Sunday, March 7, 2010

Community Partner Spotlight: Booker T. Washington Elementary School in Champaign

by Ann Abbott

Booker T. Washington was our second community partner, built upon the foundation that Prof. Anna Maria Escobar had already forged with her students. UIUC students did independent studies with Prof. Escobar and worked at the school.

As I helped transform SPAN 232 from an advanced conversation course to a community service learning (CSL) course, that partnership then had a "place" in the curriculum. Independent studies are a heavy burden for faculty and don't count toward their promotion, so building a place within regular courses for that type of work is important.

Booker T. Washington is a lovely school that is undergoing a big transformation right now--a new building and a new theme. Our partnership will have to evolve along with their changes, and that will require lots of conversations to find out how we can change our partnership but still keep it mutually beneficial.

Below are Kirsten Hope's words as she described the atmosphere she encountered during her visit to BTW.

"I visited Booker T. Washington School this morning. I went to Claudia Fradkin's 1st grade bilingual classroom. Wow. I have never seen so much energy! The students in her class were so excited about learning and the amount of activity going on in the class astounded me! When I first got there, the students were broken up into groups, working on reading, spelling and I think some math! Every student was thoroughly engaged in what he or she was doing, and you could almost feel the learning going on. The classroom was so different from the upper grades that I'm used to. Claudia's strategies of working in groups and rotating between them really kept every student on task, and even when they looked off task, she somehow brought them back to the task at hand.

"There were two volunteers from SPAN 232 and 332 there. James McElwain and Hugo Olvera work in her classroom every week, and they told me how Claudia manages her classroom with a delicate balance of strictness and warmth. The students seemed to really respond to her attitude, and they obviously really loved our volunteers as well! James and Hugo told me about all the students, and the funny things they say or do. It seemed like a lot of fun working there, and I also think that it's very educational- not only for the 1st graders, but for the volunteers. For example, I asked James about what happens if the students use a colloquialism or slang word that he doesn't know. He explained that although the dominant language of the classroom is Spanish, the students can switch between Spanish and English so quickly that communication problems don't arise too much. I think that the 1st graders really appreciate seeing 'big kids' use their native language to communicate with them. They seem to really love working with the volunteers. Claudia also told me how much she loves having the volunteers in the classroom, which is more than obvious in the classroom. There is a feeling of respect and pride for both the Spanish and English languages in the class, and everyone works together in their mutual learning."

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