Students Put Spanish to Service

Catherine Black ’94

January 17, 2014

This year, Punahou’s Spanish level 3 classes have incorporated an element of service into their curriculum, which traditionally focuses on reviewing grammar from level 2. Academy language faculty Ian Earle ’89, described it as “a way for the students to see Spanish come alive” in the world around them.

Earle and European Language Department Head Erin Wilkerson ’89 Maretzski, who also teaches the course, were inspired to incorporate community service after hearing a presentation by Lee Crockett at 32nd Annual Educators’ Conference in Mexico City this past October. Crockett, co-author of the best-selling book “Literacy is Not Enough,” emphasizes the application of skills and knowledge through projects students are interested in doing.


This past fall, Earle and Maretzski chose to assign their students a meaningful project with a real-life audience: children’s books. The teachers asked their classes to research nonprofit organizations in Latin America that could benefit from books created by the students themselves. The students presented their organization of choice to their classmates, who then voted on the one they were most enthusiastic about helping. The selected organizations include several orphanages in Mexico and an elementary school in Chile that was severely damaged by the 2010 tsunami.

“We thought that one of the important things was to choose a place where kids didn’t have as much,” said Kimi ’16, whose team proposed Misión México – an orphanage in Chiapas, Mexico, that provides shelter and care for abused, neglected or abandoned children. “It’s a way to show that people from all the way across the world are thinking about them.”

After selecting Misión México, the students in Kimi’s class broke up into pairs to create their books for the orphanage. The books, handmade and illustrated by their authors, feature familiar and original children’s stories translated into Spanish. Each book-making pair read their story to their classmates, who were asked to take note of elements such as principal characters and the conflict that was resolved in the narrative.

“At first it was kind of difficult to come up with a theme,” said Colin ’16, who recreated the story of the Ugly Duckling with his partner Janice ’15. First they wrote the story in English, giving the traditional story a twist by changing the main character to a peacock. Then they translated it into Spanish. Janice drew the pictures and Colin brought them to life with colored pencils. “I hope this makes the children at the orphanage smile,” he added. “That’s why we decided on the ugly duckling, because it’s supposed to be funny.”

“For me the value of a project like this is that it helps the students to see Spanish as something they can use; that they realize the language that they’re learning is spoken in the world and can have an impact on others,” noted Earle.


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