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Sources: Socorro Herrera, 785-532-3833, sococo@k-state.edu;
and Tonnie Martinez, 785-532-3179, tonnie@k-state.edu
Hometown interest: Garden City and Hoyt
Website: http://coe.ksu.edu/ESL/

Thursday, Aug. 25, 2011

TRIP SHOWS FUTURE ENGLISH AS SECOND LANGUAGE TEACHERS THAT LANGUAGE IS NO BARRIER TO LEARNING

MANHATTAN -- When it comes to teaching, 13 Kansas State University students recently learned firsthand that the language of learning is universal.

The students were part of a K-State Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy study abroad experience in Guatemala City, Guatemala. They spent nearly a month in the Land of Volcanoes, where they served as both teachers and students.

For three weeks in July, the group called Apoyate en Mi -- or Lean on Me -- their school away from school. Half of each day was spent in the classroom teaching English to the children, while the other half was spent attending classes to work toward their English for speakers of other languages endorsement for their teaching certificates.

The students met daily for classes with K-State's Socorro Herrera, executive director of the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy, and Tonnie Martinez, the center's associate director and assistant professor of curriculum and instruction. The classes included ESL -- or English as a Second Language -- Practicum, and Culture and Language in Classroom Practice.

Alison Adams, a senior in elementary education from Garden City, said the opportunity was highly beneficial for broadening her experience and worldview in preparation to becoming a teacher.

"We were in a situation where most of us didn't know the students' first language, so when we're ESL teachers, we'll have a little better understanding of how our students feel," Adams said.

The students took what they learned in class and immediately applied the concepts to their classroom practice. As teachers, they integrated into the school curriculum and taught the students the content in English.

"I thought there would be no way to communicate with the students. However, we learned that no matter what language is spoken, teachers can learn to communicate through sheltering key vocabulary and concepts," said Marie Myers, a senior in elementary education from Hoyt.

Apoyate en Mi is in its fifth year of providing education to children that do not have the opportunity to attend a state school. Receiving no government aid, it is a Christian school that survives on faith and goodwill donations.

"The dedication and mission of both the leadership and the teachers sets the school apart. They are committed to understanding the social and academic needs of the learner and guiding them to achieve a high level of citizenship, moral character and academic character," Herrera said.

The school, under the blanket of the program Operation Rescue, spends a couple nights a week taking materials and food to the families and students on the streets. The group joined them in attempt to better understand their students' lives. Martinez said this opportunity takes learning beyond the boundaries of the school and lets the K-State students see firsthand the lived experience of their students.

"I had real assumptions about poverty before I came, but when we fed the children at the landfill it was happy -- it was joyful," Martinez said. "It was amazing to see the students' response to their teachers coming to see them in their homes."

Apart from making lesson plans, doing course work, and spending time with host families, the group also found some time for extracurricular activities. As tourists, they visited the nearby historic city of Antigua, coffee plantations and other museums and popular locations. The group stayed with five host families, who provided an authentic cross-cultural experience while fostering lifelong friendships and effective cross-cultural skills.

Herrera hopes that an international experience of this type provides broadened student perspectives and prepares College of Education students to answer the difficult questions of citizenship and life.

“Regardless of their future career choices, I've observed firsthand how it is that students acculturate and take on new perspectives which will bring a new understanding when interacting in a now diverse and global world. As a professor nothing brings greater joy than to see young adults becoming a part of what can make the world a better place," she said.