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.