theresa Naranjo, Oneyda Maestas and Dennis Lopez

Rich Utech, Elvie Conley, Leland Romero, Kathy Naples, Dr. Mario Castaneda & daughter Maya, Sandra Santa Cruz, Theresa Naranjo, Oneyda Maestas and Dennis Lopez

"The course joins rigorous academic investigation and creative writing in a process leading to the development of an original, full-length play," Santa Cruz said. Through that process, two full-length plays which focus on the history and cultural heritage of the communities of San Luis and Del Norte have been created. "Each is a distinct story based on the different historical and cultural influences in those two communities."

Santa Cruz, Dr. Mario Castaneda, Dennis Lopez and Oneyda Maestas developed a graduate level course with a special emphasis on teachers who could implement the Novela Project concept and methodology in their own classrooms, schools and communities. Castaneda said the course was designed so that the San Luis Valley Novela Projects could serve as a model and whose methodologies are replicable in other communities. "The Novela Project Institute further explored the infinite possibilities of how the personal, family and community stories can be expressed creatively."

Rich Utech supervises the academic and vocational teachers at the Buena Vista Correctional Complex and teaches at Colorado Mountain College. He said it was an "amazing and satisfying" class. "The best part of the Novela Project was the methodology." He plans on using the Novela Project as a model for his research composition class. "I will incorporate a study of our county's history as the research."

The one-week intensive course included a cultural immersion experience. The class explored Fort Garland Museum, the town of San Luis and the village of Old San Acacio. Museum director Rick Manzanares talked about the fort's historical characters, the buffalo soldiers and the impact of the Civil War on the San Luis Valley. "He reminded us how important these types of field experiences are when students are studying history," Santa Cruz said.

In San Luis, Antonio Garcia and Sandy Ortega gave a presentation on the construction of La Capilla (the chapel) and the religious significance for the people of San Luis and the thousands of visitors who come to the Stations of the Cross every year. Ortega illustrated the faith aspect of the shrine when she shared that construction projects are notorious for injuries, however, "not even one smashed thumb happened during the construction of La Capilla."

The class interviewed a number of local San Luis residents. Theresa Vigil, a registered nurse by training is also regarded as a curandera in the folk remedios tradition using the healing properties of plants and natural elements for healing. Carlos Atencio spoke about the local artisan tradition to Utech. "I really enjoyed the tour day and interviewing Carlos Atencio near San Luis," said Utech. "I want to do something similar with my students so they can appreciate their county's history."

Emerita Romero-Anderson, a descendent of a founding family of San Luis talked about the history of the town and Romero Grocery, the oldest mercantile business in the state of Colorado. "I came to this new understanding through class activity and discussion, community immersion, and a significant amount of reflection," Naples said. Charlie Jacquez spoke about local land and water issues and the importance of education. The group visited the Ventero Press and Randy Pijon spoke about printmaking and the transformative role that the arts play in the development of students. Before heading back to Alamosa, the group made one last stop at the mission church in Old San Acacio.

"I have come to a deeper understanding of the value and meaning of the tradition bearers within a community, whether it is a person's community of birth, or community of residence," said Naples.

Maestas said she believes the field trip was valuable for understanding the knowledge and expertise within a community. She enjoyed learning about the traditions and values of the community that are passed on to future generations.

Castaneda said the Novela Project Institute provides a vehicle for teachers to infuse local multicultural history into elementary and secondary classrooms. "Kids are often disconnected to history and often have no idea of their own heritage, let alone of their community."

"This program provides a tremendous opportunity for teachers, museum staff, librarians, and others to explore the meaning of "living history" within their own community," Naples said.

Santa Cruz shared some of her own story with the participants. For many years she attended weekly dance classes at the home of her dance teacher Lucille Campa. "On occasion, a stodgy, balding professor would come out of his study to converse briefly." Dr. Arthur L. Campa was a reknowned scholar, historian and professor of cultural anthropology at the University of Denver. "He was conducting seminal research of the Southwest region at a time when Hispanic scholars were rarely recognized." Campa wrote Hispanic Culture in the Southwest and Treasure of the Sangre de Cristos: Tales and Traditions of the Spanish Southwest, a fictional account of life in New Mexico based on real life characters. "It's curious that the Novela Project is designed to recover stories, folklore, legends, tales, music, dance, customs and traditions in a similar way that Dr. Campa was pioneering in the 1930s and 40s," Santa Cruz said.