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Mexican students, professor help with World Language Academy's summer camp
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Sonia Venegas dances and sings with young students at the World Language Academy. - photo by RON BRIDGEMAN

The Hall County school district wants more native speaking Spanish teachers. If the district could find enough teachers, it could expand its World Language Academy — where students take academic courses in Spanish (and other languages), Superintendent Will Schofield has emphasized.

The district is hosting a group of university students and a professor for three weeks this summer as part of the WLA summer camps — and as part of the continuing effort to develop a “pipeline” for those native-speaking Spanish teachers, Schofield said.

Abel Hernandez Ulloa, professor at the University of Guanajuato, said his students have about the “same basic level of English” fluency. One student, Benjamin Chavez, 26, who is studying for his master’s degree, is relatively comfortable talking in English.

The other students are undergraduates. Some have been in the United States before; some have not.
Chavez said he studied in Arizona in the summer of 2015. The Georgia scenery is much more beautiful, he quickly said, but the humidity here is difficult.

Chavez explained he is a psychologist and is studying educational research. He does not plan to teach, he said, except perhaps in college.

He said working with the students is difficult. “They learn from me, and I learn from them,” he said.

Chavez, a basketball fan, used a magazine on the NBA to help with English.

The trip to Hall County is the first for his department, Hernandez said. He explained he wanted the students to experience life different from their homes.

If they “expand their horizons, then (they) are more humble about (their) culture and other cultures,” he said.

Hernandez said he believes it is important that residents of countries understand the concept of “global citizenship.”
He lived in the United Kingdom for several years and worked on his Ph.D., he said. He does education research on cognitive development, he said.

He said he got his master’s degree in business economics at Monterrey Technical Institute & Higher Education. His bachelor’s degree is in philosophy, he said.

He has been to the U.S. a number of times and visited several major cities — Chicago; Los Angeles; Washington, D.C.; Houston and Salt Lake City.

The Mexican students stay with host families in Hall County, which exposes them to daily life and routines.

Carrie Woodcock, head of languages and global initiatives for the school district, said, “Native speakers add fluency to the language. They bring all the rich culture and vocabulary of their region, and they are able to share it with our students.

“Each region has a dialect, and the more we can expose our students to a wide variety of dialects on a regular basis, the better they will be at moving back and forth among the different people they may come into contact with throughout their lives.

“They will be less likely to struggle with regional colloquialisms and more likely to succeed in the international field.”

She explained the students support lead teachers in classes, create lessons and deliver instruction to the students.

“They are also adding a cultural flair to this summer language camp by singing, dancing and sharing things from their area,” Woodcock said.

One of the goals of Hall County Schools is for 30 percent of its students to get the bilingual seal on their diplomas by 2020.

Schofield repeated that “will require a consistent pipeline of highly qualified, second-language content teachers.

Relationships with institutions like the University of Guanajuato are critical.”

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