CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. – On a recent Tuesday night, a group of Austin Peay State University students gathered inside a local church – Iglesia Casa de Restauracion. About half of the students went into a makeshift classroom to help adult members of the Clarksville Hispanic community learn English. At the end of the 45-minute lesson, those Hispanic students then became the teachers, helping the APSU students with their Spanish skills.
The other group of APSU students entered a little schoolroom set up inside the church, and they spent the next hour helping local Hispanic children with their homework. These gatherings occur every Tuesday and Thursday evening at the church, and they’re part of an innovative new service-learning class that helps the local community while providing APSU students with a foreign language immersion experience.
“Immersion is the real thing,” Ilza P. Harrell, APSU Spanish instructor and developer of the course, said. “That’s the reason why we take students on study abroad trips. But since the study abroad is not for everyone, we can do it here. We have a Spanish-speaking community here.”
The program started last semester when Harrell developed the Bridge of Words project for her Spanish 2000 students. The idea was to take her students to a local church to teach ESL for the Hispanic community, but she quickly noticed that only adult men attended the classes.
“In order for it to be for the family, for the wives to go learn English, we thought it would be better to offer something for the children,” she said. “So I started offering to help them with their homework. Now, the whole family participates in the project.”
The success of the program led Harrell to develop it into a service-learning class for this semester. The course, one of the many service-learning classes offered by the University, requires Harrell’s Spanish 2000 students to spend one night a week at the church, helping members of the local Hispanic community learn English. Their participation counts for 20 percent of their grade.
“The most important thing is to show the community that the University is not just campus, but that it is applicable to the society, part of the society,” she said. “The community can see that the purpose of the students speaking Spanish isn’t just to learn a language. The purpose is to integrate with the Hispanic community. The purpose of learning Spanish is integration.”
Harrell’s APSU students serve about 20 adults and eight children. On those Tuesday and Thursday nights, the two different populations come together and learn more about each other beyond preconceived stereotypes.
“The way they see Americans and the way the Americans see them is based on all the information you have without knowing them,” Harrell said. “This project helps to create a change of vision. And the Hispanic community is there to not only be helped. They are going to help our students with Spanish and we’re going to help them with English.”
For more information on this service learning class, contact Harrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo cutline: APSU Spanish 2000 students and members of the local Hispanic community meet at the Iglesia Casa de Restauracion Church for a new service-learning ESL course.