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Building a Bilingual Community

August 23, 2023

Lasell University partnership with Waltham Public Schools puts students in the teacher’s seat

students in bilingual classroom

In Professor José Guzmán’s Spanish for Educators program, the students become the teachers.

The community program, based at Lasell University and sponsored by Waltham Public Schools (WPS) and the Waltham Partnership for Youth (WPY), just completed a successful first year of bilingual conversation courses in which educators, librarians, and cafeteria staff at WPS learned conversational Spanish from Lasell and WPS students.

“The focus of the program is on conversation, with the goal of having educators become more comfortable communicating with families and learning about Hispanic cultures in the Waltham community,” says Gúzman, professor of Spanish. Each lesson is created based on the needs of those enrolled, he adds, noting a class that focused specifically on role playing for parent-teacher conferences. “Teachers learned vocabulary about student grades and performance.”

Gúzman supervised Lasell students Katie Daby ’23 and Debora Ramon ’26, along with the WPS students, to teach basic and advanced conversational Spanish to educators to facilitate communication with students, parents, and other members of the Waltham school community.

The WPS high school leaders served as conversation partners, while Daby and Ramon prepared and taught weekly classes. By Spring 2023, program demand tripled; 65 educators enrolled at the start of the semester and received professional development credits upon completion. Lasell undergrads Milena Vasconcelos ’26, Laidaliz Suarez ’24, and Rachel Taylor ’23 joined Daby and Ramon in teaching the growing cohort.

The assistant superintendent of Waltham Public Schools Sarah Kent, Waltham mayor Jeannette McCarthy, and the School Committee of Waltham all had high praise for the program in its inaugural year, lauding its use of Lasell’s Connected Learning model in workforce development.

“Learning and practicing Spanish this year has helped me to bond with my English language learner (ELL) students,” said one WPS teacher. “They help to correct my Spanish and it empowers them. I would like to think that seeing their teachers trying to learn to speak Spanish makes them feel seen and valued. I hope that seeing me vulnerable to making mistakes will help them understand that that is how we all learn.”

Another teacher noted that the “alternation of roles [between teacher and student] blurred the lines” so that they simply “became people in a room learning from each other.” A colleague shared that their students were excited and happy to see their teachers engaging with the program.

“It lets them know that I am also still a learner, and that they, and their language and culture, are important to me.”