Opportunities abound in the Buffalo area (and beyond) to use foreign language skills to help others! The inaugural Fall 2018 class of RLL 496 students wrote reflections on their experiences at Buffalo PS #43, assisting 8th grade learners of English who had come from Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Discover what our students learned, and plan to participate in similar opportunities that will help make you stand out from the crowd!
After becoming a Spanish minor during the Spring 2018 semester, I have transformed into a more confident Spanish speaker and culturally aware young adult. This is not only due in part to the faculty of the Romance Language and Literature department at UB, but also one of the greatest experiential learning opportunities I have had through this department, for which I will forever be grateful.
The day before I began at PS 43 Lovejoy and Discovery School, I reviewed classroom vocabulary and general conversation structures out of fear that I was not proficient enough, despite the fact that I was studying at the 300 level. Once I arrived, I soon learned that my Spanish was flowing almost naturally and the students were excited to have so many people focusing on them, as we had 3 “teachers” and 4 students. Our main objective throughout the semester was maintaining the pace that New York State has set for 8th grade students in English, Science, History, and Mathematics. We translated textbook passages, worksheets, books of literature, and even online digital learning programs that were only produced in English so that all the students could have the same learning experience. I can only hope that I left an impact of equal profoundness as these boys have left on me.
There were three displaced students, one of whom spoke both English and Spanish. I learned that this was a result of educational disparities in Puerto Rico, since he was from a city, whereas another student was struggling to write responses in Spanish, mainly through basic spelling errors, because his school did not require or encourage the students to write. I had always assumed that education was standardized in Puerto Rico as it is here, but that is not the case at all, as some families are knowledgeable but facing challenges of literacy. For this particular student, reading passages and completing sentences in Spanish was of a high level of difficulty, so simultaneously learning English was not at all an easy task. However, he was so determined to improve that he had nearly perfect attendance and even won awards through the school for his hard work throughout my time there. He was so proud of his accomplishments, especially because he had never received an award of any type in his beloved home of Puerto Rico. Another student comes from a family of pharmacists who are currently struggling to be employed due to the language barrier they face in Buffalo. He was the most outgoing in terms of speaking and writing in English because he saw that English was essential to having a job in the future. The bilingual student did not face as many challenges as the other boys, but his kindness and companionship made the transition for all of them to American schools and life much easier.
I have learned so much about Puerto Rican lifestyles during my time at PS 43 and I am thrilled to have had another opportunity to experience it myself through Governor Cuomo’s program, New York Stands with Puerto Rico. I was a volunteer for two weeks this January alongside 30 other SUNY/CUNY students responsible for the reparation of 3 homes that were damaged by Hurricane Maria. I was able to immerse myself in the culture and learn more about the socioeconomic and educational disparities that exist that led the 3 boys in my classroom to be the way they are. I can now understand more compassionately what these students have come from and why they love their homeland with such a strong sense of pride. I am forever grateful to have developed a connection with the students at PS 43 and the homeowners in San Juan through these experiential educational opportunities and I hope to continue to have similar experiences in the future.
This internship was a life changing experience for me, not only because I was able to help both students integrate to a new environment after such a horrible experience but also because I was able to discover another side of myself. As a child, knowing how to speak, read and write Spanish was always taken for granted because it was my native language but going into the school and seeing those kids who had gone through such a terrifying experience and there being no one to help them really touched another side of me. Jose and Alejandro knew no English and it was hard for Morgan, the teacher, to interact with them if it weren’t for google translate. They had no outside resources other than the translated worksheets and books which was translated by one of the other teachers before both the students were able to receive them.
This experience made me learn a lot about the education system as well. In a big school like School 43 there was no ESL teachers, which both Alejandro, Jose and the other student which was transferred from another school needed. When they were transferred to Gym or any of their other classes, they were mixed in with students in other classes and not one of them spoke Spanish so they were both kept in the dark in what was going on. They were both placed in a setting to fail because how are they supposed to understand what is going on in their classes if no one is there to explain it to them and they aren’t given the resources to succeed.
The field trip [to the Buffalo Science Museum] that was organized was in my opinion very life changing for them from what I saw. If this could be repeated in the future with other volunteers that would be amazing. They were so excited that they were able to leave the classroom where they are kept all day and learn new things which can’t be learned sitting down in a classroom. It allowed them to travel in Buffalo and see as well as experience a different side of Buffalo.
As an intern, I learned that in the future this is something that I would like to do again. I grew a fond connection with the students and it was a great experience. It also helped improve my Spanish greatly by having to speak solely Spanish and using vocabulary that usually isn’t used in a Spanish course. If I could give other interns advice, it would be to be patient. There isn’t a lot of resources available to the school or the students in Spanish and it is up to you to try and accommodate for that. Take translating worksheets, readings or anything else needed seriously because that is their only source of information and if you have questions ask. It is important that you know what is going on because in that way you will be of great help to the students as well as to the teacher.
Another piece of advice is to try to make it fun for the students because they are in a new setting where they are unfamiliar with the language. It is important that you engage with them and try to motivate them to do work as well as reassure them that its important they try their best. As an intern you have to have a good positive attitude since you are dealing with older kids.
If the internship was offered again I would definitely consider it if it weren’t for schedule conflicts. It is a great experience and one that allowed me to connect with both students which I couldn’t have done or experienced if I wouldn’t have offered to volunteer. I am thankful for the opportunity because it showed me a lot about myself and what I want to accomplish in the future career wise.
Throughout the course of the Fall 2018 semester, I had the privilege of working with a group of boys at the Buffalo Public School Lovejoy #43. The group of boys spoke Spanish and knew a varying level of English because they had come here from Puerto Rico. It was an incredible experience and I feel as though it enriched my knowledge of the Spanish language as well as Puerto Rican culture in ways that I never thought that it would.
As an intern in their classroom, I worked closely with their primary teacher to translate their assignments, translate what they were saying while working during ELA, Math, and Social Studies, and further elaborate on concepts in Spanish in order to ensure thorough understanding. I also worked with their English as a New Language (ENL) teacher while they were working on their reading and comprehension skills. During this time I felt as though I had the ability to use my knowledge from my Spanish classes in order to efficiently translate. Prior to the University at Buffalo student interns and my arrival in the boys’ classroom, their assignments were being translated using Google Translate. I noticed this immediately after working on one of their poetry assignments. The computerized translations were not accurately translating which led the boys to interpret the works incorrectly. Witnessing the problematic nature of online translations was very disheartening. I felt as though I was making a true difference because it was much easier for the boys to comprehend their assignments and follow directions when utilizing my translations.
Although there were a few UB students in the boys’ classroom on a weekly basis, I think it would be more beneficial to have a Spanish-speaking individual in their class at all times. I would highly encourage any Spanish majors or minors at UB to volunteer to translate and be in their class. Your volunteer efforts are observed immediately because language is a very special entity of one’s being. Speaking a simple phrase to an individual in their native language is powerful, especially when these students may not get to hear a teacher speak their native language throughout the course of the entire school day.
One example of how the boys and I connected through language was with Spanish and English tongue twisters. One day one of the boys began to say “Pancha plancha con cuatro planchas. ¿Con cuántas planchas plancha Pancha?”. At first I was confused because it sounded as though he was repeating “plancha” over and over again. However, once he slowed it down I realized it was a tongue twister. I proceeded to teach him “How much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?” We laughed and eventually learned each other’s phrases. Nevertheless, the most important thing that I took away from the experience was that at first we both had no idea what the other person was saying. I could have ignored what he said or dismissed the silly tongue twister, but instead I took the time to listen and learn from him. Many times language barriers can create more hate than connection and I think I truly observed the importance of education and understanding when creating bonds with someone who doesn’t speak your language well with this experience.
I am by no means fluent in Spanish, however, experiencing a connection through language and helping with pronunciation and language skills was amazing. I would highly encourage students from UB to take part in this amazing experience of translating for and learning from these students. It was one of the most fulfilling, fascinating, and exhilarating experiences of my life and I will cherish the memories that I have made with the boys. I also plan on continuing to volunteer in their classroom next semester.