Students teaching students: Southwestern University students teach Chinese, Spanish to kids in Georgetown schools

The teacher gave a quick command in Chinese.

The 6- and 7-year-olds quickly gathered into a straight line to exit the classroom.

“He said, ‘Line up,’” Jonas Banks, 6, tells a class visitor. “I get to learn things like speaking new languages. Then I can have more friends because some people don’t speak the same language.”

As the next set of first-grade students at Carver Elementary in Georgetown entered to the classroom, some drew a few of the core characters of the Chinese language on the dry erase board.

About 12 weeks into the language program at the school, many of elementary school children already know the basics of the language, including how to say greetings, introductions, colors and where they live.

The language immersion classes at the school are taught by students at Southwestern University, a unique collaborative project between the Georgetown school district, the university’s department of modern languages and Snead Institute, an organization started by Georgetown philanthropist Ned Snead, who came up with the idea and helps fund the program.

University students with advanced language skills in Spanish and Chinese teach the extracurricular course, with training from the University’s Chinese professor.

Mitchell Elementary Principal Rob Dyer said he jumped at the chance to offer languages at his school when Snead, who he knew from the Rotary club, told him about the idea more than two years ago.

“Our goal at Mitchell is to provide as many opportunities as possible,” Dyer said. “It’s critical that every kid learns a foreign language. Those who speak two or three languages have more opportunities when it comes to jobs. And the preschool and elementary years are the perfect language learning time, it’s the most easily acquired.”

About 100 students on three campuses take the classes, meeting for 45 minutes twice a week during the school day for about 25 weeks, following the college’s schedule.

“It’s helpful for the teachers teaching the class,” said Arun Jacob, a political science major with a minor in Chinese. “It helps improve their proficiency.” Jacob, who served eight years in the Marine Corps, said he hopes to become an interpreter for a federal agency. Teaching is diversifying his experiences and sharpening his language skills, he said.

The college students are paid $10 an hour, including preparation, travel and teaching time. The Georgetown district is paying $6,000 for the language program, which covers the majority of the wages for the 16 teachers. The Snead Institute, which once funded the entire program, pays the rest.

Patricia Schiaffini, assistant professor of Chinese at Southwestern who herself speaks Spanish, Chinese and English, in 2010 began a partnership with Snead to better teach elementary students by mimicking the language immersion model taught in college. She began to train her students, many who have studied language in other countries, how to teach language and helped them create lesson plans. It also helps the college students to become fluent in the second language they study.

“Some have come back from China or Spain or Latin America and have made great progress,” Schiaffini said. “They don’t want to lose that. By teaching at the (elementary) schools, they are really engaging in the language on a daily basis.”

Schiaffini said she would like to expand the program but would need more funding. She also hopes the college students are able to get a course credit for teaching, which would be an incentive for more students to volunteer.

The college students not only give the elementary students linguistic lessons but also give cultural training, part of why the children take on common first names in the languages they are learning.

“I really like teaching Spanish,” said Jacob Brown, who is majoring in English and Spanish and studied in Seville, and plans to teach English in Spain one day. “I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to get experience. Considering they’re first graders in their first semester, they’ve learned quite a bit.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

Workers gather at state Capitol to defend labor unions’ rights

More than a dozen people marched Saturday from the Capitol to a statue of Martin Luther King Jr. on the University of Texas campus to defend workers’ rights to organize and collectively bargain. The event, called the Working People’s Day of Action, was held in conjunction with similar marches across the country Saturday, which was the 50th...
George P. Bush absent from candidate forums as rivals gun for a runoff
George P. Bush absent from candidate forums as rivals gun for a runoff

In 2014, the future belonged to George P. Bush. Elected to statewide office his first time out, out-polling even Greg Abbott, he was the scion of one of America’s great political dynasties. He was the grandson and nephew of presidents and the son of someone who, at that moment, looked like he might have been about to become president. Young and...
Advocates join effort to fix Austin police DNA lab problems
Advocates join effort to fix Austin police DNA lab problems

As lawyers and scientists continue to review hundreds of criminal cases that might have been affected by the Austin Police Department’s now-shuttered DNA lab, members of a stakeholders advisory group have started meeting to evaluate what went wrong and how to avoid mistakes in the future. The lab shut down in 2016 after a state audit found problems...
Perilous times for historically black colleges
Perilous times for historically black colleges

Two years ago, Amelia Smith received the one thing she thought she always wanted – a blue envelope from Spelman College. She had been accepted to what many consider the finest black college in America. Her grandmother went to Spelman. So did her mother. And her aunt. And her sister, who’s a senior there now. So Smith wasn’t surprised...
UT police investigating domestic assault on campus Friday night
UT police investigating domestic assault on campus Friday night

University of Texas police are investigating an aggravated assault that occurred Friday night in an on-campus dorm, officials said in a safety alert. According to police, a UT student reported being assaulted Friday night by her boyfriend, who is also a UT student. The incident occurred in the Jester residence hall, authorities said. Police said they...
More Stories