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Lessons in culture engage Hillcrest Spanish students

Feb 27, 2017 01:31PM ● Published by Julie Slama

Hillcrest Spanish students gain firsthand cultural experience by painting each other’s faces with skulls, flowers and scars across their lips for Dia de los Muertos. (Michelle Hawkins/Hillcrest High School)

By Julie Slama | julie@mycityjournals.com
 
One Saturday, Morgan Lorenzo-Greer and a couple of her Hillcrest High School classmates in Spanish 3 Honors class could be found reading a recipe in Spanish so they could make a tortilla española or Spanish omelet.
 
Then, Morgan’s team and other groups of students brought their tortillas to class so they could sample each other’s cooking and vote which one was best. This was how students finished their unit of learning about Spain and just one of the several ways Hillcrest Spanish teacher Michelle Hawkins has intermixed culture into her teaching.
 
“It’s one thing to learn a language but it’s a completely different thing for students to be able to experience the culture for themselves in order to gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the language,” Morgan said. “Señorita Hawkins does this by letting us explore the other culture. We’ve eaten empanadas, made homemade tortilla from Spain and we learn about the teenagers of other countries and how they compare and contrast to us.”
 
The empanadas were the celebration after completing their unit learning about Chile. The students sampled several South American empanadas brought in from Empanada Express as part of their fiesta which also allowed them to meet their “Amigos Secretos” or pen pals from a native Spanish-speaking class.
 
“We want to make more cross-culture connections and learn from one another,” Hawkins said. “The pen pals gave students a chance to write to one another and ask them questions and reply in the language. I gave them some topic ideas, but they could write about subjects they wanted as well. They met and talked for 20 minutes that day. Since then, I’ve seen some students talk in the hall, so it’s a way we can develop friendships and positive relationships.”
 
Her newly developed native-speaking class or Spanish Heritage Speakers allows those bilingual students to learn how to read and write Spanish since they only speak Spanish at their homes, Hawkins said.
 
“We have them read at home to their siblings and parents so they develop more Spanish literacy skills,” she said, adding that through the exchanges with her Spanish 3 Honors class, they could share their culture with other students.
 
A fun experience for the students was Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Not only did Hawkins’ students learn the symbolism behind the memorial day, they also had the experience of painting their faces with skulls, flowers and scars across their lips, symbolizing the traditions of the culture.
 
“We chose more light-hearted designs to show it being a fun holiday and students were excited and wore the face-painting around school, so more conversations about the culture came about. Their peers were learning the values of other cultures,” she said.
 
Some of the experiences for the students have been more studious as 10 members of her Spanish Heritage class took part in the Spanish-speaking section of the Model UN conference at Brigham Young University.
 
“It was a challenge for them to learn how to debate and create resolutions in Spanish because even though they are bilingual, they have not been schooled academically in their language and this discourse was much more formal. Still, they learned how to role play as diplomats and learned that their Spanish-speaking skills are marketable,” she said.
 
Ahead for the class will be Colombian hot chocolate this spring, which Hawkins said she learned includes cheese in the recipe. She also said that her students will learn a dance, probably the Tango from Uruguay, but she will have students help decide.
 
“Through these activities, I see them improving their Spanish and taking it to a higher level,” she said. “The students are much more engaged and are having fun while learning about different countries’ cultures.”
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