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Student teaching helps the community

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A literature course enhances its focus by tying Drew University with a nearby Hispanic community through an off-campus teaching program.

The course, “Latino & Latina Literature,” “focuses on putting Latino literature in a cultural and historic context and particularly drawing connections between the themes of Latino literature and the issues facing Latino communities in New Jersey,” Assistant Professor of English and Environmental Studies & Sustainability Sarah Wald said.

She hopes to accomplish this by volunteering with the non-profit Neighborhood House in Morristown, a former settlement house that is over 100 years old and is dedicated to helping new immigrants confront economic challenges and fostering cross-cultural relations.

Once there, Wald’s students will contribute to this community by teaching ESOL (English Speakers for Other Languages) courses for advanced English speakers for 15 to 20 hours this semester through their Pathways to Work program.

Students will be working with advanced English speakers “because there’s less pressure to know Spanish and the class doesn’t require it,” Wald explained.

Viany Reyes (’14) said that she “most definitely will” continue volunteering at Neighborhood House in Morristown after the class is finished. “The best thing about this class is the off-campus experience,” she said.

“It has been just rewarding overall. It’s an experience I’ll never forget,” she added.

She will be joining Caitlin Kennedy (‘13), who is the lead teacher in an advanced English class.

Kennedy was another Drew volunteer who decided to stay after doing the same program through a Spanish course last year.

Nathania Reyes (’14) agreed. She said, “the most exciting and helpful aspect of this is being able to go to Morristown to help teach. We see firsthand how much we’re helping and aiding these people in their own futures… It’s such a rewarding experience that everyone should partake in.”

This is the fourth Drew class that has worked with Neighborhood House, part of an ongoing trend to reach out to the Hispanic community and enhance learning at the same time.

“There’s going to be a continuing impact at Drew and its going to be over a longer period of time with a greater number of students,” Wald said.

While on campus, students will be visited by several organizations, including “a representative of Occupy Wall Street who also works with New Jersey communities and helps them learn about home foreclosures” as well as a human rights organization and the Council of Hispanic Affairs, according to Wald.

Currently, students are reading literature and getting acclimated to what happens at Neighborhood House as well as learning ESOL teaching methods from Katherine Brown, Drew’s Director of ESOL, to help the experience run smoothly.

Highlighting the usefulness of the class to Drew students as well as to ESOL students, Viany Reyes (’14) said, “I am gaining a lot of experience, and I hope to use what I am learning and start up an ESOL at my local church.”

At a scholastic level, students will be able to gain a deeper understanding of the literature by teaching English to Spanish speakers.

“When you’re working with English with speakers of other languages there is a lot of attention to sentence structure or to the connotation instead of just the denotation of words, and that gives you a different perspective on the actual sentences or paragraphs you’re talking about,” Wald said.

Using this sort of close reading, Drew students will teach works of literature to ESOL students that they have studied and prepared for at Drew in the second half of the semester.

“We have plenty of people who want to teach, especially as an English major, so there’s a training here in pedagogy and in ESOL,” Wald said.

This course, according to Wald, will “hopefully will help them as they go on to their careers.”

“As an English and Spanish double major I am able to utilize both of my concentrations to help others learn and to perfect my understanding of these complex languages and their literature,” Nathania Reyes said.

After a sampling of various works of literature in the first half of the semester, ranging in locale from New York to Mexico, students will pick their own Latino short stories for the second half from an anthology and write term papers on them.

“There’s such a diversity of identities and histories that fall under Latino literature that it didn’t feel right to just prescribe everything we’re reading,” Wald said.

“The second half we will really go with a direction that the students want to go in, whether it’s choosing a story that really talks about gender, or choosing one of a particular genre or history.”

When asked if she would recommend the course to everyone, Nathania Reyes responded positively. She said, “I would recommend it to everyone. Take this class if you want to learn another culture. Take this class for the chance to help others in learning a language that you know well. Take this class because it will open your eyes to what’s out there. I guarantee it.”

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