"Working at Leal Elementary School"
For my volunteer assignment in Spanish 232, I am working in a dual-language kindergarten class at Leal Elementary School, helping with daily tasks and instructions. The teacher I work under has just moved to the U.S. from a town just outside of Madrid, and has been welcoming and receptive to me volunteering in her classroom. In the class there are about 19 kids, about 11 of whom are native Spanish speakers, and 9 of whom are native English speakers, which I think makes for a very interesting dynamic. Although it is a dual-language classroom, instruction is supposed to be in Spanish 95% of the time.
When I met the volunteer coordinator for orientation, she briefed me on expectations for volunteers at Leal, along with the school's philosophy, and corresponding policies. Leal hires many volunteers from the community, and all are expected to be role models for the children, which includes acting in a professional manner and respecting the privacy of students. Upholding these expectations is extremely important in order to work towards Leal's general goal to be “a good place for children and adults.” Leal prides itself as a safe and productive learning environment for everyone, and maintains this environment by emphasizing the importance of “Respecting Yourself, Respecting Others, and Respecting Property”, or for short, respecting “YOP”. Especially among kindergarteners who are learning how to interact with peers for the first time, I think it is very important to emphasize the importance of respect.
Considering I haven't stepped foot inside an elementary school classroom in over a decade, every time I volunteer I'm surprised at all of the wonderful things I have forgotten since my time there. After spending my most recent years in classrooms with white walls and grey desks, it is wonderful to start my week off in a classroom of color, with students’ artwork covering the whiteboard and walls, and interactive toys spread out around the classroom. I've forgotten how much energy young children have, and how they find so many things to be fascinating and novel. Last week for instance, the kids were intrigued by learning about Eskimos (esquimales in Spanish), and I realized how much I take for granted.
Aside from what I have forgotten about elementary school, I’ve found that there are many aspects of this particular classroom that are distinct from what I do remember about my kindergarten experience. There was little diversity in my elementary school—native English speakers composed 95% of the student body, and the vast majority of students at my school came from white, upper-middle class families. Because I grew up among a student body of such little diversity, I find the social dynamics at Leal to be quite refreshing. The way the school has gone about embracing and celebrating diversity is inspiring. In my classroom, the teacher is not the only one teaching—everyone in the classroom is working together to learn. No matter one’s background or native language, everyone is obligated to help one another when instructions are unclear, or when they can’t express themselves in one particular language. We all help each other better understand, and work against the language and cultural barriers that may otherwise exist.