Penn mentors teach Spanish to W. Philly students
Students brought their high school program to Penn, teach Spanish language and culture
September 25, 2013, 6:53 pm · Updated September 25, 2013, 9:21 pm·
For one child in a West Philadelphia elementary school, learning the word elephant in Spanish was the highlight of his school experience.
This child was a student of a Penn student mentor. Every week for an hour, Penn students involved in Active Cross-Cultural Training in Our Neighborhoods bring their knowledge of the Spanish language and culture to children in West Philadelphia elementary schools.
Created in fall 2012, ACTION was started by College junior and co-director Ariel Koren.
The program was originally founded in 2010 in Jacksonville, Fla., where both Koren and College sophomore and business manager Anthony Janocko attended high school. The duo, along with other high school students, worked as volunteer Spanish teachers for children with learning disabilities.
Koren said she had such a rewarding experience that she brought the organization here to Penn. “The purpose of the organization is to make foreign language and culture education accessible by mobilizing volunteers to teach classes,” she said.
This opportunity provides children an “early initial exposure to foreign language, diversity and other cultures,” Janocko said. “This is really critical at the younger ages because it has a lasting impact for their development.”
In its first year, ACTION took place in classrooms at the Lea School, located at 47th and Locust streets. This semester, the organization is expanding lessons to an after-school program at the Andrew Jackson School at 12th and Federal streets in South Philadelphia.
Janocko calls ACTION a “language and culture initiative” because the curriculum is designed to integrate both into one learning experience. Children not only pick up the basics of the Spanish language, but they learn about aspects of Hispanic culture as well.
For some of the lessons, children were able to simulate real-life situations such as bargaining at an open-air market and dressing up for a Quinceañera.
“We’re just trying to give them a taste of it,” College sophomore and head curriculum designer Stasha Sosnowicz said. “We’re trying to ignite love for language learning and culture.”
Sosnowicz expressed her surprise when she first taught and saw how different of a learning experience it is for children in West Philadelphia schools compared to that of her Catholic school in New Jersey.
Regardless of the learning environment, she said the children’s excitement is clear when they learn new words in Spanish. “Elefante” was one of those words.
“When they learn something new, they’re very excited about it,” Janocko said. He added that classroom teachers even use the weekly Spanish lessons as “rewards” for their students.
ACTION has been gaining more awareness since it began last year. It is now part of the Latino Coalition and had its own Zumba Night during New Student Orientation to recruit volunteers.
According to Koren, the organization looks for creative students who are interested in making an impact on their community. Instruction will begin in early October after new teachers, business managers and curriculum designers are accepted this month. Interviews for positions are currently underway.
Although the School District of Philadelphia is in turmoil right now, Janocko said ACTION is a way to make a positive impact on schools by bringing in more enrichment.
“We want to be able to show them that the world is a big place,” she said. “You really want to expand the world to them so they can see … that it’s a great world to see … and they should be open to exploring it.”
A previous version of this article stated that both Janocko and Koren founded ACTION. Koren was the original founder.