Service Learning In Spanish

Excerpted from  DEEP Service:  Siena College Community Engagement News Fall 2011


Service-Learning in Spanish: Building Local Connections


By Marcela T. Garcés

Assistant Professor of Spanish

Modern Languages and Classics Department

My Spanish 370 class

“Communication and Composition” included a service learning component in the fall semester of 2011.

This project was very stimulating as it involved interacting with a myriad of individuals: my 15 students, colleagues at Siena College, and many people in the Capital Region. The plans for this course began in the summer of 2011, when Ruth Scipione, the Assistant Director of Academic Service Learning at Siena, helped to connect me with a community partner. Ruth introduced me to Juan George, the editor of Latino New York magazine and a great supporter of the local Latino and Hispanic community. I also attended the Engaged Scholarship and Teaching Symposium in June and The Problem-Based Service Learning Institute in August (both at Siena College), which allowed me to take on the role of a student and learn about the purposes of service learning. With this newly acquired knowledge in mind, I had a series of meetings with Juan, and the project began to take form. My students were charged with two tasks: to help Juan with feedback about his website, and to write articles that will be featured in Latino New York magazine in the coming months. The idea was to have students of Spanish learn more about the local Latino and Hispanic population by gaining practical experience researching and interviewing  people in the Capital Region both about their experiences and the resources available to this population. Before the students began their work, they reviewed and wrote about Latino New York magazine in order to learn about its mission and purpose. Then, Juan visited our class to introduce himself and his magazine and talk about our project. As an initial research step, we worked with Siena librarian Catherine Crohan who helped us do investigative work about different organizations in the area and also to look at data on the local Latino and Hispanic population from the 2010 U.S. Census. My students were then asked to choose different organizations to research and contact based on their interests. To name only a few of the projects, some groups visited Centro Cívico, a non-profit organization that provides ESL and computer classes as well as daycare services to the Hispanic/Latino community. Others attended local churches that hold masses in Spanish, and another group visited libraries in Albany and Troy that have Spanish-speaking materials in their collections. Then, they composed numerous drafts of their articles, which are in Spanish and English, and completed a peer-editing process and also responded to my feedback. The students all enjoyed seeking out opportunities to use their knowledge as advanced Spanish students. I am grateful for the help and dedication of everyone involved in this project, which ultimately taught me to be a facilitator and an inquisitive student instead of the professor of knowledge. In the process, my students and I met many new people and learned about a wide variety of organizations, thus effectively fusing theory with practice. In sum, to paraphrase two of my students, Elizabeth Dignum-Birch and Caroline Castaño, this project taught us all in distinctive ways that it is important to cross borders instead of building them. In the process, my students and I met many new people and learned about a wide variety of organizations, thus effectively fusing theory with practice.