~ By Nancy Barragan, student writer for the College of Arts and Humanities
Every year, thousands of elementary students from the Central Valley travel to Fresno State to perform poems and literature they’ve memorized to compete in the Peach Blossom Festival of Oral Interpretation.
Marcie Lierly, co-director of the festival, said, “This year is our 60th anniversary. We are calling it our Diamond Jubilee celebration! We will be having one of our largest festivals to date. Fresno State will be hosting over 145 schools with an attendance of around 5,000 children over the course of two days.”
The majority of the festival is organized by students who are enrolled in Comm 188T: Peach Blossom Leadership, a communications course that is closely supervised by Lierly.
“A lot of things learned in class are conceptual, but once you get in a class like this you get to see them put to practical use,” Lierly said. “This is one of the only classes that students get to see how their degrees can work in the real world, which is an irreplaceable experience. We hear this over and over from the students.”
The annual festival helps young children realize the importance of reading literature aloud and teaches them about interpretation, performance and being an attentive audience member.
“I love working with our students. I see their passion for this and their desire to put on a program that is top notch and that makes me proud! I love to see the excitement of the elementary school teachers and children that come on campus and to see their hard work rewarded,” Lierly said.
Two Fresno State students shared their experience of being involved in the planning process of this year’s festival.
Liz Arredondo said, “Public speaking is a vital skill to have, as a communication major and a senior, my hope is for students that come from all over the Central Valley to have a positive experience with the festival and the Fresno State campus so they may feel higher education is within their reach.”
Arredondo remembers being a participant in the festival when she was a fourth- and fifth-grader at Vinland Elementary:
“This is my first time being a part of organizing the event, however, my heart has always been with the event. I attended Vinland Elementary and participated in the Peach Blossom Festival twice as a child,” Arredondo said. “This event provided me the ability to develop public speaking skills from a young age, and I believe it is the reason why I continued to participate in other activities that involved public speaking throughout my academic career. It is an honor to be a part of the 60th anniversary and to provide to other young students what was provided for me.”
Arredondo and her classmate Ashley White-Delk, also a communication senior, are both part of the web and social media team.
“Our job is to keep the website updated and to create social media posts for the College of Arts and Humanities social media platforms,” White-Delk said.
The web and social media team are promoting this year’s T-shirt design, which incorporates the 60th-anniversary celebration.
“This event is such an awesome experience for children and that’s what motivates me,” White-Delk said. “I know not just myself but the rest of the Peach Blossom team want to do everything we can to make this the best experience for the kids.”
Arredondo and White-Delk are two out of 26 passionate students involved in the course.
Each student is required to interview with Lierly before being admitted into the course and joining the team. Students are then placed in specific roles that align with their major and relate to their career goals.
“There are about eight teams involved in planning this event and each team is composed of students who are in charge of planning according to their team,” White-Delk said. “Some examples of teams are judges, registration, publicity, T-shirts, web, donations, etc. We started working the week before school started and we continue working all the way up to the event on March 8 and 9.”
Through this unique course, students are able to gain hands-on experience by planning the festival and learn how much of an impact it creates in the Central Valley.
Just like Arredondo, White-Delk also participated in the Peach Blossom Festival as a child.
“This is my first year on the Peach Blossom team but I actually performed in Peach Blossom as an elementary school student. I performed as a group and soloist so it means a lot for this experience to come full circle and be working on the planning side now,” White-Delk said. “I have never been on a team in charge of running and planning an event so this was a very new and exciting experience for me. It has been an amazing learning experience and has given me so much insight on how to run social media accounts and what goes into planning and running a major event.”
This course challenges students to develop their skills and in the process make this annual festival a continued success for everyone involved.
Lierly said the kids who learn to view public speaking in a positive light from a young age are more likely to do better than kids who have had a negative experience with public speaking.
The event continues to create generations of families that have not only enjoyed but also benefited from participating in the festival.
Lierly said,“It provides an opportunity for our Community youth to visit our campus. It also provides our Fresno State students an opportunity to see the impact they can have on multiple generations both young and old. In essence, Fresno State students, faculty and campus creates a bridge to our community.”