A group of some 60 middle-school students in Amityville last year studied "Swiss Family Robinson," a novel whose main characters are stranded in a new land and must adapt to survive.
With that story as a foundation, the Edmund W. Miles Middle School students collaborated on an 11-chapter e-book just published and soon to be offered on iTunes that is a guide to surviving middle school.
The students had a special take on the subject: Each is learning English as a second language. Their chapters include advice on how to acclimate to school and social life, how to find work and make money, and how to deal with the loneliness of being in a new place.
The book is titled "Surviving in Amityville. A guide written by middle school English language learners for all English language learners."
"They really brought their own life experiences into this and really made it an authentic piece of literature," said Elizabeth Reveis, director of ESL/bilingual programs for the district.
The e-book also covers broader social issues, such as gangs and teen pregnancy, in the chapter "Do you know what it's like to be in a fight?"
The district received a federal grant to buy 10 iPads, which were used for ESL students at the school. With help from teachers Lynda Mussen and Rebekah Dillahunt, the students used computers in class to compose their essays, which were emailed to Annette Shideler, a consultant working with the school, and published in a format to be downloaded and read on the iPad. They also shot video and used photos.
"We had to create activities in this book for all of the students, whether they could speak English or not," Shideler said. "They were really emotionally honest."
Student Joselaine Juste, 13, who arrived from Haiti two years ago, wrote a chapter on loneliness. "When I first came to the United States, I felt very lonely, and I didn't know how to speak the language," she said. To compensate, she suggests trying a hobby, joining a club or simply reaching out to others by being friendly.
Armando Hernandez, 14 and in the eighth grade, wrote about learning English.
"It's hard to learn the language when you come from another country," said Armando, who is from El Salvador.
The Amityville district has seen a 40 percent increase in the number of ESL students in the past couple of years, to about 430 now. Most speak Spanish, though some are from Haiti and speak Creole. The book will soon be on iTunes at no cost for other districts to use. It is published only in English to help with language instruction.
This year the Miles students are at work on a cookbook that will be published as an e-book. As for the students' first endeavor, Miles Principal Michele Darby said the school's ESL teachers will use the guide for future classes. "They can use it in the class every day to show: this is what we can work toward," Darby said. "It can be used as another resource, like a textbook."