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Ohio Hires Native Spanish Teachers for Students

The article below is by Melissa Griffy Seeton in CantonRep.com, October 15, 2010.   I think Ohio is genuinely interested in helping its students learn the Spanish language. Also by bringing students into direct contact with someone from the Spanish-speaking world, they will be able to learn first-hand about the culture and history of the region.  My Spanish teacher is from Argentina originally, and aside from being a great instructor, she has taught me a lot  about her native land through history and literature!

Here’s the article:

The distance between the United States and Spain is 4,754 miles. That’s a little less than the trek from Ohio to California and back, but the cultural differences span much larger divides.

Spain was a country most students at Oakwood Middle School learned about in textbooks. Now, they are discovering there’s more to a country than occupying foreign borders.

Just two months ago, few students had heard of Asturias, the area north of Madrid, which borders the Cantabrian Sea. But across Oakwood’s cafeteria in room L7, Olaya Cuervo teaches them Spanish greetings and customs, colors and numbers.

“Hola!,” she says as a group of sixth-graders enters her classroom. They respond.

It’s just the beginning of what educators in the Plain Local and Jackson Local school districts hope their students will master during the next three years.

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

At 28, Cuervo is already a world traveler and seasoned teacher.

She’s journeyed across Europe and the United States, studying in Spain and Denmark. For the past decade, Cuervo has been teaching English and Spanish at a private academy in Spain and tutoring Spanish families.

Although she had five years of training at a university in Spain, she credits a three-month stay in Pittsburgh, where she has family, for her knowledge of American culture and understanding of the English language. During her time there, she volunteered at an area hospital.

Cuervo is participating in the Ohio Department of Educa-tion’s Visiting Spanish Teacher Program, part of a larger nationwide initiative to bring native Spanish-speaking teachers to the United States. School districts were required to apply, and compete for the opportunity to participate. Cuervo will share her time between Plain and Jackson schools.

“I am very privileged to be teaching in the United States and specifically in Canton,” said Cuervo, who was one of 200 chosen for similar jobs across the country; 4,000 people applied for the positions. “My goal is to peak students’ interest in Spanish in hopes they will continue their studies later on.”

Each district will use Cuervo’s talents a little differently. Plain’s program is designed to introduce fifth- and sixth-graders to the Spanish culture and the language.

“You talk about breaking down barriers, and exposing our students to other cultures,” said Brent May, superintendent of Plain Local Schools. “For students to learn from a native Spanish speaker, that’s invaluable.”

Jackson’s program focuses on teaching about 90 sixth-graders Spanish I over a two-year period. The idea is ambitious, acknowledges Linda Salom, Jackson’s curriculum coordinator, as many school districts do not introduce a foreign language until the eighth or ninth grades.

“Learning another language requires you to retrain your brain, but students learn grammar better and other subjects better,” she said. “We would love to have a windfall of money to offer a second language in our elementary schools because studies show younger students grasp foreign languages faster.”

For the past three years, Jackson hosted a visiting Chinese teacher through a similar Ohio Department of Education program.

“We recognize students have to be learn not only a foreign language to compete in the 21st century, but they have to be aware of where the United States fits in,” Salom said.

GLOBAL CITIZENS

Deborah Robinson, a world languages consultant at the Ohio Department of Education, said her department is busy working to adopt new foreign language standards for the state’s public schools.

The federal government has conducted a number of studies, including one at the Ohio State University, to identify which foreign languages are critical to Ohio. Spanish is one of them.

Since 2005, the state Department of Education has seen an increase in the number of students enrolled in a foreign language course. And while there are a number of language immersion schools, in which students learn from a teacher speaking in English and Spanish, popping up throughout the country, Robinson says, “We are just woefully behind.

“We do live in a global economy and we are citizens of the world,” she said. “I think it is quite naive to think we can do business with others in the world if our only language is English. Report after report comes out about our deficiency to protect ourselves. The understanding of other languages and other cultures is crucial to our success.”

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