I grew up in Corvallis, Oregon – home of the Oregon State Beavers. Specifically, I grew up in “south town,” a community known for its large Mexican population and working class neighborhoods. The houses on my block are wonderfully modest, especially when compared to the affluent, “both my parents are doctors” neighborhoods across town. I attended Lincoln Elementary School in south town, and while it wasn’t as polished as some of the other elementary schools across Corvallis, its fantastic dual-immersion program made it unique. Starting in 1 st grade, I had the privilege of learning in both English and Spanish from enthusiastic and diverse teachers. After leaving Lincoln, I continued to receive high-level Spanish instruction during middle school and high school. Upon graduating from Corvallis High School, I applied for and obtained an official Oregon State Seal of Bi-literacy.
The road wasn’t always smooth. The transition from elementary to middle school highlighted some of my deficiencies in basic mathematics and grammar – lessons that had been sacrificed for the sake of learning in two languages. I suppose one could argue that my foundation for learning more complicated subjects (i.e. algebra) was incomplete, and that I entered middle school with some kind of disadvantage.
However, as with all aspects of education, the “correct” way to do things depends on perspective. I was able to catch up with my peers from other schools in math and writing while simultaneously gaining invaluable confidence in my Spanish language abilities. I truly believe that my bilingual education changed the way I thought about problems and provided me with a portal through which I could connect with other cultures. In other words, the dual immersion worked, and it worked really well.
My family has been fortunate to travel throughout Central and South America (Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Ecuador, Costa Rica). During these trips, my Spanish training allowed me to engage in fascinating and important discussions with people of many backgrounds. Just this past week I was in Peru, talking to an Andean shepard about his lifestyle and asking questions on behalf of my family. Jumping back and forth between languages, reaching out and making new connections, communicating in a clear and respectful way – all these things can be directly attributed to my learning at Lincoln Elementary.
Our Whitman volunteers are working at Green Park Elementary here in Walla Walla to provide the same kind of influential learning that was afforded to me. The importance of caring, responsible language role models cannot be understated and a Whitman students one-on- one session with a kid at Green Park is an essential part of the overall process. I stand as evidence for the incredible importance of this type of program, and it has been really wonderful to find a way to give back to the system that has given me so much.
By Gareth Jones