Bryan Ruela was bellowing like a giant, picking out which of his many frying eggs he wanted to devour for breakfast, while his fellow students from El Camino Real Academy wiggled and writhed on the floor, acting like eggs on a burning skillet.

Ruela is a fifth-grader playing the title character in the skit “The Giant,” one of a series of short stories that students created for the bilingual theater show Imaginations on the Loose. The show is part of a pilot program to develop the students’ language skills, give them confidence and encourage them to tell stories that speak to their experiences.

For Ruela, the experience has unleashed his imagination and led him to dream big.

“This is a good program,” he said during a break from a recent rehearsal for the show, “because it can help us be better actors and better public speakers in case we want to do something special — like maybe be president.”

The show opens at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Teatro Paraguas in Santa Fe.

The pilot program, called Storytellers & Writers, was created and developed by Carol Aubrey, an educator and theater artist who has long merged the performing arts with the classroom. She kicked off the program at El Camino Real last spring to introduce students to the performing arts and build their literacy skills.

“The storytelling component fulfills the need for the students to work on developing their social and emotional skills — and their creativity,” Aubrey said. “And creativity really means the ability to create your own life.

“Not only are these their own stories, but they decided how to tell them.”

The students use narration, pantomime and signs with phrases in both Spanish and English as they relate their short skits in both languages. Veronica Pacheco, the students’ Spanish teacher, said, “It is definitely helping them connect one language to another.”

At least one of the students, she said, is slowly learning English words by interacting with the other cast members who have a stronger grip on the language. “He has picked it up by sound, based on what the other kids say,” she said.

Aubrey said it’s vital that the show reinforces both English and Spanish for the students, who attend one of the district’s few dual-language-immersion schools. Just 8 percent of El Camino Real’s students scored proficient or better in reading exams last year — a slight increase from the 6.3 percent proficiency score the previous year.

All of the dozen or so students in the rehearsal said the experience has given them more confidence practicing English.

And at least one short piece in the show tackles a serious topic that many of the students, despite their youth, understand: crossing the border from Mexico to the United States. “The Journey” quickly plays up the pain, heat, exhaustion and fear of migrating to a country of dreams — challenges magnified when a snake shows up in the bedroll of one of the migrants.

Fifth-grader Jocin Castañeda said the students came up with that idea after “thinking how it is today with our president and the people he wants to leave out.”

For student Candelaria Fierro, the show’s title, Imaginations on the Loose, is apt.

“It’s kind of cool that the stories are all made up,” she said. “Not from a book, not from a movie, but from our imagination.”

Contact Robert Nott at 505-986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.

If you go

What: El Camino Real Academy students present Imaginations on the Loose, a bilingual theater production

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday

Where: Teatro Paraguas, 3205 Calle Marie

Cost: The performance is free, but seating in the roughly 60-seat theater is limited.

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