Our host teacher in Cartagena is Rosalia Mendoza, an English teacher at Bertha Gedeón de Baladí. Rosalia is energetic, engaging, fun-loving, and serious about her role as a teacher. She wants her students to learn. She wants her students to learn English.
Rosalia know that one way to teach a second language to students is to do rote memorization and meaningless cycles of faux conversation. She has rejected this model and, in 2009, began to develop a curriculum project she calls My School, My City, and My World: A Pretext for Speaking English. The idea of this project is to promote English language skills through service learning, for students to create a culture of being productive in society, in their community and at school.
For the past two years, Rosalia has been working with Alli Spring, a Peace Corps volunteer, to build a pedagogical framework for second language acquisition through service learning.
The strength, beauty, and sheer genius of this framework is that students are acquiring language and consciousness to talk about conditions in Cartagena and to build capacity for critical thinking. In the past few years, Rosalia has changed the expectations of what an English class could like like, from drill and kill to using English as a tool to think and talk about bigger issues relevant to the lives of her students. This means students are out in the community. They are conducting community needs assessments and responding to those needs. Students are working with recycling initiatives, at a cancer center, and with the organization TECHO which builds houses for displaced people.
Rosalia's students are quite passionate about their work with TECHO. In April, they spent 3 days in another part of Cartagena - sleeping on the ground in classrooms at a school - to built 20+ houses with TECHO. They are going out again in the middle of August for a second build. While we were here in Cartagena, TECHO has been having it's national fundraising campaign. Students have been collecting change at the school and were out at two malls yesterday to collect money and to educate the community about the work TECHO does. Some students were planning to go out again today to continue to raise money on their own.
And how does this relate back to English class? Tomorrow, Rosalia will ask students to talk about their experience this weekend in English.
Yesterday we had the opportunity to debrief with Alli about the students' work. She and Rosalia began this year with the concept of values as a foundation for their service learning work. Then, they chose themes for the year: home and responsibility, honesty, solidarity and respect. The power of this service learning work is the direct connection between students' lives, students' community, and the academic subject of English.
This work is awe-inspiring.