Georgia College Front Page

Students host bilingual story times in local schools

Christy Helms (left) and Aliyah Barnwell read "The Three Little Pigs" 
to second graders at Midway Elementary.

Krista Whatley has spent her spring semester commanding the attention of third graders from Creekside Elementary with the games like “jacques a dit.”

Or as known in English, Simon Says.

“What’s surprised me is how excited they are whenever we come into the classroom,” she said. “They remember so much and vocabulary sticks with them throughout the weeks—I didn’t expect that.”

Whatley is part of a group of students enrolled in a French and Spanish service-learning course. In the courses students travel to Creekside and Midway Elementary reading children’s books in English and either French or Spanish. The students are led by modern language faculty Dr. Hedwig Fraunhofer and Dr. Mariana Stoyanova and Leslie Strempel.

“This type of program is very important for all students, but especially kids this young,” said Whatley. “It opens them up for more of these types of learning interactions in the future.”

GC students choose a book and prepare lesson plans a week in advance. Activities range from teaching common phrases to cultural lessons about France and Spanish-speaking countries. Whatley says some of these students haven’t seen photos of Paris or the Eiffel Tower—so exposure is great for learning.

Dr. Mariana Stoyanova, assistant professor of Spanish, has seen the growth in students like Whatley, Barnwell and others involved in the program.

“They really grow as human beings,” said Stoyanova. “I look forward to seeing that growth and watch as they develop leadership skills through this experience.”

Each session involves the bilingual story time and 
an cultural activity.

The upper-level course was created as an offshoot from the Department of Modern Language’s free language classes that were once offered at the local Mary Vinson Library, which was funded by a grant from the Office of ENGAGE and is ongoing.

“Milledgeville is such a small community, there are not many opportunities to study foreign languages,” said Stoyanova. “Being in the elementary classroom is different from teaching the older community members. This gives students the skills of keeping up in a fast-paced environment and dealing with groups who are absolute beginners.”

This is sophomore criminal justice major and Spanish minor Aliyah Barnwell’s first semester in the course. After her experience teaching second graders at Midway this semester, she wants to continue with the outreach the remainder of her college years. For Barnwell, teaching has given her a new perspective on learning languages herself.

“When you learn a new language, you make connections that you didn’t think about before,” Barnwell said. She’s been able to make those connections when learning sometimes complicated grammar in Spanish. By understanding how that grammar translates into English, it’s helped her teach these concepts to others.

Stoyanova said the goal of the program is to twofold: offer children access to language courses and have students like Barnwell take away meaningful skills.

“What we wanted to do was provide students with opportunities give back while also gaining valuable language skills,” she said.  

Whatley, who wants to eventually enter into sports information, said teaching has given her a new option that she never considered before the service-learning course. She also said she hopes the takeaways of learning stay with the younger students for the rest of their education.

“It’s important to give students opportunity to see things they have seen before like the Eiffel Tower and other scenes of Paris,” she said. “Hopefully they’ll learn that the world is wide. Going forward, I hope they remember this and be more open minded about learning.”

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