College students teach languages in local schools

MIDDLEBURY — The grainy black-and-white footage seemed to persist even after Middlebury College student Nico Plume had turned off the video: Warplanes roaring across the sky of Santiago, Chile. The presidential palace devastated by bombing. Explosions. Flames. Smoke.
In the silence that followed the video, Plume looked from one to another of Arianna Bailey’s Spanish 4 students at Middlebury Union High School and let the sounds and images sink in.
“¿Que piensa?” he finally said. “What do you think?”
Last Wednesday marked Plume’s third time presenting “La Dictatura de Chile (1973–1990)” as part of the college’s Language in Motion program, or LiM.
The program connects Middlebury College’s international, study-abroad and upper-level language students with secondary students in Addison County schools, enhancing the learning experience for both the older and younger learners
Plume’s timing and rhythm were well-honed when the Middlebury College student presented at MUHS last week.
He had begun with a broad introductory discussion of the Cold War, then provided historical context for the 1973 Chilean coup. Stopping periodically to check in with students about unfamiliar vocabulary or history, he then shared the personal recollections of Chileans whose family members were “disappeared” (kidnapped, usually for political reasons, and never heard from again).
In one interview transcript Plume had translated into English, a woman named Gloria described what it was like living under the rule of Augusto Pinochet.
“The dictatorship caused a lot of pain in the country,” she said. “A lot, it spread a lot of fear, a lot of dread.”
Later she described the moment when her brother was taken away.
“They took my brother there outside the factory, he worked there, and there was a hallway with a railing and (they said) ‘you that way, you this way,’ and there they went.”
The 75-minute presentation was a success.
“I thought that he came in here really prepared,” said 11th-grader Tim Dyer. “He put a lot of work into it, without a doubt. I learned a lot of stuff.”
Fellow 11th-grader Mary Nagy-Benson counted Plume’s among the most memorable LiM presentations she’s encountered so far.
“It was the most like the units we’ve done, so I really liked the connection,” she said. “Also, in my history class, we’re learning about the Cold War, so there’s definitely a lot of cross connection between classes for me.” Plus, she added, “It’s a good experience to have a whole lesson in Spanish from someone else.”
Her teacher was of the same mind.
“I’m sure they get sick of hearing my voice and listening to me talk,” Bailey said, laughing. “And to have someone that’s practically their age teaching them something — it just gives them a different perspective, or maybe they listen in a different way.”
Her students aren’t the only ones learning from LiM programs.
“Whenever I have presenters, I’m usually taking notes on things,” she said. “I’m often learning right along with my students.”
WHEN MIDDLEBURY COLLEGE students like Nico Plume, shown here, teach foreign language to local secondary students, it not only helps him solidify concepts, but also helps the younger students because they can relate to a teacher closer to their own age.
Independent photo/Christopher Ross
LiM gives local language teachers a long list of potential presenters at the beginning of each semester, Bailey said.
“There are so many great presenters. I go through the list and I’m like, ‘I want this person and this person. I’d love to have this person, but they don’t really fit into what I’m doing.’ ”
Plume fit into the latter category, but Bailey brought him in anyway.
“We aren’t learning about Latin American dictatorships in either Spanish 3 or 4, but I did have him come to both of those classes because I just felt like it’s such an important topic for what we are teaching.”
In addition to scheduling presentations and activities that connect college students with local schools, LiM has also provided grants that allowed teachers to pursue professional development. One of those grants helped Bailey travel to Spain and Mexico, she said.
For Plume, who joined LiM after studying in Spain and Chile last year, the program has helped him gain further insight into his study-abroad experiences, as well as the academic and personal work that emerged from them.
“This has been a great opportunity to interact with something that’s very important to me and something I’ve dedicated a lot of time to — and also to share that with other people,” he said.
After returning to the States, Plume wrote a paper about women’s resistance movements in Chile.
“That has tied in with what I’m presenting (to high school students),” he said. “The issue a lot of these women face is that people don’t listen to their stories. So for me to be able to come here and tell their stories — it’s something I feel like I can give back to the people who made my (study abroad) investigation possible.”
Plume is one of more than 50 undergrads and language teaching assistants who have participated in LiM activities this semester, according to Kristen Mullins, the program’s coordinator. Mullins estimates that during the five-year period marked by this semester’s end, LiM will have offered 250 presentations and activities in 12 Vermont schools, working with more than 45 teachers to reach 3,400 secondary students and 200 elementary students.
LiM is a signature program of the college’s Center for Community Engagement, which prepares students for lives of meaning and impact through service, scholarship and citizenship. It’s offered through a national consortium of 14 colleges and universities and has been available at Middlebury since 2014, thanks in part to a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations.
The program connects Middlebury College’s international, study-abroad and upper-level language students with Addison County schools. With training and support, college students prepare and deliver lessons that promote global awareness, cultural competence and world-language acquisition.
“I think it’s really nice,” said MUHS 10th-grader Chase Given, another of Bailey’s Spanish 4 students. “We (recently) joined a class at the college and we worked together with them. We read through books that were in English and we translated them into Spanish.”
Middlebury College student Leah Metzger has participated in LiM programs for three years, two of them as a staff member.
“As an International and Global Studies major, I’m interested in how people with different cultural experiences and perspectives communicate and connect with each other,” she said. “Over the past few years, I’ve been able to witness this in action on a much smaller scale in classrooms around Addison County. Each time I see an LiM presenter interact with students, I realize more and more that the act of sharing an hour or two and making a personal connection with someone different from you is just as important as the content of the presentation or activity. It forces both the presenter and the students to add to and complicate their idea of what they thought a certain group of people were like.”
Reach Christopher Ross at [email protected].

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