Teachers Learn Spanish

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

August 23, 2006

The amount of Spanish-speaking natives has increased dramatically in Central Virginia over the last few decades, which has some schools facing new challenges.

Fourteen teachers took a trip to Guatemala. It was not a relaxing vacation at the resorts, but they lived with families and were totally immersed in the culture and language for several weeks.

A group of Albemarle County teachers spent several weeks in Guatemala working on their Spanish. Many had never spoken a word before the trip where they spent 5 hours a day with one-on-one tutoring.

"It was hard, it was very hard. It was like 'oh my goodness, I'm going to have to really concentrate on this,'" said math teacher Pinkie Kauffman.

Within days the teachers, now students, were beginning to pick it up.

"El petito," said Kauffman.

The total immersion gave teachers a first hand look at how many of their students feel.

"I was forced to learn because they was no way out," said Kauffman.

"Anytime that you can ease the transition for kids who speak another language, that's a big benefit to all of us," said trip leader and civics teacher Margie Shepherd.

While the teachers learned in the classroom, they also adventured in the markets and traveled. Margie Shepherd says she wants to share with her students about their culture.

"These people who had less than we did materially, really had a wonderful family life and the importance of the community and the importance of the family was so strong," said Shepherd.

While on the trip the teachers still made time to do some volunteering. They helped out with Habitat for Humanity as well as an after school day care program.

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