Fieldnote, 11 Sep. 2012

Two hours spent at the library, helped three children–one of the same children I worked with my first day at the after-school program. The first child I worked with, a first grader, spoke mostly Spanish.

The supervisor of the center, whom I later overhead was an AmeriCorps VISTA, a recent college grad, asked me to work with the young man. She said she knew I spoke some Spanish, so I said sure, not quite certain that I would be able to help with my Spanish. Turns out my Spanish has improved, as I was able not only to translate to the youngster what to do with his homework, but also ask him a few questions. I asked him if he could read English.

“Mucho,” he said.

We worked in Spanish and English. I would read everything in English, pronounce names of letters in English, and then selectively use Spanish words while clarifying. I also pointed cognates to him with certain verbs, such as sentir/to sit.

Another young man, Ricardo, second grader, asked me if I spoke Spanish. Yes, a little I said.

“Me too.”

“Who do you speak it with?”?

“My mom.”

“You have hermanos?”

“Yes, two brothers, and one little brother.”

“They speak English?”

“Yeah, but my little brother is just three. But he knows some words. He’s learning.”

“Well, which one do you like better, English or Spanish?”

“English,” he answered quickly.

“Why?”

“I don’t know.”

I heard similar responses at MANOS, but I can’t help but feel to pressure to learn English in Kentucky is much greater than in NYC, because of the amount of Spanish speakers in NYC compared to this location. This is not to say Spanish is not a valued language in this particular Southern region, rather, in Cardinal Valley Spanish carries considerable value. I would wager, however, that the value of Spanish has increased locally by virtue of the wave of immigrants from Latin America that have arrived over the last 25 years.

The last young boy I began to work with (but I had to leave) spoke English and Spanish, but sounded more comfortable in Spanish. His parents and little sister initially sat with him, and this seemed to me a positive sign. At MANOS, parents sat with children while they did their homework. I wanted to demonstrate to them some strategies with doing homework with their children. They sat with us until he had his homework together, then they exited the tutoring center.

Finally, I went out of the tutoring section of the library and sat near the computers with a young man playing with Lincoln logs. Several families sat out there, groups of parents, mostly mothers with young children. I helped a boy build a small structure, and I think this helped to establish some rapport with the community as parents noted how I communicated with the boy, and how I turned the playing into a learning event. My next hope is to get a few students together to do some reading in this particular space during the next week, with families and young children involved.

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