Spanish service-learning class immersed students in local community sites

Spanish students took an experiential learning course which consisted of volunteer service. Photo courtesy of Carolina Rocha.

A Spanish course allowed students to practice their linguistic skills as volunteers within the surrounding regions at sites such as libraries, schools and non-profit organizations.

Spanish service-learning class, taught last semester by foreign language professor Carolina Rocha, was made possible by an SIUE grant from the Excellence in Undergraduate Education program.

The grant allowed Rocha to research sites and organizations in Southern Illinois and Missouri where students could complete 22 hours of volunteer service.

Rocha said the rationale for the new service-learning class was to provide hands-on experiences for students—some who have not studied abroad—to help Spanish speakers in the area.

“This type of experiential learning allows students to take the content taught in the classroom outside of the university and bring the issues affecting the community to the classroom as they reflect and problem-solve with them,” Rocha said.

Rocha said she felt the program worked well as students learned about two key components.

“I think the program was a success because the students not only learned about Spanish but also about community needs,” Rocha said. “For instance students had to interpret for schools with Spanish-speaking students and so there have to be two things: first a community need and second a language component.”

Senior Spanish and sociology major Karen Lynch volunteered at Youth in Need at HEADSTART in St. Louis. She worked with Hispanic children in the pre-school HEADSTART program who could not speak English. She thought it was great, because it boosted her confidence in speaking Spanish.

“I loved it. It really enabled me to become more fluent in speaking Spanish because I had to translate to the children what their teacher said,” Lynch said.

Natalie Valencia, sophomore psychology and Spanish major, volunteered at Grace Hill Settlement House in St. Louis, where she communicated with preschoolers who spoke only Spanish.

“Going into that community and seeing people that need that service was rewarding. The Spanish community is growing so they need these services as well,” Valencia said.

The volunteer work also brought some clarity to Valencia’s career goals.

“I want to work with children and help people in English and Spanish and work within the community to get a better understanding of what they need,” Valencia said. “And [volunteering at Grace Hill Settlement House] strengthened my desire to reach my goals in terms of what I want to do with my career,” Valencia said.

Alumnus Sadie Sakurada, who participated in the program, said she enjoyed volunteering at Fairmont Public Library in Fairmont, in an afterschool program assisting children with games and homework.

“It was a good experience to get into the community and the kids enjoyed it to have someone mentor them,” Sakurada said.

The volunteer assignment, according to Sakurada, also helped in understanding the Hispanic culture “to see how families are different with kids raised in Spanish speaking households.”

Instead of volunteering the required two days a week she would assist at her site three days a week because she “enjoyed it so much.”

She continues to volunteer for Fairmont Library today.



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