Friday, October 29, 2010

Student Reflection

by Katie Dudek

Parent-Teacher Conferences

When I was in elementary, middle, and high school, parent-teacher conferences meant one thing: no school.  These two or three days that my teachers met with my parents as well as my classmates’ parents enabled me to sleep in late and spend the rest of the morning watching cartoons like Arthur and Franklin (yes, even when I was in high school) while making plans with friends for the afternoon.  While enjoying my free time away from the classroom, not once did I think about what was going on at these conferences, or how important they truly are.  Now I know.

A few weeks ago, I received an email that was sent to all of the University of Illinois students currently enrolled in the Spanish in the Community course.  It relayed the message that Central High School in Champaign was in need of translators for their parent-teacher conferences.  Although I was hesitant at first, I decided to email the secretary to say that I would be very happy to help.  Not knowing what to expect, I was at the Central High School counseling office bright and early on the day I agreed to volunteer.

It could not have gone better.  Prior to the conferences, I was very nervous about whether or not my level of Spanish would be sufficient to explain to parents how their students were doing in their classrooms.  I soon found out that I had no need to be nervous.  Both the parents and the teachers were very happy to have me and so thankful for my services.  I translated a total of five conferences: two for algebra, one for physical education, one for history, and one for biology.  It was amazing how easily the words just came out of my mouth as I described how the students were doing in their classes and the ways in which they can improve.  I feel my last conference was the most successful.  We discovered that the reason the student was not performing well on her biology tests was because she did not understand the vocabulary.  Not only is she going to retake some of the exams, but she is going to work one on one with the teacher after school, as well as be provided a Spanish version of the text book to help her better understand.  Her mother was so thankful that I was able to help her sort everything out.

What I also enjoyed about the conferences is that while I was not translating, I spent time in the counseling office speaking with the other translators.  It was incredible to hear everyone’s stories and to speak for such an extended period of time in Spanish, which I haven’t done since I left Spain last spring.  One woman who had grown up in Mexico could not stop commenting about how impressive my Spanish was.  She thought it was great that I was volunteering my time like this.  I was flattered by her kind words, and this helped me realize that I just need to be more confident in my Spanish speaking abilities.  I have no reason to be hesitant about volunteering at functions like this, and now am very excited to see what other opportunities are available to me.

Student Reflection

by Allison Kutzki

Since mid-September I have been working at Leal Elementary School in Urbana in a first grade bilingual classroom. At this level, most of the day students spend speaking in Spanish, but English is also used to teach certain subjects. While I am there, I mostly work one on one with the students out in the hallway on reading or math activities. I also get to spend a half hour of my time outside with them at recess. During this time, I am able to play games such as tag or hop scotch or sometimes I just talk to them about their lives and what they like to do for fun. This is extremely rewarding for me because not only do I get the opportunity to relate to them on an educational level, but I also have the chance to build a relationship and trust with them in interacting outside of the school setting in a relaxed environment. Using Spanish in a situation like this, I believe already has improved my language skills immensely. Certain vocabulary words and expressions come up while working with such free minded people that never would in a classroom, and it has been extremely beneficial working with them for this reason.

Working with young students has been a challenge yet eye opening. Being that I had little prior experience with students of this age in an educational setting, it is sometimes hard to know how much assistance they actually need. It is difficult to decide if I should help them along, or if they are better off sounding things out on their own. This is also the first time that I have ever used my Spanish to communicate with someone younger than me. Something I am coming to understand is the language acquisition process in children. While communicating in Spanish with native speakers, it has come to my attention that not only can there be a lack of understanding for language reasons, but children often explain things much less clearly than those who have more highly developed language skills. They can easily get off on tangents about fabricated stories that make sense to them but do not to us necessarily. This can sometimes be frustrating or even confusing, but it has ultimately made me a more attentive listener.

One of the greatest things about working in a school, for me, is that each time I go, I never know what kind of experience I am going to have or what I am going to learn. Although I am with the same group of students, each day posits a new challenge or situation that I must creatively resolve. Whether it is figuring out the best way to help a student read, helping them learn how to subtract or teaching them how and why they need to play fair during recess; each day brings something new. Not only am I provided with an optimal environment to improve my language knowledge, but I am also generating behavioral and educational tactics. Aside from the challenges it can sometimes pose, working in the community has thus far been extremely gratifying. Knowing that I have made some sort of impact in their lives is an irreplaceable feeling, and I am looking forward, for better or for worse, to what each day holds with these students. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Northwestern´s Global Engagement Summer Institute

by Ann Abbott

You don´t have to be a Northwestern student to participate in their Global Engagement Summer Institute.  Besides the rich learning experience it obviously provides, I am impressed by all the skills students can develop through this international service learning program:

  • Language proficiency through immersion.
  • Teamwork with members from diverse cultures.
  • Global knowledge.
  • Community consulting.
The pre-departure training, rigorous yet well-supported field experience, and then the final learning summit really package the experience in a way that maximizes the learning and the students' abilities to transfer their newly honed and/or emerging skill set into other contexts.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

UIUC Students: Practice Your Spanish outside of Class

by Ann Abbott

Getting a major or minor in Spanish doesn't mean that you will be fluent in Spanish when you graduate.  Studying abroad definitely helps, but as many students know, if you stay for a semester you end up leaving just when your fluency is building.  Using your Spanish outside of class as much as possible helps, too.  If nothing else, the more you use your Spanish the more confident you become, and that's very useful.

Here's a chance to practice your Spanish at UIUC.

What is Mi Pueblo?
Mi Pueblo is a student-run network of Spanish conversation groups.  This means that U of I students volunteer their time to lead 1-hour conversations in Spanish at different times and places around campus every week.  We have about 20 group leaders this semester, and many of them run groups together (i.e. two or three leaders per group).

How does it work?
All you have to do is show up ready to speak Spanish.  We work on a drop-in no-RSVP policy, so anybody can come to any meeting when they have the time.  The groups are fluid, and each group leader has their own personality.  Our conversation topics vary from talking about the news and weekend plans, to playing games like Catchphrase or Pictionary.  It depends on your interest, and group leaders are happy to direct conversation toward topics you want to talk about.

Is there a group for my level of Spanish?
There are novice, intermediate, and advanced level Spanish groups.  You choose to go to the group that corresponds to your language level.  To learn more about what each language level means, check out our language level guidelines at:

When can I go?
View our online calendar for meeting days, times, locations, and Spanish levels.  You can also find the names of the group leader(s) of each meeting.  Find a meeting that works for you, and just show up!
How can I find out more?

If you have any questions regarding a specific group meeting, feel free to message the group leader in charge. All group leaders are listed under “Officers” on the left-hand side panel of the UIUC Mi Pueblo page on Facebook. If you have any general questions, comments, or suggestions, feel free to write on our Wall on Facebook or send us an email at  We’d love to hear from you!

Don’t forget to friend us on Facebook!  Search “UIUC Mi Pueblo.”  You’ll know it’s us when you see a photo of Machu Picchu. 

¡Nos vemos por Mi Pueblo!

Lara Sanoica
Mi Pueblo Coordinator

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Be an Interpreter at Central High School's Parent Teacher Conferences

by Ann Abbott

Champaign Central High School will host their parent-teacher conferences at the end of this month.  Please consider helping!  To prepare, please read this link about Spanish vocabulary related to parent-teacher conferences and this link about one student's experience working with parents and teachers to facilitate their communication.

Please contact Ms. Shmikler to make arrangements:

I have an opportunity for  your students to get some experience in translating Spanish!  Our parent teacher conferences are Thursday, October 28 (5:00 pm till 8 pm) and Friday, October 29 (8 till noon).  If you would pass this along, I sure would appreciate!!  My email is for any student interested!

Michelle Shmikler, Associate Principal's Secretary
Central High School
610 W University Ave
Champaign, IL

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Student Reflection: Dana Lange

by Dana Lange

Buenos días! My name is Dana Lange and I’m a junior this year studying Spanish and environmental science at the good ole’ U of I. I’m a student in SPAN 232 this semester which is how I heard about this opportunity to blog about my experiences volunteering in the community.

I have been studying Spanish since I started high school and had a few informal encounters with the language in elementary school. Since I started, I knew that I wanted Spanish to be a part of my life. I love the language- learning about it and the cultures that speak it. Something about it just fascinates me! And even though we live in an English-speaking country, it hasn’t been difficult to incorporate Spanish into my daily life.

The past few months of my life have given me the opportunity to really learn Spanish- I spent the past spring semester and summer in Spain. I studied in Granada for 4 ½ months, hiked across northern Spain doing the Camino de Santiago for a month, and finished up the summer by working as an au pair- living in Madrid with a family and taking care of their three children and teaching them English (the photo is of Dana during her work as au pair). I spent seven months there total and I can honestly say that those were the most challenging, rewarding, and most life-changing seven months, at least for now. I truly tried to “soak it all up,” becoming good friends with my host mom and sister, who taught me so much about Spanish traditions, lifestyles, slang, and of course cooked me the most delicious food. Rarely did I want to go out for tapas, in fear that I might miss a new delicious dish that Gracia, my host mom, would make. I made Spanish friends, including my intercambio, Marta, who became my closest friend in Granada. We met because she wanted to practice her English and I of course wanted to practice my Spanish. And from there we started our friendship. We are still in contact and I can’t wait to visit her in Spain again- if not before I graduate, definitely once I graduate.

I then took a month to walk/hike the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage that takes you across northern Spain, from the Pyrenees Mountains to Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is buried. I walked it for a month with three people from the U.S. and I learned more about my faith, teamwork, and hard work in one month than I had for the past 20 years of my life. J I finished up the summer by au pairing in Madrid. That took some adjusting, too, but after a couple of weeks I grew to love the family I lived with and the city I lived in.

Spain was incredible and I still talk about my experience every day, wanting to relive the memories again and again. But I’m hoping that I’ll be able to use my experience to encourage others to study abroad, as well as use my knowledge of the Spanish language and new perspective to work in the community with the kids taking religion class at St. John’s Catholic Newman Center. I looking forward to this semester and the rest of the year and will be filling you in about all of my experiences!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Student Reflection

by Katie Dudek

Back to the Fourth Grade

I still remember my first day of fourth grade.  As my family had just moved, I was going to a new school.  While I put my Airwalk sneakers on and placed all of my school supplies in my brand new monogrammed L.L.Bean backpack, I thought about how my day would go.  I was very nervous about what my teacher would be like, if I would like the other students in my class, and more importantly, whether or not they would like me.  As I prepared myself to volunteer in Ms. Bucio’s fourth grade bilingual classroom a few weeks ago, the same thoughts entered my mind.  What would the teacher I would be working with be like?  Would I get along with the students in her classroom?  Would they enjoy having me with them in their classroom?  Just like in the fourth grade, I had no reason to worry.  Though I did not have my Airwalks or a backpack with my initials on it this time, I walked out of Ms. Bucio’s classroom after my first day feeling the same relief and contentment that I did when I was 10 years old.   

Ms. Bucio’s class is made up of students with varying levels of English mastery.  While her class is taught mostly in English, many times she explains herself once more in Spanish if her students appear to confused by the information.  It is very interesting to see that while she may ask a question in English, a student will respond in Spanish, as it is the way they feel they can most adequately express themselves.  There are some students that speak only in English, some who speak only in Spanish, and some who code-switch back and forth between the two languages. 

My role in the classroom is to help with their reading aloud.  As they are doing their literacy and writing classroom rotation, I help the students on the “reading carpet.”  Though they are reading in English, I use my knowledge of Spanish phonetics and phonology to help them understand why words are pronounced differently between the two languages.  For instance, many have trouble with words that begin with “h” as this letter represents a neutral phoneme in Spanish (which means it is silent). 

Overall it has been a great experience.  Ms. Bucio is very enthusiastic and very grateful to have me helping her.  The students enjoy having me there as well.  They are very eager to work with me, and love to show me how far they have gotten on the chapter books that they have been reading.  I am very much looking forward to a great semester working with these students, and cannot wait to see what each week will bring.