Building Bridges to the Community: Spanish at Clarke Elementary School, Swampscott
By Dr. Fátima Serra, Department of Foreign Languages, with students Tania Baez and Fay Ventouris
Every Monday and Thursday, from 2:15-3:15, four students from the Foreign Languages Department teach Spanish to 25 K-4 children enrolled in the Clarke Elementary school extra-curricular program in Swampscott. They are in charge of the whole process: lesson planning, activities, materials and selection of teaching techniques under the close supervision of two coordinators: Dr. Balcells, MIT Professor and Clarke parent and, Dr. Serra, Department of Foreign Languages at SSC.
“This project gives us, college students, the opportunity to work with children and experience the career and or major in that we are interested in” says Tania Baez, one of the four participants in this collaborative program alongside Stephanie Deorio, Fay Ventouris and Joana Melo. Their experience, though challenging at times, is extremely rewarding for everybody. Swampscott children are showing great enthusiasm for the subject and their teachers, and SSC students are glad to be given this opportunity, and I am proud of the dedication, maturity and professionalism our students are demonstrating.
In these times of tight budgets, the Massachusetts Department of Education is not ready to fund Foreign Languages at the Elementary School level. Research shows over and over, that the ideal age to learn a foreign language is before 12 years old. The enthusiasm and hard work of Dr. Balcells and Ms. Longin, Clarke School Principal, together with the support of Dr. Blood, Chair of the Foreign Languages Department have made possible this productive, creative collaboration that has resulted in Spanish classes for children who would not tackle Spanish until middle school. It has also been an invaluable experience for future teachers.
Two of the participants, Tania Baez and Fay Ventouris, have shared their impressions with us:
F. Serra: What made you explore education as a career?
T. Baez: I discovered my passion working with children when given the position of leader in the Children’s Ministry in the church. I have enjoyed tremendously being a teacher.
F. Ventouris: My love and passion for working with young minds gave me the insights to explore education as a possible career.
F. Serra: How do you prepare for your lessons?
T. Baez: Joana and I work closely together covering those same areas and discussing at length how to balance the activities for the different levels and abilities. It is challenging, but being part of a team, makes it easier and more productive.
F. Ventouris: Firstly, we take into account the age of the students. Next we create an objective, such as learning the colors/numbers etc., and find activities to both educate and grasp the students’ attentions in order to create connections and spark interest for further lessons.
F. Serra: Do the weekly reflections help you get prepared for your next class?
T. Baez: The weekly reflections do help. They give us the opportunity to look over what we have done and to think about better ideas for helping the students learn. If we see that the way we taught something or an activity helped the students understand what was being taught, the following week we will incorporate something similar.
F. Serra: How are the responses of the children to the classes and the learning of a Foreign Language?
T. Baez: All the students are very enthusiastic about learning Spanish. I am very proud of all my students, to this day, all of them have cooperated with us and have shown that they want to learn Spanish. We can also tell that while they are at home most of them make the attempt to go over the notes and try teaching Spanish to other family members.
F. Ventouris: The response of the children to learning the Foreign Language has been very positive. They love playing the games and interacting with each other and us in Spanish! They learn very quickly because they are very excited about the subject.
F. Serra: What is the most challenging part of this job?
T. Baez: The most challenging part of this job is meeting the expectations needed for each student, finding different ways that each student will understand what is being taught.
F. Ventouris: The most challenging part of this job is not having access to the students more times during the week.
F. Serra: What is the most rewarding aspect of this experience?
T. Baez: The most rewarding part of this experience is seeing that what you are teaching is something that they will always remember and use. People that surround us on a daily basis speak different languages and this will help them learn about different cultures and get the opportunity to meet and interact with different people. This experience has also helped me realize the importance of teaching and the passion that you need to have in order to receive what you are giving. It brightens up my day when I walk into the Clarke school and one of my students approaches me with a ‘buenas tardes’ or a ‘hola’.
F. Ventouris: There isn’t any part of this experience that I would not consider rewarding. We have fun and we learn. Seeing their eyes light up when they get an answer right and little hands waving in the air to ask me how to say a word in Spanish is a reward in itself.
F. Serra: What have you learned?
T. Baez: I have learned so many things in this little time that I have been teaching at the Clarke School. The most important thing I have learned is to manage a classroom, be aware of the students learning and be attentive to new questions and or ideas they have. I have also learned how to make lesson plans that will help me in the future.
F. Ventouris: I have gotten to know how children interact. I have gotten to know my students on a personal level in which I can provide to their personal learning styles. I have learned that not every child is the same but that they are like ‘sponges’ and absorb information eagerly and easily as long as the interest lays in the one who teaches.
F. Serra: Do you think it is a constructive relationship to have ties in the communities such as the one you have started between Clarke School and SSC?
F. Ventouris: Absolutely! It is an opportunity and great means of networking for students who want to explore their professional possibilities in teaching. I strongly recommend this program. These children are eager and accept the idea of a foreign language and with more educators the experience could be passed to a greater amount of young minds more efficiently. In conclusion we could have a new generation of open-minded more communicative individuals.
We could not have said it any better than Tania Baez and Fay Ventouris. It has been a happy experience for everybody, the seed that has been planted. The extra-curricular program will make life-long learners of Spanish who will use their language skills in whatever profession they choose. In the meantime, our students and the children of the community are tasting first-hand the joy of teaching and the joy of learning.
Fay Ventouris and Clarke Elementary School children