"Because I can. Because I can!" Alejandra explained after a day-long workshop with 100 middle school students. She was referring to her ability to speak English. Alejandra confessed that this was the first time she spoke English at school since she arrived three years ago. When I met her the morning of the ¡La Chispa! workshop at Kennewick High, I had no idea speaking English was a step out of her comfort zone.
At ¡La Chispa¡ we deliver our message in both English and Spanish. Our intention is to illuminate the gift of bilingualism. We encourage students to take a risk in the language they find most challenging. Often, one of my first statements goes something like this, "Cuando yo hablo en español yo tengo miedo." Or, "When I speak Spanish I feel afraid." The group culture we create in a day among one hundred students from regional middle schools is often the first time the language and culture of Latino students is honored in a school setting.
As a high school role model Alejandra's responsibility was to facilitate a small group of middle school students and serve as a positive example for them. Students rise to responsibility. Alejandra lived out the expectations ¡La Chispa! placed on her and grew confidence as a result. When educators co-create safe learning spaces and expect students to challenge their own ideas of what is possible, they rise to the occasion. Let's create more occasions.
Alejandra affirmed her English proficiency by volunteering to translate for me. As I spoke in English, she was able to deliver the message in Spanish to a large group. This was her first practice at large group facilitation and public speaking. She realized a skill she didn't know the value of. She discovered her own power. This happened in one school day.
-by Vincent Perez