By Michael Aliberte, Spanish major
Introduction by Dr. Kristine Doll, Foreign Languages
What attracts students to foreign language study? Apart from fulfilling a requirement, developing an application for prospective employment or for admission to a graduate school, why do students take foreign language classes? Surveys both formal and informal, at public and private institutions, reveal the same interests: a desire to use the language in a practical, meaningful way and a curiosity about the foreign culture. Students are interested in developing proficiency in the language skills and in understanding the target culture. They want to be able to communicate as adults with people in whom they have expressed an interest.
Learning through community service is one type of experience that contributes to such discovery. At its best, community service “improves student learning, addresses community needs, facilitates public debate and dialogue, and creates campuses that are true partners with their communities.”¹ At the very least, community service programs strive to use language in meaningful ways both within and outside of the traditional classroom setting. The Department of Foreign Languages offers several courses designed to help students develop their language skills, enhance their appreciation of cultures other than their own, experience real-world job training while also contributing in a significant way to the surrounding community.
The following article was written by Michael Aliberte, a Spanish major, who taught at a local pre-school as part of the requirements for SPN385: Community Placements. SPN 385, offered every Fall, also offers internships in legal, medical and social welfare agencies. Students have a great variety of possibilities from which to choose so they can try out a new career area or delve more deeply into one they have already experienced.
When you hear the word “service,” what do you think about? Some think of the military and service to one’s country. Others may think about a food service, a political service or, possibly, a religious service. There are numerous meanings behind the word “service” and it is up to the individual to decide its meaning, specifically in the context of service learning. Your reasons for performing the service may not be apparent at first, but as I discovered through personal experience, it is all worth it.
Spanish is spoken by approximately 34 million Americans. By the year 2020, we can expect to see that number of Spanish-speakers in the U.S. almost double. These impressive numbers should reinforce the importance of the Spanish language and cultures in our community. Whether through schooling or nationality or friendship and community events, there are numerous ways to incorporate the Spanish language into our daily lives.
For my community placement, I chose to teach Spanish to children at the SSC Preschool, located on South Campus, and to a first grade class at the Glover School in Marblehead. The lessons were relatively short, anywhere from 20 to 30 minutes, depending upon the age level of the students. Although the lessons were short in length, they occurred four times a week at both locations. My friend, Dan Godden, and I chose to co-teach with one another, a decision that proved to be very beneficial. Dan and I had met the previous summer in Oviedo, Spain during a study abroad experience through Salem State. We chose teaching as our particular service because we both want to be teachers, and we were both majoring in Spanish as well. This was the ideal setting for us because it combined both elements.
Dr. Kristine Doll was the professor of the service class and Dr. Nicole Sherf as our site advisor. In addition to our class meetings with Dr. Doll, we had to meet with Dr. Sherf for feedback and comments on the lessons were ere preparing for the preschools. Writing and creating the mini-lessons for our students each week was not as simple as one might think. It required research on the internet because we had to find age and skills-appropriate material. None of the students in either class were native Spanish speakers, so essentially we were starting from scratch. Some of the students had previous exposure to Spanish though television, music, the internet and other “community service” courses before us, but their abilities were limited. This type of experience raises many questions about curriculum frameworks in the public schools as well as current events in our local communities. For example, the children had clearly been exposed to Spanish at a very young age, even though some of there were struggling with English, let alone another language altogether.
This experience could not have been better for me. I must admit I was nervous at first, because I was going to be dealing with preschoolers and first graders. From previous experience, I knew that this particular age group was relatively tough to deal with especially since I had not been with them the entire year. How were Dan and I supposed to simply jump into their classroom and teach them Spanish? Would they be interested in what we had to teach, or would the pay no attention to us? I would say that our biggest challenge was finding material that was age-appropriate and keeping the lessons fun yet informative.
Overall, I gained more from this one experience than I could have anywhere else. Not only was I able to teach, but I was able to incorporate Spanish into my teaching. I can honestly say that I thoroughly enjoyed every minute in the classroom as well as outside the classroom. The cooperating teacher from the Glover School asked me to chaperone a field trip to Plymouth Plantation. Together, we created a bilingual Thanksgiving vocabulary list for the students and they helped me to realize the importance of cultural and linguistic appreciation. As Dan remarked, the kids were always a delight and “nothing beats the look on a child’s face when they learn something new, especially in another language.”
¹ American Association for Higher Education (AAHE): Series on Service-Learning in the Disciplines (adapted from the National and Community Service Trust Act of 1993).
N.B. Michael Aliberte was subsequently offered a teaching position at the Glover School, which he has accepted. Congratulations!