Reciprocal Learning

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Patricia Tomé, assistant professor of modern languages

Professor Patricia Tomé’s Project Bridge brings students and staff together

If Patricia Tomé, assistant professor of modern languages, knows anything about language study it’s that tutoring is crucial. To that end, she is constantly looking for Spanish speaking individuals in the community to pair her students with. “I don’t have to look far to find them because many work at Rollins in Facilities or with Sodexo,” says Tomé, who makes sure it’s not a one-sided interaction. “I set them up with someone whose first language is not English. The student teaches them an ESL (English as a second language) class and their partner teaches them Spanish.”

This practice worked well for students in her Spanish classes, so Tomé began to see opportunities to formalize and expand the program to include students at Rollins wishing to engage in ESL teaching. Project Bridge was born. Designed as a service-learning program aiming to bridge the communication and interaction gap between students and staff members at Rollins College, Project Bridge utilizes student volunteers who provide one-on-one tutoring sessions to all interested staff members whose first language is not English.

“Myself and Professor James Johnson teach a weekly course, one for basic level students and one for intermediate level students,” Tomé says. The weekly one-hour classes are scheduled during the workday and the 43 participants are given this free hour from Human Resources.

“Then the students registered in my SPANISH 322 (Peoples and Cultures of Latin America) have one weekly meeting with one of the adult students. While they interact in English and work on grammar, vocabulary, and speaking assignments, they also work on their own Spanish language, but furthermore, they have to prepare weekly blogs for the course (SPAN322) in which they find out information about the individual that they are teaching and their respective countries.”

By the end of the semester, students have not only interacted with and connected with the Rollins community at large, but they have learned from them as well.

“By providing personalized tutoring sessions, students are able to teach English to these individuals while learning about that person’s own particular culture and language,” says Tomé, who will be on sabbatical this coming year but has recruited three other faculty members to join Project Bridge. “Volunteers are required to meet with an assigned staff member at least one hour per week throughout the semester, although they are encouraged to do as many hours as possible.”

During this interaction, students provide individualized teaching lessons that target the particular person’s desired learning areas.

“Rollins students are not only given the opportunity to assist in alleviating one of the most difficult obstacles many immigrants face daily—the language barrier—but, by teaching ESL classes, they are also achieving one of Rollins’ goals: creating global citizens who engage in the community,” Tomé says. “The best place to begin this global journey is here, in our own campus with the community that provides services on a daily basis for all of us.”

“I believe engaging the community into my teaching has shaped my curriculum in many ways. More than anything, it validates the material the students are introduced to in class and their interactions with the Latino community sheds light into the Latin American influence here in the U.S., particularly in Florida,” Tomé says. “Since students have to develop both as learners and as teachers with the community projects that they are engaged in during the course, their overall appreciation for the subject matter is greater.” This is something Tomé believes makes them more aware of the quality of work and the level of engagement it takes to be an educator and therefore they seem to react very positively to me as their instructor.

Tomé says this process has made her more aware of how effectively she teaches. “The students will model me whenever they are teaching adults or children. During class time, I always emphasize different aspects of my teaching techniques (how to integrate music effectively, for example) and ask them to apply them during their own teachings.”

At the moment Project Bridge has obtained enough interest and help from the Office of Community Engagement, Sodexo, Facilities, Modern Languages, and Human Resources to make it successful and organic. “It is a sustainable program that can be easily replicated in many communities here in the United States” Tomé says.

In the future, Tomé hopes that such interactions will be more common. “They have the effect of narrowing barriers between the U.S. and Latin America, the individual and the world, students and community members,” she says. “Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges saw it as The Library of Babel, a place that contains all the information necessary to survive all the labyrinths life exposes us to, in every language possible. Rollins becomes that precise library in discovering the different languages. Reciprocating the teaching/learning becomes an engaged commitment vis-à-vis personal growth and cultural diversity.”

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