By Christy Perry Tuohey
Students studying Spanish at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse do more than just talk the talk (hablar). They walk the walk (camino).
Their talk, of course, is in Spanish as they learn vocabulary, speaking and writing skills. Their walk involves planning service projects to benefit economically disadvantaged children here in Central New York and abroad, a direct connection to Catholic social teaching that stresses family, community and participation, particularly to the poor and vulnerable. Foreign language department chair and teacher Sharon Bearer has been assigning project proposals to her junior and senior students for the past 10 years and using them for community and international outreach.
The Spanish service projects give Bishop Grimes students opportunities to practice both kindness and language skills. Locally, the classes have chosen to work with Syracuse City Schools Seymour Dual Language Academy and Delaware Academy.
“We try to visit their classes several times a year,” she explained. “In the fall, my Spanish IV students write and illustrate bilingual children’s books, which we take to the schools and read to the K-1 classes. In the spring, we put on children’s plays in Spanish, which we perform at both schools.”
Spanish V student Molly McInerney took her hand-made book to Seymour first graders with her junior Spanish class last year and loved the experience. “We all had so much fun with the kids and you could just see the difference you make with them,” she said.
Molly and her partner wrote and illustrated a book about ducks going to school, she said. They read the book to the class and then helped students decorate headbands and “beaks,” as they imagined being little ducks in school.
The first Spanish V student project for the 2016-17 school year was a book drive to benefit first graders at Seymour. The Bishop Grimes students raffled off a Halloween basket, stationed book drop-off points at the school and partnered with community businesses to collect enough books for every child in the school’s first-grade class. More than 700 children’s books were donated to the drive, and the raffle raised $500, which was used to purchase Spanish-language books for the Seymour students.
Seventy-nine percent of Seymour’s students come from economically disadvantaged homes, according to data gathered by the New York State Education Department. Eighty-five percent of the kindergarten through 12th grade students, about half of whom are Hispanic or Latino, are eligible for the state’s free school lunch program. Delaware Academy also has a majority of students whose families are living in poor economic conditions.
The children received two books each, one in English and one in Spanish, which the Bishop Grimes students delivered to the school in December.
Said Bearer, “The first grade teacher told us that many of these children have never owned a book, so we felt that this was a chance for us to make a difference.”
Christy Perry Tuohey is an author and freelance writer in Syracuse, New York.