Giving Back, One Lesson at a Time

November 26, 2012

Giving Back, One Lesson at a Time
Rollins students Carlos Fernandez ’13 and Jacqueline Matsuda-Trinidad ’14 discuss different careers with 1st graders at Sadler Elementary School as part of a Junior Achievement lesson. (Photo by Doreen Overstreet)

¿Qué hace una comunidad? Translation: “What makes a community?” Through an innovative service-learning project, Rollins College and Sadler Elementary School students are exploring this question together—and learning from one another in the process.

Begun in 2006 through a partnership with Junior Achievement of Central Florida, the initiative brings Rollins and University of Central Florida students to Sadler’s bilingual classrooms, where they teach five JA lessons in Spanish throughout the semester. The material includes hands-on activities and varies by grade level, with a common focus on empowering kids to own their economic success.

Role Models
The project was founded by Associate Professor of Spanish Gabriel Barreneche, who has documented its results in the academic journal Hispania. Now integrated into Assistant Professor of Spanish Patricia Tomé’s Spanish for Advanced Communication course, the program immerses students more deeply in the language. “They’re applying all the grammar structures they’ve learned in the context of conversation, which stretches them beyond their comfort zone to a new level of skill,” Tomé explains.

Sadler students also benefit, according to Junior Achievement Director of College Programs Renee Jaggie. “Many of these children are just learning the English language and don’t know anyone who’s been to college,” she says. “The Rollins students are role models—even more so because they’re putting a value on the kids’ native language. We’re reinforcing that it’s a good thing to be bilingual.”

“For the last 10 years at Sadler, it’s always a pleasure to have JA lessons in my classroom," said Gladys Gonzalez, a Sadler first-grade teacher. “The kids look forward all week to their next JA lesson. Sometimes they get so excited to answer questions that they’re jumping out of their seats! And as an educator, I especially appreciate that the Rollins students are talking to the kids about real-life situations and reaching their potential.” The lessons were a big hit in the class taught by Alexia George ’15 in fall 2011. “When we talked about jobs, the kids would quickly raise their hands and talk about why they wanted to be a firefighter or a doctor or a teacher,” she says. “Most captured the idea that it was important to go to school and finish college, and they made this point drawing from their personal circumstances and knowledge.”

Empathy, Awareness
The mutually beneficial relationship enriches the experience, said Drew Williams ’13, who taught at Sadler in fall 2011. “Many of our lessons were very ‘two-way,’ in that I asked the kids just as many questions as they asked me, which helped build my abilities to synthesize and choose vocabulary on the fly,” he says.

Along the way, Rollins students gain greater empathy for the bilingual students as a result of grappling to master a second language themselves, Barreneche reported in his journal article.

Another benefit for Rollins students: increased confidence in their teaching abilities. “At first, they’re worried the kids might laugh at them,” Tomé says. “As time goes on, they realize that the kids are impressed that a native English speaker has taken time to study their language. By the end of the semester, both sets of students have created a strong bond. This experience stays with them permanently and raises their awareness of education’s role as a means of social justice.”

Tyler Murphy ’13, who taught at Sadler in fall 2011, adds: “I never would have thought that some random college student coming to a third-grade class to teach would be anything special. But every time I walked in, the students yelled ‘Yay!’ and couldn’t wait to see what I had in store for them. That’s proof that everyone can have an impact by doing even the smallest of things.”

Read the Spanish version of this story on El Sentinel.

By Mary Tindall

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