“Noticias! Noticias!” rang out the news carriers on the third floor of FSA as they scurried from room to room.
On any given day, it’s not unusual to hear such enthusiastic footsteps peddling to and fro on the upper levels of the school. In a place where education is always the adventure, hearing chants in another language may be quite the norm.
For the second year, Spanish teacher Brian Ryu has chosen to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month by charging his eighth graders with the task of creating their own Spanish-language newsletter and delivering it to the rest of the middle school community. This year’s end result is El Mes de Herencia Hispana, an impressive collection of article summaries entirely written and produced by students.
For Brian, teaching involves reinvention and innovation. He is constantly looking for novel pedagogical ideas to not only immerse his students into the Spanish language, but the many cultures of those who speak it. This activity is one that encourages students to discover the rich culture and history of Spanish-speaking countries and the Hispanic community that comprises one of the largest minority groups in the United States.
“There is a certain awareness around Hispanic culture that is more visible to mainstream America, including our students,” Brian said. “But asking them to dig deeper and explore the historical significance and contributions that highlight Hispanic heritage brings their awareness to a whole new level.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is meant to emphasize the important presence of Hispanic and Latino Americans in North America. Beginning as Hispanic Heritage Week in 1968, it became a month-long celebration in 1988. September 15 was chosen as the starting date for the month to acknowledge the anniversary of independence of five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—that were all released from Spanish rule in 1821.
It took the Spanish II class about a week and a half to produce the newsletter. This may seem unbelievable when readers first glance the introduction, a succinct paragraph with one central message: “the thing we need above and beyond a united voice is a diverse voice.”
This need to recognize the diverse voices that make up our many communities is the motivation behind the well-crafted language and attention to detail within the newsletter and its production. And for those in need of noticias but unfamiliar with Spanish, the students provide English translations as well as keywords for enthusiasts in search of learning a new language.
Though an article on chocolate may appear rather unrelated to a newsletter dedicated to Hispanic Heritage Month, one student writer wanted to point out that the cacao bean from which chocolate is made was actually first used by the ancient Olmecs in what we now know as Mexico. In fact, such probing into the history and importance of chocolate was a topic some of the students previously explored in World Studies with Alex Zinnes.
Another student chose to report on Celia Cruz, the Cuban singer also known as the Queen of Salsa. “I never heard of Cruz,” she said. “Before I didn’t know about Hispanic music. So that was cool to research.”
Although Brian did the copyediting for the newsletter, his students were in charge of everything else, from writing to selecting the accompanying photos. Even that task he would have delegated to his students if they had more time. Because Brian’s curriculum prepares students to speak, read and write in Spanish, his former students report that they often feel ahead when they enroll in high school classes. This is no doubt due to assignments like this one that require students to be attentive and mindful to the social significance of their work.
If it wasn’t already apparent, Brian’s approach to teaching is always led by the philosophy that students are the bearers of knowledge. In this instance, these future journalists proved themselves to be skilled in more areas than previously thought. And that, too, is quite the norm.
Click here to view El Mes de Herencia Hispana Newsletter 2017
By Malcolm Tariq