Friday, November 28, 2008

Spanish Community-based Learning and Social Networks: A Tool for Your Job Search

I love Facebook (and so do my students), and I'm always interested in finding ways to make students' Spanish community-based learning experiences translate to their future careers. So I was very interested in an article I saw recently, "Social networking sites dos and don'ts" from

"Employers are checking job applicant's profiles on sites like Facebook, Brightfuse and LinkedIn, according to a recent survey," the article states.

It also quotes an expert who says: "Get rid of your digital dirt [when job hunting]."

Specific dos and don'ts in the article include:
  • Do update your profile regularly.
  • Don't badmouth your current or previous employer.
  • Do join groups...selectively.
  • Don't mention your job search if you're still employed.
  • Do go on the offensive.
  • Don't forget others can see your friends.

These all make perfect sense. But what does that have to do with Spanish community-based learning? Well, here are some dos and donts if you want your Spanish community-based learning work to help you in your job search and professional networking. (Remember, employers value experiential learning!)

  • Do post updates about your CBL class and work. "Julia is helping a Spanish-speaking client fill out tax forms at the Refugee Center." "Ray is psyched that the kids in the 3rd grade BTW class are happy when he arrives each Tuesday at 2:00." "Kelly wrote down all the phone numbers correctly in class when the teacher read them in Spanish real fast. Ready to ace the test!" Updates like these show potential employers that you take your work seriously, it's a part of your life. They also give a glimpse into what you actually do and accomplish in Spanish community-based learning. A simple line on your resume or transcript can't do that.
  • Do post pictures of yourself in work/professional contexts. It helps form an image of you as someone who "fits" in a workplace, even if your workplace is a school or rather informal.
  • Don't post pictures of minors or others who haven't given permission. Alternatively, you can take pictures that don't show people's faces.
  • Do friend people from the community if they are also on your social network system. Being friends with people from various backgrounds, ages, etc. can show that you are a person with breadth, that you can relate to many types of people. Remember though, if you are friends with professional people then you should look professional as well.
  • Do upload videos of you speaking in Spanish. If you did diarios digitales or reflexiones orales you can upload them. They can prove that you do speak Spanish. If your potential employer also speaks Spanish, they can see your critical thinking skills in what you say.
  • Don't upload a video with bad Spanish or overly simplistic ideas. Your Spanish may not be perfect, but you should speak clearly, confidently and as error-free as possible. Ask someone to check your Spanish so you can correct it.
  • Do write a note explaining your community-based learning work. A note gives you a chance to go more into depth about your experiences. What tasks did you perform in Spanish? What do you consider to be your accomplishments (this is different than tasks) on the job? What did you learn about the community? Yourself? If you studied abroad, how does this experience add to the skills and knowledge you gained from that experience? Did you work on a team project for the course? What did you learn about teamwork? What did you learn about working in a multicultural environment? What did you learn about your ability to take (or not take) risks? To work independently? There's no end to what you can write about in a note that will make you look attractive to an employer who wants someone who has done experiential learning, can speak Spanish with native speakers, and has worked effectively in multicultural settings.
  • Don't write cliches or superficial thoughts. Show that you have reflected on your experiences. learned from them and are ready to apply that learning in your next job.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Summer Language Institute for Teachers

A lot of the students in our "Spanish in the Community" course are studying to become high school Spanish teachers. I also know of several of our students who got jobs teaching Spanish and used their summers to get a Masters while abroad.

So I thought this e-mail might be of interest to some of Spanish & Illinois' current and former students:

Estimados Señoras y Señores:

Greetings from Southern Oregon University. We in Foreign Languages and Literatures would like invite you to our Summer Language Institute. SOU has developed a challenging and practical Master of Arts in Spanish Language Teaching with a curriculum that is completed in three summers in beautiful and quaint Guanajuato, Mexico. The program is designed for middle school, high school, and community college teachers. Each session is hosted by a group of master teachers from around the nation, and our program provides practical courses to improve your teaching proficiency.

Please consider joining us this summer!

We are attaching a PDF file with our 2009 course offerings and information about the program. We will also be sending you a copy of
the brochure via mail. As well, you may peruse our web page.

Un Saludo Cordial,

Dr. Anne Connor - Director
Dr. Scott Rex - Summer 2009 Director
Southern Oregon University
Foreign Languages and Literatures
Summer Language Institute
1250 Siskiyou Boulevard
Ashland, OR 97520

Business 101: Sustainability and Subsistence Markets

Madhu Viswanathan is a Faculty Fellow at the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, so I have gotten to know him and his work through that connection. I admire his research and the not-for-profit that he founded. Furthermore, his work is the basis for the new Business 101 course.

This morning I received an e-mail about the Business 101 Poster Session. I will attend. I wish that my students next semester in "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" would have the opportunity to attend. Not only is it important to see the content of the Business 101 students' posters, but I'm more and more convinced that poster sessions can be a more valuable learning tool for our students than the typical research paper. Why?
  • Students need to utilize all four skills--listening, speaking, reading and writing--to produce the posters and participate in the poster session.
  • Effective communication of your ideas in a poster more closely mimics the kinds of communication our students already do and will certainly do on the job after they graduate.
  • A poster requires the same research skills as a paper.
  • They must be able to distill their message for the poster and expand upon it in a convincing way during the poster session itself.
  • Someone will actually read the poster! Usually, only the professor reads a paper.

My colleauge at UNC, Darcy Lear, has done a lot of work to effectively utilize poster sessions in conjunction with service learning, business Spanish & Spanish & Entrepreneurship courses.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Carolina: ¿Practicando español durante vacaciones?

By Carolyn Kloecker

I'm a little bit afraid about the lack of Spanish speaking that will most likely occur over my Thanksgiving break. I am often jealous of students who have the opportunity to speak to their families in another language, but I realize that there are other opportunities to speak Spanish outside of school, and I also know that I will not "lose" my knowledge of the language over a short break. Here are some strategies I may use over break to keep speaking Spanish in a predominantly English-speaking environment:

  • Visit friends I know from my Spanish-immersion camp, or talk to them on the phone
  • Force my friends who took Spanish in high school to speak a few sentences with me each day
  • Walk around having a fake conversation on my cell phone in Spanish (suggestion from Brandon Lanners, one of our study abroad advisors)
  • Listen to plenty of music! (my favorites are Reik, Julieta Venegas, Fonseca, and Jesse & Joy)
  • Order food at a Mexican restaurant in Spanish (I've done it at Chipotle a few times)
  • Keep in touch with friends in Mexico and Argentina through facebook

I am also keeping these things in mind for winter break, as I will be going to Ecuador on January 3rd and will need to keep speaking up until my departure. I'm getting very anxious-excited about leaving to study abroad, and I can't wait to meet my host family and start classes in a new country. Winter break for me will only be slightly longer than Thanksgiving break, and I will want to spend as much time as possible with my family and close friends before leaving.

Claire: To Volunteer

By Claire Pescheret

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines a volunteer as “a person who voluntarily undertakes or expresses a willingness to undertake a service: as- a: one who enters into military service voluntarily b (1): one who renders a service or takes part in a transaction while having no legal concern or interest (2): one who receives a conveyance or transfer of property without giving valuable consideration.” Basically, this is an individual who sets aside their own time in order to benefit the needs of others without receiving a monetary reward.

I find volunteering such a rewarding experience. To understand that you are helping another person so much just out of the goodness of your own heart is a phenomenal feeling. This emotion, in and of itself, suffices for me as a “reward.” The work I do is very basic, but I am such an important part of the student’s and teacher’s day. Not only am I benefiting the teachers by assisting with some of their daily tasks, but I am also helping the children with their Spanish and English. I am able to use my skills to help the classroom run smoothly.

As much as I have these strong feelings toward volunteering, I feel as if the majority of high school and college students do not understand the importance of giving of their time. This time of the year is one where it is important to reflect on the things that you have, but also understand that a lot of other people are not as lucky. Simply giving some time or money can mean so much to another person, and can brighten up the season.

Claire: Helping Pre-K Students with Spanish and English

By Claire Pescheret

Working with young children at Booker T. Washington has been a lovely experience. I have never spoken to children so little in Spanish before! As with any child, their maturity for such a small size always shocks me. Their brains can absorb and understand so much!

In my particular case, the students at Booker T. Washington are attempting to become bilingual. This process begins at the young age of 3 or 4 in pre-k, where I volunteer. These children practice their English during designated times throughout the school day. Since they are also fluent in Spanish, they are learning their colors and letters in this language. As much as English is something that is important for these students to be exposed to, more of an emphasis is placed on the children mastering Spanish. The children are young, and, as with any language, even though they are able to communicate in Spanish, their grammar and pronunciation are not always stellar. There are even certain students whose Spanish in general is very limited, for they have not developed basic speaking skills for one reason or another.

My job is to help these children in their mastery of Spanish first, and then some English as well. This is a stimulating challenge that allows me to use my skills for the benefit of these young students’ formation period.

Mutjaba: palabrotas

By Mujtaba Akhter

My work at Champaign Central High School consists of communicating with high school students for essentially the whole time period. Although I tutor them in various subjects, many times we digress into stories about our own lives and just general small talk. Since I speak in Spanish with many of the students, there were always a few words I would hear that I never understood. I always just figured it to be some technical word that I would learn later, but finally a couple days ago I figured out what was being said.

I was tutoring a student in geometry and was saying "you need to look at the line from this point to this point" which in Spanish was "necesitas ver la linea de este punto a este punto." However, I seem to have been saying the word "punto" fast and not pronouncing the "n" which leads to the word becoming a swear. The students around started laughing and then told me what I was saying. Although I knew that swear, I decided then to ask them about other swears. It probably wasn't the most proper thing to do, but I had a feeling they wouldn't mind so much and I knew they were well-mannered enough not to say those swears to anyone else. They started telling me all the ones they knew and their definition. I obviously won't list them here, sufficient to say that I've expanded my colloquial vocabulary. When I was being told these swears, I then understood some of the words I had thought were "technical." They definitely are not. They're "palabrotas."

One interesting point that came out of the conversation was how certain words aren't swears in some countries but are swears in other countries. While I was studying abroad in Ecuador, anytime I would need to "catch a bus," I would say "necesito coger un bus." However, the word "coger" does NOT have the same connotation in Mexico. It goes vice versa as well. In Mexico, "tirar" is used as "to throw"; however in Ecuador, the word has a MUCH different connotation. It was quite interesting to see how such innocent words could have a whole different meaning in other Spanish speaking countries.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Languages Important to the "Re-branding" of the US

CNN ran a story today entitled, "Obama poised to rebrand America, experts say."

The article focuses on international perceptions of the US, and one of the expert recommendations focuses on languages:

"In addition to exposing the rest of the world to U.S. culture, Obama should also make sure young Americans are citizens of the world. Martin recommends education reform, with an emphasis on world history and language classes [emphasis mine]."

Sunday, November 16, 2008

$30,000 Prize for U of I Student Innovators

Graduate and undergraduate students alike should take a look at the following message I just received. Please forward this information to all the U of I students you know; we have many creative students in Spanish and Liberal Arts & Sciences in general. It would be great to see someone from our corner of campus apply!

Dear Colleagues:
The College of Engineering has announced the third annual Lemelson Prize call for entries, and there is still time for students to submit. I wish to emphasize once again that the Lemelson Prize is not intended exclusively for students in STEM-related coursework (science, technology, math and engineering), nor is it a "business plan" competition. The prize is awarded to students who have demonstrated remarkable creativity, innovation and/or inventiveness. The Lemelson Foundation, which funds the prize each year, is seeking to recognize students from all disciplines. As all of you are engaged in some of the most creative and innovative work in your respective fields, I wanted to bring this competition to your attention, and ask that you announce it in your classes, or forward it on to any students whom you think might be good prospects.

Please note that the prize is open to both undergraduate and graduate students, and the entry procedure is quite minimal. Students are required to complete an entry form, and provide two letters of support.

Click here for more information. Additionally, Technology Entrepreneur Center Assistant Director Rhiannon Clifton has been appearing on local access channel UI7 promoting the event.

Thank you all for your support.

Laura L. Hollis, JD
Laura L. Hollis, JD
Clinical Professor of Business Administration,
College of Business
Adjunct Lecturer, Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering
and Technology Entrepreneur Center,
College of Engineering
(217) 244-9550 (Engineering)
(217) 265-6722 (Business)

La biblioteca y los latinos

In less than one year, two student bloggers have posted about the library in relation to their community-based learning. (Here and here.) I know that some of our students also go to the Urbana Free Library for the Spanish Story Time sponsored by the University of Illinois' Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
A study about Latinos and Public Library Perceptions sheds more light on how Latinos use--or do not use--public libraries. I find their recommendations about how to draw more Latinos to American public libraries very interesting:

1. Get to know your local Latino community. (Go beyond stereotypes.)

2. Advertise the library as a place to learn English.

3. Advertise public access to computers and availability of general information. (It's an important way for many Latinos to have access to the internet.)

4. Inform the community that the library does not share library user information. (Foreign-born Latinos may fear sharing their information in order to get a card.)
As I go about planning the team projects for my Spanish & Entrepreneurship course for next semester, I would love to see one team of students work with the library to enhance their engagement with local Latinos. Perhaps their project could be to implement the policy recommendations from this report.
(Thanks to Norma Scagnoli for sharing with me the "nos incumbe ayudar listserv"; that is where I found this report.)

Friday, November 14, 2008

Claire: Is Speaking Spanish to Spanish Speakers Difficult?

By Clarie Pescheret

In class on Thursday, we discussed some issues that we, as volunteers, may have encountered throughout our work this semester. One particular given encounter interested me a lot. The statement was phrased, “We have learned that it is easy to speak Spanish to native speakers.” We discussed the validity of this as a class, which allowed us all to contribute our own personal experiences. The stories that were told by my fellow students were quite interesting.

Speaking in Spanish is one thing when you speak to other students who are learning Spanish who actually speak English as a first language. In these instances, I am able to understand other’s translations, broken “Spang-lish,” and accents. It is quite another feat to attempt to speak Spanish to native Speakers. In these instances, there are many barriers that we encounter.

Generally, discrepancy between taught Spanish and spoken Spanish, including slang, can make it difficult to converse. In a school setting, though, other factors have also come into play. Primarily, when working with 3, 4, and 5 year olds, their Spanish is hard to understand. Additionally, the children attempt to speak English to me at times, which I try to understand as Spanish. Hence, I do not understand what they are saying. Through continued exposure, though, I have been able to adapt better to the speech of these children, as I am sure they have had to do with my English.

Carolyn: Concordia Language Villages and Girl Scouts

By Carolyn Kloecker

This past summer, I was very fortunate to have worked at a Spanish Immersion camp in Minnesota called El Lago del Bosque (ELdB). This was one of the greatest experiences I have had in my life, and I have recently used some of the things that I learned there in my work in the community. This past weekend (Saturday Nov. 8th), Campus Girl Scouts held an event called "Dancing Around the World" in which we taught Girl Scout troops from around the area different dances from areas such as Latin America, Asia, and Africa. We also brought in two Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) from the university to teach the girls (ages 6-10) Irish step dancing and Tinikling, a dance from the Philippines.

The dances from around the world that the Girl Scout leaders (including myself) taught came from what I had learned at Concordia Language Villages. My experience teaching dance there and at my previous summer camp helped the Gir Scout event tremendously. I have so much fun working with kids, but I especially enjoy when I am working with them in an active setting, such as swimming, dancing, or playing a sport. The girls really enjoyed learning a lot about different cultures, and they learned some Spanish as well from one of the song we used at the event.
I suggest to anyone who does not yet have plans for the summer, look up Concordia Language Villages and you could work there as a counselor yourself! If you love working with kids, and could speak Spanish all day every day, then it is a really amazing job to have. Not only did my Spanish improve, but I was able to acquire teaching skills and even more experience working with children. Check it out!

Mutjaba: Diversity

By Mujtaba Akhter

When beginning my work at Champaign Central High School, I knew that I would be tutoring students in the ESL program. I honestly didn't even consider having any type of students other than those that came from a Latino background. However, to my surprise, there is quite a bit of diversity in the classroom. I would say about fifty percent of the students in the ESL program are from a Hispanic background while the others come a wide range of ethnicities. There are about 4 students whose families emigrated from Congo. There are about 7 students whose families have recently moved from China. There is one from Albania. I'm sure there are also a few others with whom I haven't had the chance to work as of yet.

I wonder how much help these other students receive. There are only a handful of us tutors that come from Spanish 232, and therefore it seems that the Latino kids are catered to a bit more. We are more than willing to help any student, but it seems to just be easier for those with whom we can use our Spanish. I'm not sure that there is much that can be done to help this situation as there aren't many ways to find a tutor specifically for the students who speak Lingala or Mandarin. Although I am doing the tutoring for a Spanish class, I do hope to help these other students whenever possible.

Cancelled: BTW March to Campus Today

"Spanish & Illinois" Featured in "The Language Educator"

I just received this issue of The Language Educator, the magazine that goes to all 11,000+ members of the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

You may recognize the college student on the front cover and this very photo--it's Liz Girten, one of my student bloggers from the Spring 2008 semester and current senior thesis student.

Darcy Lear and I wrote about Spanish & Illinois and the programs Darcy works with at the University of North Carolina. If you're an ACTFL member you will receive the magazine in the mail or you can read it on-line. If you're not, you can't read our article ("Staking Out a Middle Ground") on-line, but you can see other articles here.

Claire: The Fabulous Teachers of BTW

By Claire Pescheret

The teachers that work at Booker T. Washington Elementary are a unique group of individuals. I have had the great opportunity of working with a few different teachers through my volunteer work, and they all have greatly impressed me. Most of the teachers I have encountered are bilingual, which is a great feat. Additionally, there are so many extra teachers that come in and out of the classroom throughout the day to specifically help kids who are struggling with English. I see this as a specialized skill, but these teachers understand that being bilingual in the community of Champaign-Urbana is almost a job requirement.

There are so many students that filter through this school district that speak Spanish. If these teachers were not bilingually specialized, the Spanish speaking students of this school district would not be able to learn. Even an attempt at trying to learn things in a different language, I believe would prove to be so frustrating for these students. Spanish speaking students should not feel hindered by their language, especially if they are registered citizens and are paying for the service of the school. Therefore, the teachers of this district may be seen as lifesavers for these children.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Our Community Partner Marches to Campus Tomorrow

I have been working on a series of community-campus summits and workshops this semester. But tomorrow, weather permitting, we'll be able to see a true physical manifestation of that connection.

Students from Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign, IL will march to the University of Illinois Campus. At around 2:00 pm, they will march to the Quad, pass by our Foreign Languages Building, round the corner by the cultural studies buildings, and finish up at Krannert Center for the Peforming Arts. (See a campus map.)

This is a very powerful image for Spanish community-based learning. Normally our students leave campus and "trek" to the community organizations. Tomorrow, the community is coming to us!

Click here for more information about the march

I would like to encourage all UIUC Spanish students to make a point of finding the students during their march to cheer them on. In particular, our SPAN 232 students should do their best to meet the students and encourage them.

As soon as I find out what the final plans are for tomorrow (according to the weather conditions) I will post that information here.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Power Nodes in Communities and Their Importance to Community-based Learning

As I mentioned in a previous post, community-based learning projects in rural Illinois towns requires a close of examination of class issues in the dyad of university students - community partner.

This is of course the case in every community-campus partnership, whether rural or urban, so I thought I would explore the idea further.

The Community Matters program that Pattsi Petrie described dialogue with local leaders, held charettes, and did a seemingly thorough job of assuring community buy-in for their projects. As Pattsi presented, I was thinking to myself: "But who are the true community leaders in the communities you find in Clay County, Illinois?" Just because they have a certain label or were voted into a position doesn't necessarily mean that community members view them as having power.

So I asked my cousin who lives and works in Clay County, Illinois--she lives in Clay City and works in Xenia--who the community members with true power are. I gave her a list but asked to her tell me about people I had left off the list.

My ideas for positions of power: the mayor, sheriff, preacher(s), school superintendent, school principal, school board members, village board members.

My cousin reflected on each one of those, but none of them really seemed to fulfill the role of community leader. Here is her answer:

"If I'd have to pick someone to call who would be 'in the know' as it were or who could get things done it'd be [X] or [Y], so I'd guess I'd say the Village Board members or one of the village workers. I suppose others in power would be anyone who owns a business with employees here. That would include Knapp's, the oil businesses, Jason (our cousin) with Crop Production Services, maybe the booze owners, restaurants, etc... I'd say people tend to pay more attention to the business owners because they're trying to bring prosperity to the community. Also, almost forgot them: Shriners, Lion's Club members, bank president/employees..."

Most people would think of business owners as community leaders, and I had thought of the village board members. But if you're not from this type of community, I don't know if you would realize the true power the village employees (many of whom have worked there for decades!) and the bank, Shriners, Lion's Club, etc.

As soon as my cousin mentioned them, I thought, of course! But I have been in a university atmosphere for many, many years now, so even I have lost touch with who occupies positions of true power in our small town.

My point with this extended example of Clay County, Illinois? We all need to know who the true leaders are in the communities where we work and send our students. A failure to consider issues of class in the communities that we engage may inhibit us from seeing where true power lies--the power that we need if our community-based learning projects are to succeed.

Image of Clay City:

UIUC Launches Translation Certificate

Translation and Spanish community-based learning hold a vexed relationship for me. Many of our community partners have urgent needs for their materials to be translated. However, most of our students aren't trained in translation and don't have the language proficiency to always accurately translate.

Here's something that can help: UIUC's Center for Translation Studies.

The Director of the Center, Prof. Elizbeth Lowe, and I will be meeting very soon to discuss how Spanish & Illinois can collaborate with the Center for Translation Studies. I hope that I can bring my community partners' translation needs to the Center's students for class projects. Doing quality control checks on students' translations is too burdensome for Spanish CBL TAs and instructors, who are usually not professionally trained in translation themeselves. I hope we can find synergies between our two programs.

Monday, November 10, 2008

University Defines Policies for Off-Campus Programs

What if a student has an accident as she drives to her community-based learning work? What if a student slips and hurts herself on a snowy sidewalk as she walks to the elementary school where she has her placement? What if--God forbid!--a crime occurs around a student in transit or on site? What if a student behaves unethically or illegally?

These are the nightmare scenarios of anyone who does community-based learning.

When I began doing Spanish community-based learning in 2004, the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Public Engagement provided a group of us with support. In addition to seed money, they organized meetings so that we could brainstorm and trouble-shoot together.

One issue that came up over and over again was liability. But there was no clear campus policy to guide us.

Now, Asst. Dean Barbara Hancin Bhatt in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences has directed me to their website for "Information & Protocols for Off-Campus Programs." There are explanations and forms to help community-based learning instructors do due-diligence in their planning and as Dean Hancin Bhatt says, "a release form can get students to acknowledge their responsibilities to the program and to you."

If your own institution does not have clear policies in place for liability issues and community-based learning, perhaps this information can help you begin a conversation with university administrators.

Prof. Chip Bruce's Blog Offers Good Information for Grad Students, Anyone Interested in Community-based Learning

Chip Bruce is a University of Illinois professor in the Graduate School for Library and Information Science. On his blog he has posted a guide to "Graduate student survival." It's a must-read for grad students in any field. And even though I'm no longer a grad student, I still benefited from the links to a Randy Pausch lecture on time management and to a series titled "What They Don't Teach You in Graduate School."

I would add one thing to Chip's post: ask people with PhDs about their own dissertation writing process. When asked, I speak honestly about my own struggles writing the dissertation (and eventual success!). Many students react as if I am the first person who is saying that I also struggled...and survived. It seems that some students who are in the middle of writing their dissertations feel the need to "front." That makes everyone feel like they're the only one struggling. Talk to someone who will be truthful about the difficulties. Then, their tips about how they finished their project are especially empowering.

Other posts on Chip's blog that interested me:
  • A post on (informal education). I found the encyclopedia articles there to be very interesting and useful. I wouldn't have known about this site if I hadn't read Chip's post.
  • A couple of posts on torture. This interests me because it recalls a story of one of my students who worked at the Refugee Center. She was in the office when a refugee from an African country came in. He had been tortured by the government in his own country, escaped to another African country, and finally had arrived here. The student was obviously horrified by what had happened to him. But at the same time, our own government was torturing people and saying it was okay. Why wasn't that just as terrible? What a powerful testament to how Spanish community-based learning can open students' eyes to so much more than just "Spanish."
  • A look back on his year in Ireland. Our returning study-abroad students can compare and contrast their own experiences and feelings with his.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"Community Matters" and Rural Communities

On Friday I attended the "Perspectives on Diversity and Service-Learning Reading Group" that Val Werpetinski leads. Our topic for the day: class and service learning. (Click here to see our reading list for the semester.) Our guest speaker: Pattsi Petri. She talked to us about Community Matters, a University of Illinois project that attempted to address planning needs in five Illinois communities.

I won't try to summarize Pattsi's presentation. (Click here to see her slides.) But I will note the interesting intersections between class (our topic for the week) and the projects she described that caught my attention.

Clay County, my home county, participated in the project. (Click here and follow links to see the outcomes of the Clay County charrette.) That's the only community in the project I can claim any knowledge about. Two class issues stood out at me:
  1. Many residents of Clay County are distrustful of intellectuals. Therefore, any planning suggestions from university representatives are immediately suspect, if not immediately dismissed.
  2. Planning is antithetical to the way that many things happen in a rural community with the kind of socioeconomic class profile that Clay County has.

    I gave the example of homes. Many people start out with a piece of land and a trailer. Then, when they have some money, they may add on a room to the trailer, or a carport. Then, when they can afford it, they put in a shed or a garage. They might pour some concrete next to the garage and add a picnic table or table and chairs for when they have people over. Then, when they have some more money available, they put in something else.

In other words, what is considered "planning" by academics is often inconceivable for people who just need to see what they can get with the money they have in hand at the moment.

This example illustrates how things work on the individual level, but the same logic, I believe, exists at a community-wide, town government level. That is not to say that people in rural, non-affluent communities do not have a vision for what they want their community to be like. But when an academic or professional planner takes a look at those communities, they may see a crazy quilt pieced together over the years instead of a "clean" set of projects that come together in one unified plan.

What does this have to do with Spanish community-based learning?

  • Well, more and more US Latinos are living in rural, impoverished communities in Illinois and throughout the US.
  • Our students at the University of Illinois are almost all from Chicago and its suburbs; many have never interacted with US Latino communities nor non-urban communities.
  • Most of the work on poverty that I have heard about at the university is about urban poverty, not rural poverty. Therefore, our students have little chance to be educated on rural poverty before they take a Spanish community-based learning course.
  • And finally, we are not reaching rural Latinos through our program because of transportation issues.

Clay City, IL image:

Trailer home image:

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pre-K Spanish-Speaking Students Learn English

By Claire Pescheret

The pre-k classroom where I volunteer is taught in 90% Spanish and 10% English. Each day I volunteer, I am privy to Tania’s, the teacher of my pre-k students, lessons in English. She usually sings some sort of song, or reads a book in English. It is very interesting to watch the mainly Spanish speaking students respond to this lesson.

Tania always tries to get full participation from the students, but this is quite a challenge when it comes to the English lesson. About 50% of the students are fairly proficient in English, and can follow Tania, but the other half is not. They seem to just stare at her as she speaks English, not really comprehending much.

I feel that teaching English to such a young age group can be difficult, because there are always students at different proficiency levels. Those students that know English simply blurt out answers and words, which the others will then just copy. It may seem as if the entire class has a handhold on what is being taught, but really many of them are lost. I believe that, for such a young age group, a second language should be taught on a much more one-on-one basis. This private setting should give children more confidence in their own skills and can hone-in on their personal weaknesses.

I am sure both of these methods have been tried before, and each has strengths and weaknesses. One issue with my suggestion may be the lack of faculty. The large group method has been used in the past; therefore, if it continues to be implemented it must have worked well.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Visit to la Biblioteca!

By Claire Pescheret

This past Tuesday, my pre-k class and I ventured to the library! This was sure a treat for these young ones. We listened to two stories read by the librarian, and then the students had to opportunity to choose a book to check out. The stories we all heard were the classics by Eric Carle, “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “Will You Be My Friend?”

Story time was adapted to these semi-bilingual children by the librarian. The librarian was clearly not bilingual, so the story was not completely translated for the students. He did make his best effort, though, to know and translate the major vocabulary of the texts. He also composed a sort of rhyming song as well that helped the children understand the concept of writing, illustrating, and finally reading a book. Those librarians are so creative!! I believe, though, that his creativity was directed in some respects. Many of the things the librarian was attempting to teach these pre-k students was accompanied by motions. This, I would assume, is to help the children attain a greater grasp on what he is attempting to teach them. Young children are very active and learn a lot by doing and seeing; therefore, I foresee this to be a successful teaching tactic.

Following the stories, the students were allowed to choose their own book to check out and take home. Numerous stories, in English and Spanish, were laid out on tables. The children perused their options before making this major decision. In the end, three of the students chose Clifford books, one little girl chose the book with the most pink on it, and another boy chose a classic “Stellaluna.” The language did not matter to these children, for they cannot read.
I loved the fact that Tuesday’s journey gave me a peek into my past through the wonderful world of reading. I hope my pre-k students enjoy their books!!

Another Opportunity to Work in the Community

For the past several years, Spanish & Illinois partnered with Mr. Obdulio Fonseca and the Boy Scout troop in Shadowwood. Obdulio is no longer and town, though, so the Boy Scouts weren't an option this semester.

But now they are!

I spoke with Mr. Gino Corrales yesterday about the Boy Scout Troops for Latinos that he has started. He'd be happy to have two community-based learning student work at each site.

  • Wednesdays 6-7:30 pm in the Northwood Trailer Park, Urbana.
  • Saturdays 2-3:30 pm in the Shadowwood Trailer Park, Champaign.
  • Also in Arcola. Ask Mr. Corrales for details. He can also offer rides.
Please contact Mr. Corrales directly if you're interested. Here is his contact information:
  • 217 637 1331
You can use this work to make up extra hours for your required 28 hours over the semester, or you can do it just for the fun of it. (Click on the comments at this post to see what students have to say about doing "extra" CBL work in the community.)

Both guys and girls can work with these Boy Scout troops.

Mr. Corrales cautioned that anyone signing up for this opportunity must enjoy working with young kids, ages 7-11.

Community Needs Represent Opportunities As Well

Finally, the panelists addressed this last question:

When we, the faculty, engage our students in solving real-world problems we also enhance their learning. So, in what ways can you imagine the university (administration, faculty and/or students) collaborating with your organizations to address the challenges you identified above?

Omar Duque answered with one word: "Data." They need research and data about Latino businesses and business owners.

Barbara Linder described a summer job mentoring program that had great success. Under-performing high school students were matched with employees in local businesses for the summer. In the face of many obstacles--like taking buses from one end of town to the other in order to get to work by 8 am and--these students showed great responsibility, diligence and maturity. It would be wonderful to expand this program, Barbara said, and the university could collaborate to help make that happen.

Panelists Identified Community Assets and Needs

The third question put to the panelists:

Each of you works with specific communities in terms of profession (business, culture and education), locale (Chicago and Champaign-Urbana), ethnicity and class. What are some specific challenges that your communities face right now? How might those challenges be addressed through the entrepreneurial process (i.e., identifying opportunities, gathering resources and creating something of value)?

Omar Duque was quick to point out that the Chamber's members face a number of challenges as they start businesses--just like anyone anyone starting a new business. The credit crunch has exacerbated those problems. But he also sees opportunity in that challenge: anyone who can offer value and cost savings to people has a real opportunity for success in our current economic climate.

Required Reflection is Key to Students' Success As They Work in the Community

Moving on to the second question, I asked:

University of Illinois students have worked in your organizations. We are interested in educating our students for success in the classroom as well as in their future professions. Therefore, what strengths have they brought to their work in your organization? What skills were lacking? In other words, what were the strengths and weaknesses of the U of I students.)

Omar Duque said that they have been very pleased with the student interns that they have received through the Spanish & Illinois Summer Internship program for the past three years. (Kelley Sheehan, a former S&I intern with the Chamber also attended the summit.) They are shy when they first arrive on the job, however.

Alejandro Molina concurred with Omar, and added that they receive many students at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, from several universities. Most are not Latinos, so he gives them a historical and cultural introduction. What seemed clear to me was that Alejandro was saying that it is a lot of work to give those students meaningful experiences that match their academic and personal goals.

Barbara Linder turned the question around. She said that the real question is "What are the strengths and weaknesses of how faculty design these 'assignments' for students." She clearly and convincingly stated that when guided reflection is an integral part of students' experience in the community, those students are the most effective and productive youth mentors/tutors.

Panelists Discussed Entrepreneurial Success and Failure

To begin the summit, the panelists briefly described the organizations where they work. They all offer very valuable and interesting programs.

I was particularly struck by a piece of information that Barbara Linder shared. We were sitting in Urbana, and she told us, "You all know Urbana. I thought I knew Urbana. [The Urbana of the state streets.] But did you know that 65% of the students in Urbana schools now qualify for free or reduced price lunches?" (Correction from Barbara: "I should clarify. The figure of 65% (actually 64.9%) is of low-income students at Urbana Middle School in the 2007-08 school year. ... The district figure is 55%. Each school is slightly different, however UMS serves all students in Urbana who go to public middle school.)

No, I didn't know that.

(And my students certainly don't know that. I will have to investigate this further and build a lesson around. I am afraid that some of the Spanish CBL students enter the local schools and equate "Latino" with "low-income." Both of those terms are so much more complex than that. Barbara's information can help me present that to students.)

Then I asked the panelists the first question:

Entrepreneurship in all of its realms--commercial, social, intellectual, and cultural--involves creativity and frustration, persistence and passion, successes and failures, specific skills and instinct. Can you describe one of your successful "entrepreneurial endeavors" and one that failed. What did you and your organization learn from your success and from the failure?

Alejandro Molina described an urban agricultural program that his organization is organizing--which includes growing the spices to make Puerto Rican sofrito that the youth will then sell.

Barbara Linder told the story of getting a grant to pay staff to organize their mentoring program. But after the grant ran out the program was threatened. To save it, local community members--including business leaders--who participated in the program convinced the school board that they couldn't get rid of it, that the value of the program was so much more than the money that needed to be invested in it.

Omar Duque told of the successful businesses launched by two of their members, including Media Cafe. Then he also told the story of the boom in number of members who started web design businesses in the 90s. One of those business owners came to them later and said, "This isn't working. I need to do something else." He then changed his business around and offered a service that was less "exciting" than design, but more profitable; he faced the failure and turned it into a success.

Successful Community-Campus Summit 2

Many thanks to our great panelists who made our Community-Campus Summit 2 such a success. From left to right in the picture: Barbara Linder (Urbana Schools), Alejandro Molina (Puerto Rican Cultural Center, Chicago) and Omar Duque (Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Chicago) and Ann Abbott (event host).

The first hour of the Summit was dedicated to the panel. Each panelist had unique insights and represented unique communities, so that led to a special richness. And despite their different experiences, they coincided in many of their statements and approaches.

The second hour was dedicated to small-group discussions and networking. Panelists and other community organization representatives sat together with university faculty and staff in order to continue the dialogue about issues presented during the panel. The discussion was guided with specific questions, but as I circulated throughout the room and listened in I could tell that the conversations took those questions to other levels.
It was a beautiful fall day, the day after our presidential elections, and an all-together perfect day to share ideas and resources.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Carolyn: Volunteering at Parent-Teacher Conferences

By Carolyn Kloecker

I am so glad I took the opportunity to volunteer at Central High School to translate for Parent-Teacher conferences! It was a great experience. I also appreciated how many people showed up to help. The waiting room for the families was filled with 232 students from the past and present, and I'm sure many others who just wanted to help out.
Because there were so many volunteers, I was just able to go with one father and his daughter to see two different teachers, but this was an extremely valuable experience. I realized a few things, mainly about academics and some challenges of being bilingual.

The student I talked to was really doing great in school, turning in homework and paying attention in class, she was also very talkative and polite with her teachers. But the problem was (in two separate classes) that exams had been especially challenging. In English class, the teacher even mentioned how it was very unfair that what was bringing her grade down was two exams that were required by the district, and they were nearly impossible to study for. The English teacher talked about how it might be harder for a native Spanish-speaker to do well on these exams, but that all of the other elements of the English class were geared towards teaching all levels of grammatical ability. Also, the teacher suggested meetings after school that could help the student with her English grammar. I realized that sometimes a person who was raised using a different language will have to put a lot more time into learning the language that they are being taught in. In many instances, those who were raised with a different language, such as immigrants, will not have the time to dedicate to all of this extra work, because they are doing the basic things to help them survive in a new environment.

In terms of translation, I was able to talk fairly quickly with the father, and the daughter helped out a little and was very interested in what I was doing as a student at the university. She spoke Spanish and English fluently, but the administration obviously had a translator there in case any student wanted to falsify information between teachers and parents. Translating was fun and I suggest that anyone who wasn't able to make it this time should try to help out in the future! (It's not as hard as you might think).


Panelists at Community-Campus Summit 2

I am very excited about the panelists that we have for the second Community-Campus Summit. The diversity of their positions and the communities in which they work will lead to a very rich panel presentation and follow-up discussions.

From the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce:
Omar Duque, President and CEO, and Roberto Cornelio, Chief Operating Officer, can give us their insights into Chicago business communities, Latino communities and at the same time talk to us about how a very successful not-for-profit can function. Given the current economic crisis--and its effects on everyone, including Latino business owners as well as employees--it will be interesting to hear Omar and Roberto speak about entrepreneurship, education and innovation.

From the Puerto Rican Cultural Center:
Alejandro Molina, Community Library and Information Center, will also be able to share his perspective on the Chicago Latino communities, not-for-profit cultural centers and community information centers. Alejandro has worked with University of Illinois Prof. Ann Bishop with the
Graduate School of Library and Information Science and the Community Informatics Initiative. Given his previous work with community-campus connections, he can answer our questions about how students and faculty can best interact with campus entities to enhance student learning and benefit community partners.

From Urbana Middle School:
Barbara Linder,
Mentoring Coordinator, will provide a local perspective. From working with many University of Illinois students in the Urbana schools, Barbara can tell us about the schools' needs and assets. That in turn, can help us as faculty and staff better understand how to forge mutually beneficial partnerships with local schools.

I hope to see you at the Summit! (See post below for details.)

Community-Campus Summit 2

As a Distinguished Teacher/Scholar 2008-09, I am organizing Community-Campus Summits. Click here to see all events and to register.

Community-Campus Summit 2

  • Do you want your students to approach their learning with initiative, and innovative ideas?
  • Do you want your students’ coursework to have real impact—on them and the world around them?
  • Do you want to know what professionals are looking for when they consider hiring your students?
  • Do you want to brainstorm about how to heed the university’s call to be entrepreneurial?
Attend these events and take away ideas for your teaching, research, and service.

Community-Campus Summit 2
Wednesday, November 5 from 3:00-5:00
Heritage Room, ACES Library

Hear panelists from the Illinois Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (Chicago), the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (Chicago) and Urbana Middle School talk about innovation, value creation and student learning. The Summit includes time for small group discussion and networking.

Follow-up Workshop
Wednesday, November 12 from 3:00-5:00
428 Armory

Use the information from the summit to think about creative community-campus connections for your courses. Special focus: apply the lessons learned from the Summit to grant writing. (You don’t have to attend the Summit in order to attend and benefit from this workshop!)