We've got a special treat for you today. Sydney Garvis ’18 has hijacked my blog to talk about one of her favorite student experiences. Read on to learn more about this great program and the connection between us several years before we ever met.
“¡El monstruo es azúl!”
For a lot of my time at Oberlin, I found myself looking diligently for what I wanted to do with my life after graduation. Every semester I came up with a different path: environmental work when I began, then politics and media, and finally, in my last semester, in Professor Kim Faber’s language pedagogy class, I found myself discovering a passion for teaching.
Part of the reason why I liked to teach was that Kim Faber, the wonderful professor who teaches how to teach, makes you work hard to understand the process of what makes good instruction so. We broke down learning goals and investigated why we would present information one way over another, how we would scaffold language units to keep our students teetering on the edge of their comfort zones, and, of course, when we would make it fun. The other reason why I was drawn so keenly to teaching was because on those cold, rainy days when I would wake up feeling sour, the minute I showed up in a red t-shirt to Mrs. Peters’s second grade class on Tuesdays, my day had already completely turned around.
My red shirt read “SITES: Spanish in the Elementary Schools,” and I was a volunteer Spanish teacher at Eastwood Elementary in Oberlin. On Wednesdays, I taught the 6- and 7-year-olds of Mrs. Peters’s class, and I biked back on Thursdays for Ms. Rebman’s first grade class. The kids would buzz with excitement when they saw us through the glass panel in their classroom door. Weekly Spanish class was fun and exciting, and my co-teacher Cait and I had planned out every minute of the class to actually get the kids talking to each other through following our models – and it was all in Spanish. My favorite lesson was the last lesson I ever taught at Eastwood, compiling all the grammar and vocabulary we had introduced, reinforced, and gotten comfortable with over the course of four months – we built monsters!
“¿Qué color es el monstruo?” We asked the class. “¡Azúl!” Gabi yelled, but after I raised my eyebrow, she finished the job by saying “¡El monstruo es azúl!”
“¿Cuántos brazos tiene el monstruo?” “¡El monstruo tiene ocho brazos!” Braxton yelled, and we drew eight long and squiggly arms on the board.
“¿Cómo está el monstruo?” Mason, who loved the emotion anger because it meant using his outside voice and getting to show off his second-grade strength, raised his hand to call out “¡El monstruo está enojado!” and came up to the board to draw furious, bushy eyebrows.
While I hoped, of course, that this Spanish would feel not only fun but also useful to the kids, I knew there weren’t many opportunities for most of the kids to use any Spanish outside of our classes at Eastwood. That was, until I started bumping into different kids around town. A handful of times, I recognized the kids but they didn’t recognize me: I wasn’t wearing my signature red shirt. But when I led with “Hola, ¿cómo estás?” a very shy Jaden would recall ‘Feliz’ when I bumped into him and his mom on Main Street in Oberlin. These interactions reflected the exchange that took place within the SITES program, which was started by Kim Faber when her children were growing up in the school system and she decided to use the resources around her to start the Spanish language program. Her work established a wonderful exchange: the kids at Eastwood get Spanish class and the kids at Oberlin College get mentored teaching experience.
I found two important things at Eastwood: a connection to the Oberlin community and a love of teaching. I felt connected to Oberlin before this semester, through projects I did while living in the Community Service hall in Dascomb and volunteering with the women’s lacrosse team, but now I was seeing my Spanish students around town and feeling like a part of not just the college community, but the Oberlin community.
One particular student in my second-grade class has come back into my life in a completely different way. Gabi, now almost 12 and in sixth grade, comes to the Admissions Office after school to hang out with her dad while he finishes the work day: Gabi is Josh Levy’s daughter! The best part was that almost 4 years after I taught her, she still remembered me and some of her Spanish.
I love this connectedness of Oberlin. It’s part of why I chose Oberlin as my undergrad home, and it’s also why I decided to come back to Oberlin in a different capacity: as an Admissions Counselor. The search for what I really want to do with my life continues, and every few months I still contemplate a new path, but I feel as though wherever I go and whatever I do, I’ll be looking for a community like Oberlin.
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