Anderson University recently hosted a group of Latino high school students from Anderson Community Schools for a hands-on experiment in civic engagement and effective communication.
The 15 students, along with Anderson High School ENL (English as a New Language) teacher Heather Cunningham and ENL community liaison Romelia (Lupita) Raudales, visited Anderson University on May 5, where they met up with 17 AU students enrolled in a multicultural education class taught by Dr. Jan Dormer.
The AU students, comprised of education majors in all content areas, presented lessons on the importance of civic engagement and how to write an effective letter.
[Photo: Anderson University student Lindsey Brown presents a lesson in civic engagement, with fellow AU student Nathanael Lyon in the background.]
The college students then worked one-on-one with the high school students, helping them compose letters to Congressman Mike Pence. In the letters, the high school students expressed their thoughts on immigration, and in particular, on the DREAM Act, proposed federal legislation that would provide a path to legal recognition and access to higher education for certain undocumented minors in the United States.
"The AHS students were very excited to learn the concepts presented by the AU students," Cunningham said. "They were somewhat nervous at first, but they learned a lot about opportunities that they have and became passionate about what they could do to help the cause."
According to Dormer, the experiment seems to have made an impact for many of the students. "A couple of the high school students brought up some very good changes that they wanted to see in the Act," she said. "We seized on that initiative, saying 'Great! You are writing to your representative, and you can tell him what you think. That's what democracy is all about!' ... I believe active learning was taking place, and that the students truly do understand democracy in a much more tangible way after this experience."
[Photo: AU student Megan Bontrager works with Anderson High School student Noe Bautista.]
Dormer had on a previous occasion taken her class to meet the Latino students, so they could get acquainted with each other.
"Most of my students had never interacted with Latino English language learners in the states," she said. "That initial meeting was a great experience for them, and spawned the desire to do something else together."
For the AU students, the follow-up meeting provided the opportunity to put into practice the skills they had learned in the classroom.
"We have worked on skills such as speaking more slowly with clear enunciation, asking informational questions to see if understanding had been achieved, and rephrasing messages in simpler language to ensure comprehension," Dormer said. "The one-on-one letter writing task gave the AU students an opportunity to put these skills into practice with English learners."
Dormer said the experience was also important for AU students as classrooms of the future will likely include English language learners. "At AU, we strive to prepare teachers for this reality, equipping them not only to deal with English learners but to welcome them into their classrooms, embracing the diversity that they bring," Dormer said.
[Photo: The Anderson High School students display the letters they wrote to Congressman Mike Pence.]
Anderson University junior Ashli Woodard found the opportunity to be valuable. As a language arts education major, she presented a lesson to the students on how to write an effective letter.
"Not only did I receive real-life teaching experience, but I made a connection with a student," she said. "I was able to identify with this group of students through sharing stories, laughs, and so much more."
Through Dormer's class, Woodard discovered she enjoyed working with English learners, and is now pursuing an ENL license.
While the AU-ACS collaboration provided lessons in democracy and effective communication, Dormer also sees the interaction between the high school and college students as significant in at least one other respect. "I think that interacting with the college students sent a strong message to the high schoolers: 'Stay in school; you can be what you want to be; don't give up.' Many of these students have so many strikes against them," she said.
The AU and ACS partnership in meeting the educational needs of English language learners is now three years strong, according to Donna Albrecht, AU's director of English as a New Language (ENL). "Our program trains teachers in working with culturally and linguistically diverse students," she said. "We have also helped establish the Club Latino after-school program for elementary students at Anderson Elementary School to assist them in developing literacy and fluency in their first language, Spanish." AU students are also involved in after-school tutoring of English language learners, Albrecht said.
— Randy Dillinger is web content editor and SEO manager at Anderson University
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing, and theology.