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Latinos learn from, teach KWC students

Latinos learn from, teach KWC students

By Dariush Shafa, Messenger-Inquirer

Students in the Spanish Club at Kentucky Wesleyan College are teaching English to local Latinos and at the same time getting the chance to learn about language and culture from the very people they're instructing.

The English as a Second Language (ESL) classes being taught by the club are an extension of the efforts of an Evansville group, Educational and Cultural Advancement for Latinos, or EDUCA.

The founder and president of EDUCA is Arcea Zapata de Aston, chair of KWC's Department of Modern Languages and a professor of Spanish.

Zapata de Aston said the teaching of English to Latinos here is not just a student project. The connection to EDUCA means that this work has the endorsement and approval of the Mexican consulate in Indianapolis.

The partnership also has connections with numerous agencies in Evansville and with Centro Latino in Owensboro. The class meets twice a week at the college.

Zapata de Aston said she wanted her students to get involved with the local Latino community because she saw numerous benefits to both sides. The students may be teaching, but what they learn back is just as important.

"The students have the opportunity to do that exchange," Zapata de Aston said. "They get an opportunity to interact, so they get the native speaker (connection). They will get to practice Spanish, talk about cultural issues and ask whatever questions they want."

Zapata de Aston said for many of the ESL students, work and children can make scheduling time for classes difficult. Zapata de Aston said they try to accommodate students as much as they can.

"We have students that work with the kids, watching movies or doing activities with them," she said.

Zapata de Aston said she sees this as a positive experience for both her students and the Latinos that come to learn.

"I think it's a wonderful opportunity. I have students that come to me and say, 'I love this,' " she said. "It's a very enriching opportunity for my students. I think it gets them to taste and enjoy the language differently than just being in class and getting it from a book."

Anthony Eyler, president of the Spanish Club and one of the student ESL instructors, agreed.

"It's enthralling. This is not only a great opportunity to help the Latino community learn English, but there's a strong exchange between the Latino students and the Kentucky Wesleyan students," Eyler said. "I've learned a lot about the culture beyond language. This has been an amazing opportunity for me to do that."

Eyler, who is from Maryland, said this has been an especially useful experience because it helped dispel some negative assumptions he had about Latinos.

"You get a different perspective of the Latinos (from this experience)," Eyler said. "Getting to talk with them and hear their stories, it becomes real to me, their stories, their struggles, their humanity. Understanding tends toward acceptance. That's what we're working towards."

Zapata de Aston said in Evansville, EDUCA has expanded to offering more educational opportunities, including GED courses and more. Bringing that to Owensboro would be a big step.

"That's my hope, that we can do the same thing here," Zapata de Aston said. "They can continue their education, get a GED."

A big part of this is that Latinos now know they have a friend through these programs, she said.

"I'm so glad that they feel comfortable here and they don't fear to come to Kentucky Wesleyan," Zapata de Aston said.

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