Nearly 30 GPS and McCallie AP Spanish students offered a friendly “bienvenidos” (welcome) to a collection of Spanish-speaking community members for an afternoon of education, conversation, and fellowship in Caldwell Commons.
Local professionals from TVA and Coca-Cola, representatives from La Paz Chattanooga (a local Latino outreach and resource center), local educators (including East Side Elementary Principal Greg Wilkey), GPS parents, and additional friends of GPS were invited by GPS Spanish teacher Dr. Maria Carlone and McCallie Language Department Head/Spanish teacher Mr. Paco Watkins to the GPS campus to engage with students through Spanish conversation on social and educational topics in an effort to allow both students and professionals to practice the Spanish language, learn of others’ experience with the language, and to make new amigos.
The topics ranged from family traditions and cultural shocks, to scientific and technological advances in Hispanic countries, global issues such as women’s rights and the environment, and art and literature. While at one table, one heard a member share memoirs of his or her childhood in a foreign country. At another table, one heard TVA professionals explain alternative forms of energy and their benefits, all in Spanish.
“Using the community as a classroom” is Dr. Carlone’s method behind these language exchanges, which she says not only benefits students’ foreign language use, but also enhances their global perspectives from several angles.
“It gives them a wider view of the world,” Dr. Carlone said. “They build on their foundational knowledge of cultural differences, experience the language with its special accents and regionalisms from a wide variety of countries, and increase their empathy for what it means to come to the U.S. from another country, adapt to a new culture with new traditions, and strive to embrace the new traditions while simultaneously keeping the ones that belong to their own country.”
Spanish language origins represented in the room include Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Colombia, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, and the United States. A handful of guests are not native speakers but learned the language either through their education, profession, or social community.
“These exchanges also show the students that there are real-life, practical uses to what they are learning,” said Dr. Carlone. Indeed, the majority of the guests used Spanish as a part of their job. Dr. Carlone also added that the guests were quite impressed with the students’ fluency and language ability.
“This helps build the confidence in the language for the students and helps them see that their hard work is paying off now and will pay off in the future when they go to college and choose a career where they will be able to use their language skills,” said Dr. Carlone.
The topics that Dr. Carlone and Mr. Watkins selected for the gathering were inspired by prompts that would be given during an AP Spanish exam, and therefore the event doubled as a form of review for students in preparation for their upcoming exam.
Dr. Carlone said, “I cannot thank the members of the [Spanish-speaking] community and our brother school enough for their outpouring of support through involvement and participation.”