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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Inverted Social Hierarchies and Spanish Community Service Learning

Photo: Guadalupe working with Mateo Ossman (former Spanish CBL student volunteer) at the Refugee Center.

I always ask the grad students who teach "Spanish in the Community" to attend an orientation session at one of the community partners along with the students for a couple of reasons:

  • The TAs aren't required to volunteer during the semester, so this is their chance to actually see where some of their students work.
  • It helps them to relate better to their students' comments and questions during the rest of the semester.
  • They can better understand why we spend time in class talking about answering phones and classroom management techniques if they have heard the supervisors talk about those issues themselves.
  • It also opens their eyes to what is going on outside of campus. Many of our TAs have similar university experiences as our undergrads--living in a campus bubble.
One of my TAs recently sent me a summary of her trip to the orientation at the Refugee Center. I was struck by two things she noted:
  1. While Guadalupe was giving the orientation to the students and the TA, some clients entered the office. Guadalupe stopped the orientation and immediately attended to the clients' needs. My TA saw that this was a unique moment: community members were deemed more "important" than university people. The TA wrote, "nos recordó para quien era el centro y nos demostró que nosotros estábamos allí para ayudar a los que entraran. (it reminded who the Refugee Center is there for and that we were there to help those who enter."

  2. The TA concluded by writing this: "Es increíble como unas cuantas cuadras pueden poseer mundos diferentes (It is incredible how just a few blocks can contain different worlds)." That was my thought when I first decided to do community-based learning and my first community partner was the Refugee Center. In the proposal to receive grant money to develop the course, I described our Spanish classes, I described the Refugee Center, and I said that community-based learning could bridge the few blocks that represented two separate worlds.
I have great TAs teaching "Spanish in the Community," and I always learn from their insights as well as the students'.

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