Leading a Language Living Learning Program
“Walking on campus and someone saying hola to you just because you live here is one example of how neighbors at Mead became family.”
Maria Correa FP’16 stood at the center of a handful of students in the Golden Pear kitchen in Mead. She taught the attendees how to speak a few phrases in colloquial Spanish. Others stood in line to sample one of the three flans—a custard dessert—that were placed on the table by Spanish Professor Nieves Romero-Díaz. Two of the desserts were baked by Romero-Díaz, one of which was decorated with caramelized sugar and raspberries. Some of the French and Spanish floor residents attended the Living Learning language floor event that Correa organized along with the Romance Languages and Cultures Program. Students who did not live in Mead were also welcomed to participate in the flan-cooking lesson hosted by Romero-Díaz. As the night drew on, more students drifted in and out of the kitchen and spoke with Romero-Díaz and Italian Studies Professor Erica Moretti.
The language floors were initiated as a pilot program for the 2015-2016 academic year in Mead as Living Learning Communities. Residential Life selected the third and fourth floors in Mead for the French and Spanish departments. They based their selection from a school-wide survey provided the previous academic year in which students voted which languages should be selected for the Living Learning Communities. Once chosen, the language departments each selected a language assistant to live on the floor and work alongside the community advisor to help selected residents to improve their language skills through weekly community events. The residential life and Spanish department collaborated throughout the semester to provide resources to Mead language floor residents.
Correa, the Spanish language assistant, is a Francis Perkins student born and raised in Tigre, a province in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is completing a major in Spanish and minors in education and Latin American Studies. In addition, she is completing a Five College certificate in Latin American, Caribbean, and Latino studies as well as a teaching licensure. After noticing her deep involvement in the Spanish department and community service in Holyoke, Spanish Professor Esther Castro Cuenca selected Correa out of a pool of language assistant applications to lead the pilot program.
Spanish Professor Flávia Cunha volunteered to guide the pilot language floor program this academic year. About Correa, she said, “She is driven. She’s a leader. We needed a person who would be a leader for the students.”
Correa reaches out to Cunha when she needs guidance, especially for organizing events hosted by professors like the cooking lesson by Romero-Díaz as well as advertisement. As a language assistant for the Spanish language program, Correa meets a multitude of responsibilities. She not only assists as a teaching assistant for Castro Cuenca’s course for two hours each week, but Correa must also plan small weekly events. Correa relied on the guidance of Castro Cuenca and Cunha for event ideas. In addition, she organized gatherings depending on residents’ preferences—the most popular being movie nights.
The Spanish department hoped that the gatherings would unite faculty and students—Mead residents and non-residents alike. Professors in the Spanish department and Correa wanted to exemplify the importance of learning new languages through bonding events. Cunha said, “One of our goals is to bring more awareness to the languages on campus. It sends the message that it’s something important for us to have a Living and Learning Community in Spanish and French.”
Lianne Rhule ’16 benefited from living on the Spanish language floor. She aspires to one day work as a diplomat and represent her homeland, Jamaica, throughout the world. She knew that the opportunity to polish her Spanish speaking skills was important to her future. Rhule said, “One issue that I have with learning Spanish is that you always learn the formal way to speak. It’s just the little things, like ‘can I borrow this?’ that you didn’t learn in class—those are things that you learn by living with people that speak Spanish.”
Correa accomplished her goal of establishing a sense of community and by helping students like Rhule improve their language skills. However, she faced challenges along the way. Correa explained that residents living on a language floor should commit at least two to three hours per week for community events, yet currently a handful of students do not make such a commitment. She tried to alter some dates and times to weekly gathering so that more students could attend. She said, “It’s really hard because also I have my own schedule.”
Additionally, Correa rarely found a time to collaborate with the community advisor Anushree Bhatia ’18. She said, “We tried but it was really hard because we had different schedules.” Correa and the community advisor decided that Bhatia should organize one event per month in which Correa would assist her. Also, Bhatia and Correa collaborated on decorations for the language floor. After the Bhatia decorated the bulletin board, for example, Correa helped translate a few phrases into Spanish.
Rachel Alldis, the Assistant Dean of Students and Director of Residential Life, hoped that for the next academic year a few changes in approach could make the system and collaboration across different departments more efficient, such as plotting the first six weeks of the semester in terms of events.
Focus on the Positive
Correa surpassed the difficulties that arose throughout the semester by focusing more on the positive rather than the negative. Correa said that assisting on the Spanish floor gave her practical skills for her intended teaching career. In terms of crafting events for a classroom, Correa said, “I need to know my students in the future so that I can get to know them and know what might work for them.” She realized that what she considered to be entertaining might not be perceived the same way by the younger generation.
Correa also received a rare opportunity that not many other Francis Perkins’ students are given. She lived for the first time with undergraduate students. “I was really scared about what they are like,” Correa said, “I didn’t know what to expect, [but] living here has been one of the best experiences that I’ve had.”
Correa advised that potential language assistants on the language floor be organized and speak Spanish fluently. In addition, Correa said, “Be aware that a lot of people might not be able to participate and not taking it personally.”
Correa said that the rewards of being a language assistant extended beyond receiving a single dorm room, being paid for two hours every week for tutoring, or deciding your own work schedule. She said that the most rewarding aspect of her job was having students rely on her. Students, especially first-years, reached out to Correa for help for numerous reasons, not just for Spanish. Correa became available for guidance and mentorship for those homesick and those simply overwhelmed with academics.
Her community got stronger and became visible even outside of Mead. Correa said, “I think that walking on campus and someone saying hola to you just because you live here” was one example of how neighbors at Mead became family to her.