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Sunday, December 23, 2012

Student Reflection

by Flora Ramirez


With the semester finally coming to a close, I can genuinely say that I am grateful for all of my experiences with both La Línea and CLACS. While both experiences were very different from one another, they were able to further inform my personal interests in very unique ways.  

My work with CLACS “Story Time” helped me value culture.  I realized the importance of exposing children to other cultures and the positive impacts in can have. By creating this sense of awareness, parents and teachers can begin to foster respect for people of various backgrounds. To some extent, my time at CLACS even taught me to further value my own culture and my parents’ success with passing down our traditions and language to me.

Even though my time with La Linea was short, I felt extremely involved with the two cases I was part of.  Here, I realized how important my language and culture was in terms of making myself personable to community members.  I was able to use my own experiences and successfully create close connections with community members.  For the first time I feel that I was able to make a connection with the immigrant communities in Champaign.  

As a whole, I think this service-learning course allowed me to better understand the concepts of interconnectedness.  I feel like there is a general movement on Campus to offer classes like this to students so that they may begin to connect the dots between their academic world and the so called “real world.”  Making these connections for me is vital as my major, Urban Planning, is broadly defined. And so taking initiative to define it for myself is extremely important.  Since my personal goals are to create environments that welcome diversity of all kinds I think it is very important to place myself in spaces where culture is celebrated. When I push myself into these spaces I can learn from actual community members in terms of what does and does not work at the ground level.  I am being educated by the actual people that I one day would like to advocate for. Having these connections at this level can help ensure that any planning efforts I become involved in will accurately reflect the needs of the people I care about. 

On the topic of interconnectedness, I would also like to say that this experience opened my eyes to so many of the connections on campus that are networking to mobilize for change.  I was truly delighted to see that I was unconsciously tapping into these resources and they were all somehow connected.  I realized that people at La Linea were working with people from CLACS, that the coordinators from these groups were both working with Planners Network (an organization of students, faculty, professionals and other activist planners involved in community development for social justice.), and that my own professors from both Urban and Regional Planning and Landscape Architecture were also working with all of these people.  I was able to see how merging specializations to create a holistic approach can truly be successful!
For me, it was not only exciting to realize that all these great people I knew were working together, but it also helped me reinforce trust in the academic path I had taken. With graduation, not too far I look back on the courses that I have chosen to supplement my major and I realize how on the target I was.  While I had taken a number of other service-learning classes in the past this class really brought it all together for me.  It may be that I am graduating soon and I am simply reminiscing, or that our professor Ann Abbott was one of the most engaging professors I have had on campus, whatever it is I feel extremely blessed to have been a part of this course.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Student Reflection

by Megan Creighton

Un Abrazo Fuertísimo

My time as an undergraduate came to a close today after I handed in one final paper. I had toiled over this research throughout the entire semester and spent the last two weeks almost entirely devoted to writing my paper on it. It was the last remaining requirement for my anthropology degree, and I had always imagined that the moment of completing my senior capstone would be triumphant and rewarding. So I finally finished my paper early this morning, and I trudged through the violent wind and rain to at last hand it in. When I left the building, there was no big “hurrah” or celebration. Besides experiencing some moderate sense of relief, I left the building feeling quite underwhelmed.

In this last week as an undergraduate, I experienced many “lasts”.  I spent hours finalizing this last paper. I took one last written final. I worked my last shift at my student job. I used my I-card for the very last time. But the only “last” I think that will be truly memorable for me, was my last day volunteering at Leal.

On Monday morning, while all of my house-mates were sleeping, I struggled to get out of bed at 8am to volunteer at Leal for one last time. To be honest, I was not very excited about it. I had already worked 30 hours, 2 hours more than the course’s required 28, and was exhausted as the semester came to a close. But as I had committed to volunteering throughout the semester, I did not want to back out. Moreover, I felt that I needed some sense of closure from this wonderful experience, and I needed to give a proper farewell and thanks to the teacher and students that I had worked with. 

I’m so glad that I resisted the temptation to sleep in that morning and call it quits early. Seeing these students for one last time (unless I come back in the spring, that is) was a great experience. As they worked on writing words and drawing patterns, I could really see how much they’ve learned in just a few months. And even more than before, Spanish and English speaking students are increasingly improving their language skills. Just before the kids left for lunch and I left to return home, I said my last saludos y gracias. In a moment I’ll never forget, I was met with un abrazo fuertísimo from 19 powerful little talented, creative, (and bilingual!) munchkins that I will never forget. Despite its inevitable messiness and disorder, I have come to absolutely love working in this kindergarten class. I went to my last day as a Leal volunteer feeling sleepy, and left excited, refreshed, and reflective about my rewarding past as well as my uncertain future.  

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Student Reflection

by Daniel Cox

[My apologies, this post appears out of order because I accidently posted it to a different blog. So, here is a look back at the earlier days of this semester and Daniel's experience with his community partner. --Ann Abbott]


My transition to the office

My community project this semester involves interpreting, translating, and general clerical work for the Frances Nelson Dental Center through Smile Healthy. I initially chose to complete my volunteer assignment through Smile Healthy because I had not previously used my Spanish in an office setting. Throughout my first three years at the University of Illinois, I’d spent several hours in a classroom setting, assisting ESL students and tutoring students in Spanish. That being said, Smile Healthy offered the opportunity to try something new:  working with Spanish speakers over 17 years old and using a set of vocabulary that I usually do not use.

One of the hardest challenges I’ve faced was adjusting to the medical terminology both in Spanish and English. During my first visit to the office, I only had to interpret for two families. While the first family required little assistance and was able to communicate efficiently in English, the second family needed significantly more assistance. The dental assistant asked me to tell the mother that the child had several cavities and to ask if she put him to sleep with a “sippy-cup”. I managed to figure out how to say cavities (as, fortunately, it’s a cognate, cavedades), but I had absolutely no idea how to say “sippy-cup”. I had to improvise to explain what I was trying to say, and fortunately the mother understood. However, the conversation required me to communicate an important message despite the fact I did not know exactly how to translate each word. Based on my experiences working in the community, both at Smile Healthy and in schools, learning how to communicate even when vocabulary barriers exist is essential to successfully using a language.

As I’ve become more comfortable in the office, the staff no longer has had to focus on training me how to complete small tasks or projects. Every Wednesday, the primary secretary gives me a list of tasks to complete when I arrive, and she knows to include additional instructions if they are not tasks I’ve completed in the past. These tasks include making reminder phone calls to Spanish-speaking patients, scanning extraction consent forms and assigning them to the appropriate file, and making appointments for Spanish-speaking patients as they leave the office. Of these tasks, I enjoy making appointments best because it allows for more interaction with the patients. At first, making phone calls was extremely daunting because it requires a verbal interaction without any of the visual or gestural clues of face-to-face interaction. Additionally, phone conversations generally follow the same script. I inform the patient of an upcoming appointment, they thank me for calling, and the conversation ends. In comparison, the possibility for (relatively) unscripted interaction during the face-to-face conversations is the main reason I prefer making appointments to calling with reminders.

After seven weeks of working in the office, I’m happy to say that I have adjusted to the routine and the steps required to complete my tasks, but I can still count on working with new people, learning new words or phrases, and using my Spanish to make many people’s dental care experiences even better.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Student Reflection

by Flora Ramirez


With the end of the semester just around the corner I decided I would try and pair up with a second community partner in order to fulfill my required twenty-eight hours of service for this class. I decided to get in contact with La Linea.  This is a pilot program at the University YMCA that is staffed by volunteers that provide phone information service in the form of basic translation and interpretation. I was particularly drawn to this group because I had worked with them as a sophomore when the program was initially taking off.  After contacting Francisco Baires, the Community Programs Director, I was able to meet with him and another volunteer by the name of Carolina.  During our meeting we discussed what La Linea had evolved into in my absence and what our own person abilities could bring to this program.  Having explained to them my interest in speaking more with immigrant community members they then presented to me a new case they were involved with and asked if I was willing to help. 

I of course was excited to be on board.  After we discussed the details of the case, we decided we needed to visit the individual that was being detained at a facility after a traffic stop revealed he/she did not have the proper documentation. Suddenly everything became so much more real for me.  I had been learning about such situations in class all semester long and now here I was about to step into someone’s reality.  I must confess that I doubted my abilities to translate and to cope with this emotionally.  Yet the next night I found myself in a car with Francisco and Carolina driving to visit our community member.  

When we arrived at the facility I was unable to visit with Francisco and Carolina and so I was given the task of speaking with the secretary and explaining the detainee’s health situations and how the language barrier effecter his/her physical care.  Needless to say it was definitely a struggle to explain to the secretary how necessary it was for us to translate health forms and for us to be in contact with our community member.  On our way back home to Champaign Francisco, Carolina, and I brainstormed ideas for our next visit and what steps we needed to take in order to inform the community of what was occurring.  Also, as one of the requirements for my service learning experiences is in fact to speak Spanish, Francisco assigned me the task of calling our community member’s spouse to inform him/her of an update.  Even though I was nervous, Carolina and Francisco reminded me of key points for me to touch on during my phone call. In the end I was able to surprise myself with my ability to translate under such circumstances. 

When we got back on campus I felt extremely energized.  While I was upset that our community member had to cope with this situation, I felt blessed to be working with this group because I knew we would try to make sure he/she would be taken care of in the future.  My energy for this case helped to further reinforce my interest in social justice.

We will visit our community member again the week following Thanksgiving Break.

Below I have included a number of facts about the U.S. Detention and Deportation System courtesy of http://www.detentionwatchnetwork.org/aboutdetention.

·         Immigrants in detention include families, both undocumented and documented immigrants, many who have been in the US for years and are now facing exile, survivors of torture, asylum seekers and other vulnerable groups including pregnant women, children, and individuals who are seriously ill without proper medication or care.
·         Being in violation of immigration laws is not a crime. It is a civil violation for which immigrants go through a process to see whether they have a right to stay in the United States. Immigrants detained during this process are in non-criminal custody. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the agency responsible for detaining immigrants.
·         The average cost of detaining an immigrant is approximately $122 per person/ per day. Alternatives to detention, which generally include a combination of reporting and electronic monitoring, are effective and significantly cheaper, with some programs costing as little as $12 per day. These alternatives to detention still yield an estimated 93% appearance rate before the immigration courts.
·         Although DHS owns and operates its own detention centers, it also “buys” bed space from over 312 county and city prisons nationwide to hold the majority of those who are detained (over 67%). Immigrants detained in these local jails are mixed in with the local prison population who is serving time for crimes.
·         About half of all immigrants held in detention have no criminal record at all. The rest may have committed some crime in their past, but they have already paid their debt to society. They are being detained for immigration purposes only.
·         Torture survivors, victims of human trafficking, and other vulnerable groups can be detained for months or even years, further aggravating their isolation, depression, and other mental health problems associated with their past trauma.
·         As a result of this surge in detention and deportation, immigrants are suffering poor conditions and abuse in detention facilities across the country and families are being separated often for life while the private prison industry and county jailers are reaping huge profits.

Activism and Community Service Learning: Providing Models to Our Students

An example of how engaged citizens organize and interact with their representatives to enact social change.
by Ann Abbott

One of my goals this semester while teaching "Spanish in the Community" was to enhance my emphasis on civic engagement. In a way, it came easily because this semester coincided with the Presidential election. However, I want students to see that they can become active citizens, even activists, outside of the polls and beyond national issues.

In future semesters I will use the image above to build a lesson plan including the following points:

  • Students research what legislation is pending now.
  • Students research what politicians on this list are still in office, which are not.
  • Students research what happened with the bill that is listed.
  • Students produce a script about an item for which they want to advocate now.
Advocacy can seem like a mysterious concept, a mysterious process. Messages like the one above demystify the process and give students models about how to organize themselves into groups and imagine new roles for themselves within the political process.

That's civic engagement.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Student Reflection



by Flora Ramirez

While I am still working with CLACS, I am consistently spending more time working with La Línea.  I must admit that I underestimated the fast-paced nature of this position.  This is derived from La Línea’s genuine understanding that life is unplanned.  Thus, they tailor their services to meet the unpredictability that characterizes the lives of individuals. This means that the hours of operation are more flexible and prompt responses are crucial.   

Even though the variance in the hours of operation can make it difficult to keep track of my hours, I appreciate how closely this position reflects real life community activism.  The duties entailed at La Linea never appear to remain static. By these I mean that people can call about real life problems and so their concerns are wide-ranging. I will confess that when I realized people could call to ask for help with just about anything, I was a bit apprehensive.

However, I soon realized that one of the reasons behind La Línea’s success is how effectively they can draw from existing resources.  Francisco Baires, the Community Programs Director, does a magnificent job of designating calls to specific volunteers he feels could best formulate a solution. Furthermore, he does not simply distribute cases among student volunteers, but he consistently checks in to offer you contacts that could help inform your approach. 

My work with La Linea is teaching me how to respond to situations quickly and efficiently. Out of necessity I had to learn to be confident in my abilities to resolve problems.  Furthermore, as I relayed information back to our community members in Spanish I had to grow accustomed to thinking on my feet and translating on the spot.  This has in turn allowed me to become more comfortable with my own Spanish. 

I have also learned to value the casual Spanish abilities that have been instilled in me since I was a child.  I have found myself drawing from simple jokes or sayings my parents had always told me.  I never thought about how valuable my experiences could be in situations that are not always the best. When my relationship with community members is most often limited to over the phone interaction, making these personable connections is necessary in order to gain their trust.  Realizing the importance of this ability I will not forget to continue striving towards building my Spanish from both the lessons in class and the conversations I have taken for granted at home. 

Student Reflection

by Michelle Lee

When you walk into the second grade classroom, there is a bulletin board about the various attitudes that are conducive to a healthy learning environment. From the photo, examples of these attitudes include respect, enthusiasm, empathy, and integrity among many others. Not only are these qualities important for the students in the development of their character, they are also crucial for tutors and other community volunteers to possess as well. 
These sheets of paper are posted all throughout the school on bulletin boards in the hallways as well as at the main entrance. I was actually surprised that these kids were already learning very advanced words that I feel like I learned in middle school! One word that stands out to me the most is integrity; I see it everywhere, which suggests that it is something that is stressed a lot at Garden Hills. Telling the truth is something that I find extremely important to working in the community for both volunteers and community members. By being honest with each other, we are then able to build rapport with each other, improve our relationship, and strengthen community unity. 
Another word that caught my eye was respect. Respect is something that is stressed for children to learn, but I feel that it is even more so in the Latino community. Teaching children respect is not only for their elders, but for themselves and their fellow classmates as well. It is important for tutors to show respect for the people they work with and the new cultures that they are being exposed to. If my students ever tell me anything about their cultures that seem shocking to me, I try not to show that I am surprised but instead treat it as something interesting and something that I respect about their culture. 
I think that the attitudes listed on the bulletin board are crucial for the development of strong individuals. They are also important qualities to have as a volunteer in the community. It is critical to be tolerant of others, respect their cultures, show empathy to them, and cooperate on tasks among all the other characteristics listed. Working in SOAR has helped me put these traits into effect and shown me how having them can help make a positive change with the people I work with.

Student Reflection

by Michelle Lee

During the last week of SOAR, the students made the tutors cards thanking us for working with them this semester. Working at SOAR for the past semester has given me a lot to think about. Initially I requested to work with fourth and fifth graders, but I never thought that I would be comfortable working with such young children. In the beginning of the semester I was very nervous because although I enjoy teaching, I do not like working with any children younger than high school age because I had a bad experience in the past teaching English to third graders in China. However, through SOAR, I was able to find greater comfort in teaching young children and have changed my perspectives on this.

SOAR has taught me how to have more patience working with young children, especially those who attend school in the United States and whose native tongue is a language other than English. I have greater appreciation for the efforts of elementary school teachers who work with these students in a learning environment where the native language is mostly used and there is a slow transition into English. SOAR has also helped me improve my speaking and comprehension of Spanish, especially in the context of understanding younger children and explaining things to them.
Although I do not think I will continue working with SOAR next semester due to time constraints, I will never forget about my experiences there. Over the course of the semester I have seen my student’s mathematical and reading abilities improve week after week, and it brings joy to my heart to see that she applies the tips I give her to make learning easier. Although it was a little awkward in the beginning to speak Spanish with her (for both of us), we eventually got very comfortable with one another – she always gave me a big hug even if I volunteered on a day that I usually do not tutor her on! Her card helped me see how I had made an impact in her life and how she was appreciative of me as well. We both made a positive impact on each other, and I know that I will always think of “mi mejor amiga” whenever I volunteer in the community in the future!

Student Reflection

by Daniel Cox


Building Confidence

Throughout the course, we emphasized the importance of building our confidence in order to communicate with members of the community in both English and Spanish. On our final day of class, we all agreed that, rather than our actual Spanish skills, it was our confidence in using those skills that had increased most.

I started to consider how my own level of confidence had changed throughout the course. In terms of my Spanish use, the actual use of usted rather than tu was an aspect that I really needed to improve. On paper, the concepts make sense and I can apply them with ease. However, in reality, using the usted form for sentences or phrases that I almost always use with the tu form. For example, with many patients, I would spend a few minutes before the doctor arrived, speaking with them about general topics, their family, work situations, etc. These conversations broke the mold of the typical four-question interactions in the office. During these conversations, I would often slip and use the informal form instead of the formal. More often than not, the patients were grateful for the opportunity to interact with people and the distraction from the uncomfortable pre-appointment boredom, and they seemed to look beyond my errors and focus on the content of the conversation. Once I realized that the content was more important, I began to feel more confident and, as a result, the correct forms came more easily.

Our use of Spanish wasn’t the only aspect of our work that increased our confidence. During my last visit to the office, the primary secretary was training another woman who had just begun to work in the office. She had worked as a hygienist in the past, but hadn’t been trained with the systems used to make appointments and store patient information. Considering she hadn’t had much experience with the programs, she reasonably became frustrated when she made an error. I by no means considered myself an expert with the everyday functions of the office since I had a six-day break between shifts, but I did know how to maneuver the system well enough to provide some assistance.

An important, though oftentimes overlooked, aspect of our training in this course has been developing our personal skills that exist alongside our professional skills. We have a set of professional interpersonal skills that we use to interact with patients in order to satisfy the responsibilities of our position. However, we also have a set of personal skills that do not satisfy the responsibilities of our position, but rather that enable us to better our working environment. During this same shift, the coworker was feeling very stressed, so we a spent a lot of time discussing how difficult learning a new program or new policies can be. Although these conversations did not directly apply to our duties in the office, it helped her feel calm and attempt the tasks again.

Overall, our work in the community has helped us gain a well-rounded sense of confidence. We each have faced a unique set of challenges and, by overcoming them in our own ways, we have shaped our own experiences. This atypical class has allowed us to become more independent, relying on our own capacities rather than the direct instructions of our professors.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Student Reflection

by Erik Bingham

The End of the Start

It is already almost the middle of December and the semester is coming to an end much quicker than I had thought it would. It still feels like I just started working at ECIRMAC even though I have volunteered there almost thirty hours already. While I have finished my required 28 hours for the semester, my work in the community is far from over. I have already asked one of my supervisors if I could come in next week sometime when I am not studying or writing papers and she said she would never say no to extra help. I’m planning on going in at least twice next week like I normally do but if I am extra productive and don’t have to work on my final papers then I might go in another day as well. Next semester I am going to take Spanish and Entrepreneurship, which is the second class in the series of Spanish in the community at the University of Illinois. I am genuinely excited for this class because I am assuming that it will expand on what we have discussed in this class while at the same time providing me with another structured 28-hour requirement of community service. 

I have noticed through my time spent volunteering that many people do not expect me to be a Spanish speaker. I know that it is because I have blonde hair, blue eyes, and white skin so they assume that I am just another American who only speaks English. But when I start to ask people “como puedo ayudarle (how can I help you), they are almost immediately relieved (while at the same time surprised) that I speak Spanish and am making an attempt to help them in their native language. Last weekend I volunteered with the Mexican Consulate and I helped people fill out their passport forms. After about 30 minutes of working there, one of the photographers came up to me and asked me if I speak Spanish and that he didn’t think that I would be able to. Once again, I know that he thought that because white people “normally” don’t speak Spanish. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed breaking that stereotype.

For next semester I am torn between continuing to work with ECIRMAC or working at a school. Because I am interested in potentially becoming a teacher in the future, I feel like I should start getting experience in a school. But at the same time I have met some amazing people at ECIRMAC and want to continue to interact with them and perfecting my telephone skills in Spanish. Maybe I’ll work at ECIRMAC one day and a school the other. Life is full of uncertainties and I’ll have to make a decision sometime soon. Either way I know that I will be gaining experience, making a difference, and having fun. What could be better than that?

Student Reflection

by Michelle Lee


Earlier last month, the students learned about the many ways to say “hello” in different languages. They excitedly greeted me in choruses of “Shalom!” and “Ni hao!” to show off the new words they had learned. These notecards are taped on the wall right by the classroom door so they are visible to everyone who enters and leaves.

This incident reminded me of the importance of diversity and the acceptance of different languages and cultures not only in the classroom, but also in the larger community as well. Although the students in the SOAR program are all Spanish speakers that come from Latino/a descent, there are other students in the class and school that come from very different backgrounds. Similarly, the local Champaign-Urbana community is made up of very distinct people, and it is their diversity that has helped mold the places they live and frequent into what they are today. Cultural diversity begins with acceptance, and as SOAR tutors we must learn to accept other cultures. In helping these children with their schoolwork and spending time with them every week, we constantly learn new ways to appreciate the Latino culture they come from, which then teaches us how to better understand the community outside of the university campus that they live in.

In no way should we ever discriminate against someone based on their cultural upbringing or heritage. My student has told me some things about her family that might be considered different and even socially unseemly, but that has not changed my perspectives about her as a person. Cultural diversity can also help the children I work with accept their identities. Many of them are the children of migrant parents, and by embracing their own cultural heritage they can learn to value themselves as people. In the future they can possibly take these values in themselves and apply it to issues in their community to make a positive difference not only in their lives but in the lives of others as well. By accepting cultural diversity, I have driven myself to make a positive impact on the lives of these students and to try to help them see that same value.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Student Spotlight: Laura Woodward


by Ann Abbott

This is an update about a former student of mine, Laura Woodward. I recently received this message from her: 
"I will be attending UCD's (University of Colorado Denver) Masters Program in Counseling, and in three (long) years, I will be a certified therapist!! I am going to take the multicultural tract in clinical mental health counseling. I am currently working with children who have undergone traumas (neglect and abuse primarily) at a children's home. I love it, and I can't wait to start grad school!"
Students who do their community service learning work at the Refugee Center are exposed to social work and get to closely observe the work of the bilingual counselors there. Even students who work with other community partners come to realize the importance of all the different kinds of jobs within human services and the important work they do for immigrant communities.

Laura and the program she has decided to attend are important examples for students who feel that they want to move forward along that career path.

If any of my students would like to contact Laura to ask for career and graduate school advice, let me know!

Student Reflection

Daniel y su amiga, hace ocho años.
Daniel y su amiga, hace una semana.
by Daniel Cox

Maintaining Relationships

My last entry focused on the importance of establishing connections, which, interestingly enough, segues nicely into the topic I have decided to discuss for this entry:  maintaining relationships. During these last few weeks, I have begun to think about how I will try to keep in contact with the people I have grown to know during my time at the Frances Nelson Dental Center. Although I only spent 28 hours with them, I was able to share a lot of really great experiences with the regulars in the office. I was surprised when I considered how much I had learned about them personally and realized I’d developed a sense of belonging.

After almost three months of working with the same group of people, I felt a sense of comfort and trust. While the office generally had a friendly, welcoming atmosphere, there were several times when it transformed into a high stress environment. When confronted with an issue that I did not know how to solve, I had to rely on the assistance of the other workers. This can be daunting in the absence of comfort and trust. Once I established these, I could depend on the others for assistance rather than frustration. I now recognize how important the small two to three hour commitment was to my weekly routine, and I find it difficult to have to say goodbye. However, I know that I can rely on them for help in the future, and I am sure they know they can reach out to me as well.

This recently developed sentimentalism arose from a short trip home last weekend. A few months back, I received an invitation to a wedding from a high school friend. The invitation was warmly received, as it had been more than a year and a half since I had last seen her, and even longer since I’d seen her family. Her family was one of the primary reasons why I initially started learning Spanish and I am infinitely grateful for the exposure that they provided me. When I finally had the opportunity to see them all again and, for the first time, feel comfortable speaking with the entire family in Spanish, I couldn’t help but feel excited.

The few months leading to the wedding flew by much more quickly than I’d anticipated, and by the time the day I’d planned to leave arrived, I had forgotten that there was another person I’d hoped to contact. I decided to send a last minute e-mail to my high school Spanish teacher, letting her know I was coming to town for a few days and would love to catch up. She immediately responded that she had been promising to invite a college student to talk to her students about the importance of learning a second language. Although I shuddered at the idea of arriving at my high school at 7:45AM, I knew that the guest speakers I’d heard a few years back greatly influenced and inspired me to continue my studies in Spanish.

Once in the classroom, I spoke with the students for several minutes in Spanish and then answered questions in English. Many of the students’ faces lit up when they started talking about heading off to school next year and hearing that there really are opportunities to continue and enrich their “Spanish experience”. I knew that the visit was really important to my teacher and being able to show my gratitude for all of her support by sharing my passion with her current students was a great way for us to reconnect.

However, the reunion that really showed me the importance of maintaining relationships was the wedding. The moment I walked through the door, I saw a dozen familiar faces, still warm and welcoming. We began speaking about our lives and what had happened during the past few years, and within the first few minutes, I’d switched over into “Spanish-mode”. I loved being able to connect with them on a level that had always seemed just out of reach; actually talking and expressing what I could easily have said in English, but wanted to say in Spanish. Toward the end, I felt hesitant to return home and strike up a conversation with my mom in English. Being removed from an environment where I could immerse myself in the Spanish language (and culture) made me appreciate the opportunity even more.

Overall, these reconnections reminded me that the relationships that we value and maintain, in whatever way we can, are testimonies to our own journeys and the journeys of our loved ones. They remind us of our progress and the struggles from which that progress emerges; they also remind us to recognize and celebrate the progress of the people we care for. Through our experiences with Spanish, in our classes, in the community, and in our personal lives, we have developed unique relationships that give value to the work we do as bilingual students and people.

Student Reflection

by Megan Creighton



Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP) is an initiative launched by the Association of American Colleges and University that promotes a  21st century liberal education in a nation that demands more college-educated workers and more engaged and informed citizens than in the past. This initiative challenges a traditional approach to education and instead defines a 21st-century liberal education as “an approach to learning that empowers individuals and prepares them to deal with complexity, diversity, and change.” This includes providing students with a broader knowledge of the world, especially in areas of science, culture, and society, in addition to study in a specific area of interest, so that students can develop a sense of social responsibility and develop transferable, practical skills. The “Essential Outcomes” of this initiative include:

a) Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World – (Study in science, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts)
b) Intellectual and Practical Skills – (Writing, analysis, communication, quantitative literacy, critical thinking, etc)
c) Personal and Social Responsibility – (Civic knowledge and engagement, intercultural knowledge, ethical reasoning, skills for lifelong learning
d) Integrative and Applied learning – (Synthesis and advanced accomplishments)

Overall, the goal of LEAP is to provide students of this century with broad learning in several disciplines as well as an in-depth study so as to encourage students to be well-rounded, flexible, and prepared to thrive in a global world that is rapidly changing.

In my opinion, LEAP is a terrific vision for the future of our education system. I have often wondered at the very divided and specialized nature of higher education specifically. In my later years of high school there was a general understanding among my peers and I planning on attending college that we had to choose between a concentration in math and science or liberal and fine arts. While I don't regret having chosen the liberal arts track and concentrating my university studies in anthropology and Spanish, I have always regretted ending my pursuit of other subjects, especially math. I have heard many other cases of this: In one case, a friend who was the president of his high school's math team chose to major in English and philosophy and has taken only one math class since high school. Another friend attempted to complete a sociology degree in addition to his math degree but could not complete it in time to graduate. On the other hand, many students in science-related subjects have no time to pursue other areas of study, especially languages, and are not allowed enough opportunity or time to study abroad. Aside from minimal general education requirements (which are hardly worthwhile in my opinion), there is not much opportunity to receive a well-rounded education in various subjects.

I appreciate the nature of Spanish 232 Community Service Learning for this very reason—it provides students of many different majors the opportunity to develop skills outside of the classroom and often outside of their specialized areas of study. Not only are we developing Spanish language skills, we gain practical skills needed to work in offices, classrooms, community events, etc. Furthermore, through our community service we develop a broader understanding of different cultures and societies, especially the local Spanish-speaking community. We are encouraged to engage in and provide service to the community, stay informed of local, national, and international issues, and overall to become life-long learners. It is refreshing to be collaborating with students of all majors and colleges that are interested in expanding their knowledge in other areas and engaging in the community.

I believe that LEAP's goals and initiatives would coincide nicely with those of bilingual classrooms as well. If two-way bilingual education continues to expand across the country, as it has been, I believe future generations will be more open-minded and better equipped to thrive in our global world. As I have expanded upon in previous blogs, bilingual education allows students not only to become bilingual but also to develop a deep understanding of other cultures and a true appreciation for diversity. The students in my kindergarten classroom, though only 5 and 6 years old, are more competent in both English and Spanish and more knowledgable of various cultures than many American adults whose education systems were largely focused on Anglo-american language, culture, and history. I believe that in the years to come, these students will be among the most well-rounded in the nation, and among the most prepared and willing to pursue education in various fields.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 19.1: Connections to Languages

by Ann Abbott

Looking through the website for the Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning I noticed two changes:
  1. The editor, Jeffery Howard, is now at DePaul University. He used to be at Michigan.
  1. You can now see pdfs of past articles on-line. So, here is the pdf for my article with Darcy Lear titled "Foreign Language Professional Standards and CSL: Achieving the 5 C's."
Although the latest issue (19.1 Fall 2012) contains no articles specifically addressing language issues, several articles are relevant to the work we do in foreign language CSL.
Emily W. Kane. "Student Perceptions of Community-based Research Partners and the Politics of Knowledge." This article concludes that it is possible for students to recognize community members as experts and co-creators of knowledge, as long as the course or project is well-designed. (That is true of almost anything that CSL can accomplish. Curriculum design is vital!) The author adds this very important piece of advice: "But encouraging that recognition requires considerable attention, as the hegemony of academically-generated knowledge seeps into even an explicitly reciprocal framing of the knowledge-making process" (5). I'm happy to say that I covered this point in Comunidades: Más allá del aula. Lección 20 (132-37) asks students this over-arching question: ¿Qué aprendemos con el aprendizaje en la comunidad que no se puede aprender en un libro? Two of the related questions, then, are 

  • ¿Qué aprendemos de la gente en la comunidad que no aprendemos de los profesores? Among other things, here I present a list of honorifics in Spanish that many students are unaware of but that are important markers of authority and expertise. The point for students is that ¨Professor¨ is not the only title that marks a person as having special knowledge and experience.
  • ¿Hay gente experta en la comunidad? In this section students explore the ways in which they all recur to people with expertise that is not necessarily an official title. 
Lina D. Dostilio, et al. "Reciprocity: Saying What We Mean and Meaning What We Say." This article takes a critical look at the term "reciprocity." After reading this article, I have to ask myself if my community partnerships are truly reciprocal. I don't have an answer for that, and if the answer is no, I'm not sure if I have a solution, given the resources with which I work. Still, I am grateful that this article made me think more deeply about the differences between "mutually beneficial" and "reciprocal"--because they are not the same thing.
Mills, Steven D. "The Four Furies: Primary Tensions between Service-Learners and Host Agencies." This article is going to go straight into the bibliography of the article manuscript I am working on right now. In addition to naming the four "furies" (below), the article "considers the implications of a cultural shift in service-learning where the costs of this pedagogical approach are more openly and thoroughly considered" (33). I couldn't agree more with this statement! In fact, Darcy and I attempted to do that a few years ago when we published this article: “Aligning Expectations for Mutually Beneficial Relationships: The Case of Spanish Language Proficiency, Cultural Knowledge and Professional Skills.”Hispania 92.2 (2009): 301-12. I can definitely attest to the existence of these tensions:

  • Student Emphasis on Hours vs. Agency Emphasis on Commitment
  • Student Emphasis on Learning vs. Agency Emphasis on Efficiency
  • Student Emphasis on Flexibility vs. Agency Emphasis on Dependability
  • Student Emphasis on Idealism vs. Agency Emphasis on Realism
Finally, there is a very thoughtful review of the book, Exploring Cultural Dynamics and Tensions in Service-Learning. I just ordered the book from our library, so I haven't read it myself, yet. Still, it seems from the table of contents and the review that once again, language is left unexplored as a vital component of cultural differences at play in academic CSL. As I have stated elsewhere, in the CSL literature, English is assumed to be the language of globalization and the language of service learning.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Peer Editing for Reflective Writing in a Community Service Learning Course

Writing is an integral part of Spanish community service learning.
by Ann Abbott

When we think about the Spanish undergraduate curriculum, we tend to focus on teaching writing in one course: students take "composition" and we're done. Of course students write papers throughout the curriculum, but the composition course bears the brunt of the work for teaching students how to write, and how to write in Spanish.

Spanish community service learning (CSL) also relies heavily on writing--specifically in the form of reflective writing.

The truth is, as we know, that we need to teach and re-teach writing in every single course. Furthermore, the type of writing we ask students to do--reflective essays--is a form that is, as far as I know, never taught in a typical composition course. Narrative, persuasive and analytical writing, yes. Reflective writing, no.

This topic deserves much more attention than I can give it here. But I this afternoon I attended a talk given by Florencia Henshaw about her research on peer editing in a fifth-semester grammar course. During the question and answer period I asked her what her thoughts were about peer editing in longer pieces of writing (like our students produce in "Spanish in the Community").

Here are her ideas:
  • Her students, she said, were more comfortable giving anonymous feedback about their peer's Spanish, rather than face-to-face. She found a way to make that happen using our course management system. Perhaps you can find a way to do anonymous peer editing in your CSL course.
  • You should ask students to give peer feedback about only one "category" at a time. For example, ask them to only concentrate on "structure and organization" not "content, structure and grammar." 
  • Given the type of essay they are writing (or the reflective prompt they are responding to), ask them to focus on common errors. For example, if it is a persuasive essay stating their opinions and you know there are likely to be many errors in the subjunctive, focus on that.
I have found all of her advice to be true. In general, you need to treat peer editing like any other lesson plan you prepare for your students. It needs to be structured, guided and task-oriented.

Student Reflection

by Erik Bingham


Spanish in the United States

The history of the United States is largely a history of conquest. Europeans invaded and colonized previously settled lands and sadly, through years of warfare and disease, reduced the native population and presence in North America. However, the present boundaries of the United States could have been dramatically different. There were many plans throughout the early years of the American republic for the annexation of Canada, Mexico, Cuba, and other Caribbean countries. As a student of history I love entertaining these ideas of alternative history- what could’ve been if things happened differently.

While these alternative history scenarios bring up their own historical problems and situations (like the possibility of a stronger Confederacy with Mexico and Cuba that could’ve won the Civil War), that would most likely change almost everything that has happened, they provide some food for thought. Assuming that there was an American Civil War and that the Union won, and that everything else happened the same way for the most part, what would the United States be like had Mexico, Canada, and Cuba been annexed? Specifically and in relation to my work in the community, how would this change the immigration system/problem and the presence of the Spanish language in the United States? If the United States took control over all of Mexico, would Spanish be as prevalent as it is today or would the United States have gone to great lengths to eliminate its use? On the flip side, would Spanish also be an official language of many (potential) states within present-day Mexico and therefore have a larger presence in federal politics? If the United States had control of the above territories, would there be as large of an undocumented alien population? The scenarios are endless but are nonetheless interesting to think about for a moment.

Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world and also within the United States. I was surprised to see that the state and federal governments provide many resources in Spanish. Many official documents that our clients bring in are not written in English but in Spanish. Before working at ECIRMAC I assumed that everything would be in English. After seeing that our governments make an effort to reach out to these Spanish speakers by providing translations of official documents and program information I was glad that they recognize that an “English only” approach to the United States is not best path for us as a country. I do not agree with the people who say that if Puerto Rico wants to become the 51st state they would have to adopt English as their official language. It is impractical to suggest that a large nation of immigrants should only speak one language.

The Spanish language in the United States should not be persecuted but encouraged. Diversity is something that makes our country stands out from others, as we are composed of a variety of nations, cultures, and also languages. While the vast majority of people here speak English, there is a strong presence of Spanish speakers that will surely only continue to grow in the future. With this in mind I propose that in the future we act much like Canada, which recognizes both English and French as official languages and they provide bilingual government services. America’s demographics are changing as they have been changing since the birth of the nation. My hope is that we embrace and adapt to this change with open minds.