By Bryan Hay

Katie Stafford, associate professor of Spanish, greeted a young boy eager to get started on a Lafayette outreach program designed to celebrate linguistic diversity.

“¡Hola Johan! Eres el primero en llegar hoy, número uno (chócala). Hoy tenemos una clase muy especial. ¡Mira todas estas personas que han venido para conversar contigo y compartir sus cuentos!” (Hello Johan. You’re the first one here today, number one (high five). Today we have a very special class. Look at all these people who have come to talk with you and share their stories!)

More spontaneous high fives followed as 14 Spanish-speaking children at Clearview Elementary School in Bethlehem filed into the classroom on April 30, removed their colorful backpacks, and settled in as Stafford’s Spanish students filled the room with energy, laughter, expectation, and their imaginative Spanish language storybooks.

Stafford’s inspiration for a community outreach program at Clearview started with observations from her two children who attend the school and participate in an introductory Spanish class once a week.

“I wanted to start something that gave Spanish-speaking students at Clearview a space to value and celebrate their bilingualism and develop literacy skills in Spanish, so I started a Spanish Club for Heritage Speakers, an after-school Spanish class for heritage Spanish speakers, with the ESL teacher at the school,” she says.

Prof. Katie Stafford (left) and Margaret Magnuson ’27 making introductions at Clearview Elementary School

Prof. Katie Stafford (left) and Margaret Magnuson ’27 making introductions at Clearview Elementary School

The children (K-2) speak Spanish fluently but haven’t learned to read and write in Spanish. Always looking for ways to connect her Lafayette language classrooms with Spanish-speaking people in the community, she and her students developed a pen pal exchange with Clearview students and wrote children’s stories in Spanish, which the kids read and illustrated.

“The whole purpose of this exchange is to celebrate linguistic diversity. I find it curious that most of the bilingual education in the Lehigh Valley occurs in schools where the students primarily come from monolingual families when there are so many multilingual people in the area,” Stafford says.

“I want both sides (Lafayette and Clearview) to become more excited, to feel empowered about their own linguistic journeys,” she adds. “Being a multilingual person has expanded and enriched my world immensely. I actually feel sorry for monolingual people because I feel their world is significantly smaller and more limited. I hope this event will transmit enthusiasm about the importance of learning languages and the power of language for engaging in new perspectives and worlds.”

Gathering in a circle with Clearview students, Stafford and her students led a spirited chant of hot potato in Spanish—la papa se quema—to help get everyone acquainted with informal introductions. Then the group separated among worktables to begin reading from the storybooks, which the Clearview kids helped illustrate with crayons and markers.

Barbara Odae ’27 read aloud her story about a flower, Paloma Blanca, leaving a farm home to go to the city in search of jobs, believing they are important in a world where the flower thinks she has no purpose. After cycling through being a banker, a judge, and a doctor, Paloma returns home, sad that she could not find a job. Upon Paloma’s return, the farm embraces and comforts Paloma by telling Paloma that her presence is enough, and there’s no rush to figure out what she enjoys doing because she has time.

“For me, I started thinking about what I wanted to be in the future at an early age,” Odae says. “Today, it’s a topic that overwhelms and slightly frightens me. I thought it’d be nice to affirm to someone young the importance they hold for just being them, and that there is never any pressure to find a ‘purpose’ because they have time.”

Barbara Odae ’27 shares her story about a flower, Paloma Blanca, leaving a farm home to go to the city

Barbara Odae ’27 shares her story about a flower, Paloma Blanca, leaving a farm home to go to the city

The opportunity to engage with young learners and use her Spanish language skills outside the classroom “reassured me of the importance of speaking Spanish as a skill. It very much continued my spark to be a Spanish minor,” she observes.

Jessica Drager, the ESL teacher at Clearview with whom Stafford worked to develop the program, says the Lafayette relationship is a perfect fit at the school with its diverse community of children.

“One of the most amazing things is they wrote letters in Spanish to introduce themselves.,” she says. “On that particular day here, when the letters were received, it was just joyous. They were so excited to have these letters and to respond back. It was such a nice way to promote that culture. It was one of my favorite moments, and today is sure going to be just as exciting with the reading of the Spanish stories.”

Drager appreciates how Stafford built a community of Lafayette students interested in expanding linguistic diversity and envisioned a clear view of community for her own children at Clearview.

“She just thought that would be a great marriage between the two schools. And it’s really worked out very nicely,” she notes. “There’s value in having college students here working with the young kids. They get to see that next step. College is a big goal for a lot of them. So having this opportunity to kind of see and meet with some Lafayette students really offers a bit of a preview.”

Sitting with a Clearview student in a carpeted alcove, Carson Belaire ’27 read from his story about a flying squirrel who has a dream of flying to New York, only to discover that he misses his family and doesn’t like living alone. He decides to fly back and is dubbed a super flying squirrel because he makes it all the way home.

Carson Belaire ’27 and Barbara Odae ’27 engage young learners

Carson Belaire ’27 and Barbara Odae ’27 engage young learners

“Getting to connect with actual students who speak Spanish and then sharing our own stories, it’s just incredible,” he says. “I’ve never really had the creative liberty to write my own story. Getting to do that and then sharing it and really connecting with someone was pretty awesome.”

For Isabella Rodriguez ’26, the project allowed her to better communicate and interact with native Spanish speakers in a creative and interactive environment.

“I have also learned how to collaborate with other students and provide constructive feedback on their stories during workshops and practices,” she says. “While writing children’s stories might not seem like a complicated task, the challenge of creating an interesting storyline and communicating descriptive and complex plots in Spanish was only possible with the support of Prof. Stafford and my fellow classmates.”

Isabella Rodriguez ’26 reads her story to a Clearview student

Isabella Rodriguez ’26 reads her story to a Clearview student

Rodriguez developed a story recounting the tale of an evil king, threatened by the power of an enchanted forest and the creatures within.

“At the beginning of the semester, I never thought I would be able to comprehensively describe the concept of fairies creating doors in trees and using them to travel about the forest,” she recalls. “However, with the support of Prof. Stafford and my classmates as well as the willingness to try new things, which defines Lafayette College, I have become more skillful and confident in my ability to connect with other Spanish speakers.”

Growing up in a Spanish-speaking family but without speaking the language, Rodriguez wanted to use college as an opportunity to explore multidisciplinary interests and learn more about her family’s language and culture.

“So, I decided to work toward a minor in Spanish while majoring in biochemistry on the pre-med track. Before starting college, I was concerned and overwhelmed by the difficulty of starting a Spanish minor from Spanish 101 while working toward a major in biochemistry,” she says.

“However, all of the professors I have interacted with at Lafayette, in the chemistry and language and literary studies departments, have been incredibly supportive of my goals and have provided me and other students with opportunities that would not have been available at most other institutions.

“Having the opportunity to visit Clearview Elementary School and interact with Spanish-speaking students is a unique experience made possible by Lafayette’s encouraging professors and their connections within the community,” Rodriguez says.



Categorized in: Academic News, Faculty and Staff, Featured News, Languages & Literary Studies, News and Features, Spanish, Students
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