Mastering a world language is a direct path to people and culture. World Languages Department Chair for the Upper Division Brooke Higgins ’92 agrees: “Stevenson has a unique space and approach that will give students a global view through language.” Over the years, the department’s curriculum discussions have sought to modify class content to be more representative of global speakers and cultures. Inspired by a presentation from a member of the Defense Language Institute (DLI), Mr. Higgins began to formulate his plan.
The DLI presenter, Dr. Trina Philpot Montaño, and her colleague, Sari Chavez Silverman, led a professional development workshop that challenged materials that traditionally present Spanish speakers from either a Spanish or Mexican point of view. Ms. Montano tasked participants from Stevenson and nearby independent schools to look around their classrooms and take an inventory, asking, “Are materials representative of the whole Spanish community”? Evaluating classroom resources, it was clear that there is an alarming lack of representation of Afro and Latino Spanish speakers in most programs.
Ms. Montano, a native of the Dominican Republic, pushed participants to provide a more inclusive view of the worldwide Spanish-speaking community in their classrooms. Through activity and assessment resources, the DLI gave educators concrete takeaways for their classrooms. Mr. Higgins shared his reaction. “This was an invitation to do a deep dive and think about motivating learners. I didn’t scrap my approach, but I thought about how to be more intentional and offer material that creates deeper conversations.” From Spanish-speaking narratives that explore California history to global stories that empower Spanish-speaking characters, these new narratives are top of mind for the department chair.
Ms. Montaño stated, “It was a pleasure to meet and work with such a progressive group of language professionals.” Mr. Higgins reiterated her sentiments, acknowledging that he was pleased but not surprised at the high level of enthusiasm for the material. French and Japanese teachers were also present, and they left with the opportunity to ask important questions about their own language instruction, and a chance to reimagine their curricula. As students work towards proficiency, one measure of success is students studying language and culture in school, visiting countries, and absorbing culture many years from now. The department is helping pave the way towards a more authentic world language experience.