Saturday, December 12, 2009
by Leslie Barron
La Escuela Leal
This semester I decided to take Span 232 so I could learn a little more about the community surrounding U of I. After two years of living in Champaign I realized I do not know much about the community outside of the campus. I thought this class, Spanish in the community, would be the perfect opportunity to get involved in the community and learn a little more about the people who live here. Although we were given a variety of locations where we could volunteer, I knew I wanted to work in an elementary school this semester. I love being around little kids and knew this would be a great opportunity.
Since day one volunteering at Leal Elementary School in Urbana, Illinois I have had the most amazing experiences. Leal has students in kindergarten through sixth grade, but I got assigned to volunteer in a 1st grade bilingual classroom. Most of the students only speak Spanish, some understand a little bit of English, and only a few of them speak fluent English as well. One thing I noticed right from the start is how many volunteers work at the school. The binder of U of I students alone is impressive. I usually go in the mornings which is when the students work on reading and writing. The first few weeks of volunteering the teacher would give me specific tasks to do such as working with one group on counting, or another group of students on reading. The students would be in groups of about five and they would rotate so I would get to work with most of the students as they came through the stations. It was really fun getting to know so many of the students and enjoyable to talk to so many of them. After I became more comfortable in the classroom the teacher let me choose what I wanted to do instead of assigning me a group.
I also get to spend time with the students while they are in their music class. I realized quickly that having volunteers who speak Spanish and can communicate with the children is a big help because the music teacher neither understands nor speaks any Spanish. For this reason, I feel like I can do the most good in this type of situation. It is exciting to be able to translate something and have the students understand what they are supposed to be doing. Most days I volunteer there are other students volunteering there as well. The program coordinator does a great job of organizing the volunteers and really placing them in classrooms and with teachers where they can make a difference. So far Leal has been an exciting place to volunteer and a place where I would love to continue to volunteer after this semester. For anyone else looking to get involved in the community while using Spanish, or not, Leal Elementary is the perfect place to start!