Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Student Reflection

By Michelle Lee

Working in Garden Hills Elementary School for the past month and a half has been a rewarding experience. Each week I can see improvement in my student’s math and reading skills, which makes me really happy for her since she is very focused when she works and she is also a great student! She is also very excited to see me every time and gives me a big hug and smile whenever I walk into the room :) She has a friend in class and they are somewhat competitive, which makes it difficult to get them to maintain focus on their own work, but they both are able to complete their assignments and are improving nonetheless.

At the school, each tutor helps their student (or two if tutors are ill or not able to attend that day) with math and writing homework. Afterwards the students read out loud for 20 minutes and we help them with their pronunciation and understanding of the plot of the book. The students can choose to read only English, only Spanish, or both English and Spanish each day. They have a reading log where they can get a sticker each time they read for at least 20 minutes. Once they reach six stickers, they can choose a prize from a prize bin (i.e. rings, crayons, toys) as a reward. If there is time at the end we play board games with them. Earlier this month the weather was good enough that we were able to go outside as a class and play on the playground. The photo above is a glimpse into the classroom where I work; the tutors are helping their students with homework.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Student Reflection

by Daniel Cox

As the semester is already half-way through, I imagine it is about time I introduce myself and my goals for my community service-learning experience.

Why did you begin to study Spanish?
I began to study Spanish my sophomore year of high school (after a failed attempt at French during my freshman year). I’d grown close to a few friends with Spanish-speaking parents and my friendships with them sparked an interest in Spanish. When the time came to apply for college, I decided that entering as a Spanish major would allow me to pursue something I loved while trying to figure out what I wanted to study in the long-run. (As it turns out, I never added that second major because Spanish continued to be the main focus.)

What role has Spanish had in your life (and in your education)?
I began to explain that I formed a personal connection to the language through my friendships in high school. I continued to build personal connections to the language and cultures during my first two years at the University of Illinois by surrounding myself with friends whose interest in Spanish helped fuel my own. Many of these friends helped make the transition from semi-Spanish exposure to immersion, an adjustment we had to face during the 2011-2012 school year.

I had decided early into my college career that I would study abroad my junior year in Barcelona. The idea of spending a semester abroad was enticing, but the opportunity to develop a life for myself and truly connect to a city and culture for an entire year was incomparable. Rather than give a broad overview of lessons learned, I’m going to focus on one particular evening. I’d spent much of the year becoming good friends with a girl in the program who had three Catalan roommates, with whom we’d become comfortable speaking Spanish (or Catalan!). This night was especially memorable because a good friend of mine whom I’d met three years prior, when she was an exchange student in my high school, was visiting from Italy. She and I were invited to dinner at the apartment and I was admittedly concerned that the language barrier would prevent us from being able to communicate. A few moments after arriving, I realized that there was no reason to worry. At the table, three of us were students from the U of I program, who could speak English, Spanish, and some Catalan. The three roommates spoke Spanish and Catalan fluently, and one had even studied in Italy and still remembered most of the Italian she’d learned. My friend spoke both Italian and English fluently, but could understand almost all of the conversations in Spanish or Catalan because of the similarities. Throughout the evening, we all joked that there had not been a single moment when only one language was being spoken. The most surprising part of the conversation was that the language differences had enhanced our experience rather than hindered it. It was an opportunity for all of us to practice what we’d learned and try something new.

Now, with that example I want to emphasize the most important role Spanish has played in my life:  a means of, and an inspiration for, communication. Spanish is a force that is constantly encouraging me to meet and interact with new people. Languages can create barriers between people or they can equip us with the skills needed to communicate and understand them. In the example above, (almost) all of us had to use a language that was not our first to order in interact with everyone seated at the table. There was no judgment or concern of mispronunciation because everyone understood the difficulties that come with learning another language.

How do you hope to use Spanish in your community project?
With my community project I hope to continue to interact with people whose backgrounds and experiences differ greatly from my own. Initially, I was excited to have an experience using Spanish in a more professional setting since most of my experiences had been confined to classrooms and personal activities. I’d had very little interaction with people with whom I’d use usted and that was a surprising challenge.

I also hope to show people that the desire to learn and communicate is not one-sided. Many of the patients who come through the Frances Nelson Dental Center have limited English skills, which places them in a group that often receives negativity. I want to assure them that there are people who are dedicated to learning about their cultures and experiences and who are excited to be part of a diverse community.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Can You Describe the Impact of Your Spanish Community Service Learning in 1300 Characters or Less?

by Ann Abbott

I confess to buying women's magazines at the supermarket checkout. While reading my latest impulse buy--the latest issue of Redbook--I read about a contest they are running for a trip to New York. The rules: In 1,300 characters or less, tell us what you're doing to assist your community. 

Here is my entry:

Verb charts. Vocabulary lists. Flags and maps. Is that how you remember Spanish class? 
My Spanish classes at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign are like this: 
Tutor Spanish-speaking children in an after-school program. Coach a Spanish-speaker on a job-application test. Entertain kids while their mother desperately seeks information about her brother who was detained during a recent raid. Create a video showing how to get to a local clinic, explain their services in Spanish, then upload it to a Facebook group for local Latinos. 
Our local community of Spanish-speakers contributes so much to Champaign-Urbana through their hard work, family values, cultural riches and community spirit. Nonetheless, most live in fear, in the shadows. When my students to help these community members in their native language, we show respect for the people, their language and their cultures. 
“I don’t know what to do!” said a woman, in Spanish, grasping a stack of letters from her insurance agency.  “Vamos a ver,” my student said, taking the stack, reading, then calling up the agency. “Just sign this one paper,” my student said in Spanish, “and the hospital will cover your insurance bill.” This scene repeats itself thousands of times because I organize around 150 students every year to work 28 hours each with a dozen community partners. Because of these students, our schools and nonprofits can better serve the Spanish-speaking community and my students become engaged, bilingual citizens. That’s better than just teaching verb charts.
Actually, I had to shorten it even more. It's hard to speak succinctly about the power of Spanish community service learning.

What would your contest entry say?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

How to Advertise your Spanish Community Service Learning Course

My favorite ¨ficha.¨ I spend a lot of hours on Facebook, too.
by Ann Abbott

By using your students' own words!

Last week I passed out notecards to my "Spanish in the Community" students, put them in pairs, and asked them to do two things:
  1. Recognize one legitimate hesitation on students' part about signing up for "Spanish in the Community."
  2. Counter that hesitation with a valid reason why should they sign up for the class anyway.
Here are some of the responses I received and that I will use when I advertise the course for next semester.

  • ¨Sabemos que tienes miedo de hablar en español con hispanohablantes, pero nunca vas a mejorar tu español si no los usas afuera de la clase y con hispanohablantes de la comunidad.¨
  • ¨Sabemos que estás nervioso-a sobre tu capacidad de hablar en español con los hispanohablates, pero las personas en la comunidad tendrán paciencia contigo.¨
  • ¨Sabemos que ¨la distancia puede complicar nuestro servicio en la comunidad, pero hay muchas maneras de llegar a las organizaciones que esojamos, como en camión, bicicleta, a pie, e ir con otras personas.¨
  • ¨Sabemos que la falta de tiempo es un obstáculo para algunos estudiantes, pero en realidad no es mucho tiempo cada semana y es una oportunidad para mejorar su capacidad de hablar con hispanohablantes en la comunidad que no existe en otras clases.¨
  • ¨Sabemos que hay un compromiso de prestar servicio durante 28 horas del semestre, pero es una experiencia estructurada para un resume
  • ¨Sabemos que la clase es solamente dos veces cada semana, pero necesitas dos horas de prestar servicio cada semana. Pero la persona puede esoger el tiempo [y lugar] de prestar servicio¨
  • ¨Sabemos que veintiocho horas es mucho y a veces no tenemos tiempo, pero el trabajo que hacemos vale la pena.¨

It's Midterm: How Are Your Students Doing in the Community?

Orgullosa de mis estudiantes que trabajan en la comunidad.
by Ann Abbott

My students do a self-evaluation about their participation in the community at the midpoint of the semester and at the end. (You can find the Community Participation rubric in my "Spanish in the Community" syllabus.) As I read them last week, I looked for trends.

Trend 1. A positive experience. Students are overwhelmingly enthusiastic about their work in the community, their community partner and the effort they put forth. That is very re-assuring.

Trend 2. Down-time is a problem. For students who work in the grade schools, there is almost no down-time. They help the teacher, help the kids, have almost constant contact with someone. They might get tired, but they don't get bored. Students who work in an office, however, have unpredictable periods of down-time combined with bursts of intense activity. This is not news to me. I have known this is a problem since I began doing this in 2004. Honestly, though, I'm no closer to figuring out a solution. Here are some issues and attempts at solutions:

  • Students know that they should be proactive, but that often translates into actively asking their (busy and distracted) supervisors for more work.
  • Instead, I would like students to get to the point where they propose tasks to their supervisors.
  • Using technology during down-time is my best idea so far. Post on the community partner's Facebook page. Make a short welcome video to post on their website. Look up some links with information in Spanish that could go on their website. 
I'll talk about this with students today.

Trend 3. Use students' talents. One of my students and her supervisor toyed with the idea of my students giving a short workshop to students about the basics of journalism. The problem: some Latina middle-school students think "small" when imagining careers for themselves. The solution: my Latina student is a blogger and citizen journalist. The other talent that almost all my students have that gets taken for granted is their sociability. They are good conversationalists who enjoy interacting with people.

Trend 4. Supervisors really appreciate stand-out students. One student wrote about how the teacher she works with sent an e-mail to the volunteer coordinator about the students' outstanding work. Way to go students! Your impact can be huge.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Some Students Continue to Learn and Serve in the Community Even afterthe Course

My workspace at the university. I was sitting here when I read my former student's e-mail message.
by Ann Abbott

This is the kind of message that every community service learning instructor loves to receive--and that every community partner loves to be a part of:

"I also want you to know that I have continued tovolunteer at Garden Hills this semester with the teacher I met throughvolunteering for your class last semester :) It truly has made a lasting impact on me. 
"I hope all is well with you and SPAN 232 this semester."
Even some students who drop the course intend to continue with their commitment in the community. I received this e-mail today: 
"Due to my course requirements, I unfortunately had to drop the class. :( 
I will still continue volunteering at SOAR for the rest of the semester (and hopefully next semester too for that matter) but I will miss our class greatly!"

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Student Reflection

by Flora Ramirez

Hello everyone, my name is Flora Ramirez and I am a senior in Urban and Regional Planning.  I am extremely excited about having the opportunity to complete my James Scholar Project for SPAN-232.  Within the realm of Urban Planning my interests lie in urban design and community planning in ethnic neighborhoods.  While I have developed my first interest within my major’s curriculum it has been more of a struggle to explore my second interest.  That said, when I ran across this class I jumped at the opportunity to work in the community!

My experience with Spanish within the academic arena is extremely limited.  However, Spanish is my native language and so it has always informally been a part of my life.  Having made the transition from learning in Spanish to learning in English in 4th grade, my Spanish has experience limited growth since then. 
This said I hope that my experience with in the community will help my Spanish speaking skills grow. My goal is to have the ability to hold a casual conversation with community members effectively.  By effectively I mean that I would like to be personable so that community members may feel that they can confide in me.  In the long run I strongly feel that my experiences within the community will also help me gain a heightened sense of awareness for what members of ethnic communities’ experience.  The hopes are that this understanding will then help to better inform my approach to both urban design and community planning.  

Monday, October 15, 2012

Student Reflection

Entrance to the Refugee Center.
by Erik Bingham

Volunteering at ECIRMAC

During this fall semester I will be volunteering my time to work at the refugee center (ECIRMAC). I chose to work are ERCIMAC for a couple reasons. One, because it is literally a two minute bike ride away from my apartment, and two, because I wanted a new Spanish experience to add to my résumé. As I said in my first post, in Spain I taught an English class once a week with a couple other student teachers to disabled adults.  While I did enjoy teaching and would like to continue exploring that field, working at ECIRMAC gives me the experience of being in an office.

The office of ECIRMAC is pretty small. In fact, I’m guessing that the room I work in is about the size of my bedroom. Well, maybe it is a little bit bigger. Some days I will be the only one in the room for my entire hour of volunteering. However most days there is at least one other person working when I am there. Already I have met some awesome people and am looking forward getting to know them better.

While I have only worked a couple weeks I have already had some professional experiences with my Spanish skills. I usually just answer the phone and take messages- which is actually a little difficult due to the different accents, speed, and the fact that it is over the phone. Every time I do answer the phone though I get a little better at understanding what our clients are saying. Something that is more interesting than taking messages is actually interacting with our clients in the office. Many times they cannot speak or read English and need a translator to help them with a variety of documents. I had the opportunity to translate a birth certificate for a mother and then we went to the Urbana library to get it notarized. She then tried to give me twenty dollars for my service. Needless to say I politely refused payment and she was very grateful.

One of the workers there told me that many people depend on the services that ECIRMAC provides. From the first day that I worked I could see that this was true. Things that are pretty simple for most Americans such as reading a letter or filling out a tax form (maybe not so simple) are nearly impossible when someone cannot understand what the document says. I cannot imagine being in a country where I do not speak the main language. While I don’t do much because I do not work full time, I feel proud to be a part of this team that is providing such a great service to the community.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What More Can Spanish Community Service Learning Students Do?

Students want to help as much as possible in the community.
by Ann Abbott

It's the middle of the semester, and students had to spend their time in class today evaluating their work in the community. Are they reliable? Proactive? Professional? Here is how we handled the class period:

  1. Determine what type of volunteer they are. Students read about the different types of volunteers--from the organization's perspective. They had to 1) determine which categories they belonged to and provide a supporting example from their work in the community, and 2) indicate what categories they wanted to be by the end of the semester. For that second step, students had to give their reason for wanting to reach that point and delineate some specific steps they can take to get there. They interviewed each other to compare and contrast their answers.
  2. Evaluate their own community participation. Students then filled out the community participation rubric in our syllabus, giving themselves a grade on their work in the community.
  3. I contacted my community partners. What I observed from the students is that they want to become even more involved. They want their work to be gratifying. That doesn't mean that they think the world revolves around them. Not at all! But they do want to feel useful and that they are learning. So, I came back up to my office and wrote the message below to my community partners.
What are you doing at this mid-point in the semester to push your students to achieve even more in the community?

"Dear community partners, 

We are at the mid-point of the semester, so I wanted to check in with all of you. 

First of all, thank you for accepting the students, training them and delegating work to them. They learn about Spanish, Hispanic cultures and “real life” through their work with you. You are my co-teachers. And I recognize that this implies additional work for all of you. 

Second of all, students all report that they love what they are doing—and that they want to do even more! Sometimes it can be difficult to come up with projects for students, I know. But they truly want to be busy contributing to your mission. So let me just suggest some things that you might ask them to do when there is down-time in your office or school:
·         Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter feed? Have the students write posts, upload pictures, take some short videos, post interesting links, etc. They can be very creative. And if you don’t have a social media presence but always wanted one, now would be a good time to ask students to help you with that process.
·         Are there resources that you could add to your website? Ask your student volunteer to search for them and add them. For example, maybe Smile Healthy could use some links to videos narrated in Spanish that show correct brushing and flossing techniques. Your student can do that for you. Maybe the Refugee Center could add some links about declaring income taxes (a task they do often in the spring). Ask the students to help.
·         When is the last time you put out flyers in certain neighborhood? Your student might be able to pass them out and say a few things in Spanish to the residents. Or would you like a student to contact the people at Kraft, Solo Cup, or other factory and ask if they can leave materials for their Spanish-speaking staff? Maybe even make a 5-minute presentation during break?
·         Do you have clients/families that haven’t shown up for a while? Donors who haven’t given lately? Prepare some talking points for or with your student volunteer and ask them to make some calls—in English or Spanish.
·        Do people know how to get to your building? Ask students to describe bus routes or take videos about how to arrive. Maybe even create a Google map for you with pictures, videos and other information attached to it.

These are just a few ideas. My students have various levels of Spanish, but they all have lots of creativity, knowledge of technology and desire to help you accomplish your mission even better with your Spanish-speaking stakeholders. 

Let me know if you have any questions. 


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Student Reflection

by Megan Creighton

Academic Community Service: Contextualizing your volunteer experience

When I enrolled in this class I did so because I wanted to get involved in the Spanish-speaking community—something I had already been striving to do independently in the past—and get enough credits to graduate at the same time. I must admit that my very pragmatic mindset at the beginning of this course has changed substantially as I have come to realize the tremendous benefit of supplementing volunteer work with academics. Certainly service work is foundational to this class, but it can be greatly enriched when paired with practical learning objectives to both improve your Spanish and contextualize your volunteer experience.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, there are many areas of Spanish that I am quite rusty with—primarily rattling off colloquial expressions, grammatical changes with Usted, or even basic vocabulary I learned in middle school. (The other day I had to ask kindergartener how to say ‘balloon’, which is ‘el globo’, of course.) Exercises done in class such as going over mandatos, basic math equations, or re-learning how to write and understand large numbers have been really helpful in enhancing my volunteer experience. (Though my students are still working on writing the number 5, I'm sure practicing numbers above 1000 in Spanish will pay off for me in the future!) These are basic grammatical concepts and vocabulary I’ve learned so long ago and yet have had little contact with since. How often have I needed to say “el globo” or “dos mas dos son cuatro” in upper-level Spanish classes? Almost never. And yet, it is words like these that volunteers come across every day at their sites. For this reason, I’m grateful that this class provides brief reviews and exercises of basic yet important Spanish grammar rules and vocabulary.

Moreover, the academic component of this class has been crucial in contextualizing my experience as a volunteer—that is, reflecting on my experience while becoming more knowledgeable about the community that I serve. An important theme in the class has been recognizing cultural differences in order to maintain open minds and broaden understanding about the people that we work with. This has meant many things from reviewing how to speak respectfully to strangers to reflecting on the subjectivity and diversity of knowledge production in the education system. It is important to be aware and open-minded of cultural differences we may come across as volunteers. In that same vein, it is imperative that volunteers are aware of events and news that may be affecting the community. Last week, for instance, the class schedule was altered so that we could discuss the news of a recent raid at a local grocery store in which several people were detained by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement for not having immigration or citizenship documents. We discussed the gravity of this event for the Latino community, both documented and undocumented, and how we would respond to the event as volunteers as well as caring neighbors. Further discussion of immigration legislation such as Deferred Action and the Dream Act has broadened our understanding of the struggles that undocumented Latinos face every day. With these academic discussions, we are forced to reflect on our roles as volunteers, and also as global citizens. We must stay up to date on current events at local, national, international levels in order to to maintain an awareness of the community; with this knowledge and awareness we can then situate our personal experiences within this moment and improve on our role as volunteers. 

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Student Reflection

by Erik Bingham

My name is Erik Bingham and I am currently a junior taking SPAN 232. I signed up for this class because it is very practical to my goals for studying Spanish. Hopefully in the future I will be able to use my Spanish skills in my career and/or personal life and I feel that the objectives of this class are exactly what I need to practice. Its not enough to get A’s on all my tests in Spanish class because my ultimate goal for learning the language isn’t to get a good grade- it is to interact with the Spanish speaking community.

I have been studying Spanish ever since I was a freshman in high school and finally had the chance to put my years of work into action. Last semester I went to Alicante, Spain and had the time of my life. In Spain I took classes completely in Spanish, lived with a Spanish family, and got to make some Spanish friends. I was immersed in the culture and the language and found that I could get by just fine although it was difficult. Over those five months in Spain my Spanish kept getting better and better as I had the opportunity to use it everyday. My only regret is not staying a full year in Spain.

I have already had some community service experience with the Spanish speaking community. In the summer of 2008 I went with my church on a service trip to a small town called Chincha Alta in Peru. The summer before the trip there was a terrible earthquake that destroyed many peoples’ houses and lives. While we were only there for a week we did a couple things to help the community. We laid the concrete foundation of the new church being built on the ruins of the old one and also led a Vacation Bible School at an orphanage for little girls. Everyone in the community that we worked with was extremely grateful that we came down there to help out. That was rewarding in itself.

My second experience with Spanish volunteering was an English class I taught to disabled adults in Spain. I had never taught any sort of class before this so I have to admit that I was pretty nervous and unorganized but I got to learn as I went. It was exciting to hear people who had previously never spoken any sentence in English to be able to understand us in class and also learn phrases and some grammar. I also walked home with one of my students who lived close to my host family. After a couple days of walking home together I became somewhat of his English mentor and also his friend.

My hope for this class is that I will be able to use my Spanish skills outside of the classroom like I did in Spain. I want to have a professional experience translating, communicating, and doing general office work at ECIRMAC. I am also thinking about volunteering at one of the Urbana schools but as of the moment have not done so.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Student Reflection

by Megan Creighton

What I do at Leal Elementary

Every Monday morning for two hours, I sit in on a dual-language kindergarten class and help with lessons in letters and numbers, and go out with the kids to recess for a half hour. Though part of the time I am in the background while the teacher is giving a lesson on the board, I spend a large portion of the time going around to different tables and helping the kids complete their individual work. Usually after a lesson, they have activities in their workbooks, which is typically tracing letters or numbers, and sometimes coloring. In these first weeks of school, the kids have been getting more acquainted with the alphabet, and are writing and counting to the number 7.

After about an hour of practicing numbers, the kids line up to get their coats, use the bathroom and go outside for a snack and recess for about 20-30 minutes. During this time I sometimes play with or talk to the kids, but usually spend this time talking to the teacher about various things—the students, our lives, the weekend, etc. She has been really easy to talk to, and also very open in helping me figure out some options of what I can do to get on a path to teaching after I graduate. After recess, we return to the classroom and start with a  lesson on letters, until 11am, when the kids leave for lunch and I leave for the day.

As a sort of stranger to the classroom, the kids seem to be really intrigued by me—some get excited to see me and ask me all sorts of questions, while others just timidly stare. Many have had suspicions of what languages I speak because they have heard both my imperfect Spanish, and my fluent English. I've had to explain that I speak English at home, and Spanish at school, emphasizing the latter to the native English speaking students that are insistent on speaking English with me. The Spanish that I use in the kindergarten classroom is quite a bit different than what I'm used to speaking in college classrooms or with other adults. Instead of long, thought-out sentences, I need to use short and quick commands and colloquial expressions with the kindergarteners. This has been a real wake-up call for me; while I'm fairly confident in my ability to hold a lengthy and coherent conversation with an adult, I struggle with short phrases and commands that are commonly used around little kids. Things as simple as “Tie your shoe!” or “Be nice to each other”, I find difficult to come up with quickly. For this reason (among many others) I'm glad to be working in a school with young children to improve my Spanish in a very different environment than I have been exposed to in the past. Moreover, watching the kids' Spanish improve is inspiring. It is only week 5, but already I can tell that non-native speakers are using Spanish much more freely and confidently. I can't wait to see where they will be in ten more weeks at the end of the semester, and hopefully I will have made a great deal of improvement in my Spanish as well!