Going to the source

Grammar School students learn Spanish through new service learning program in Ecuador

PUTNEY — In a program designed to engage students in language learning, The Grammar School has started a new service-learning program that immerses students in the language and culture of a Spanish-speaking country.

From April 8-15 a group of eighth grade students ranging in ages from 13-14, and their chaperones and teachers from the Grammar School, visited Ecuador to live and work on the Nahual-Kroka Sustainable Farm and School.

This program was set up by Liz Jackson, The Grammar School's Spanish teacher, who has been mentoring the students in Ecuadorian culture. She said she strongly believes in stepping outside comfort zones to promote self-growth.

At Nahual-Kroka, students participated in the farm's routine, which included waking up sometimes as early as 3:40 a.m. to do chores such as milking, harvesting, gardening, cooking, and cleaning.

“We'd wake up really early and everyone would work together and do the chore work and we were all awake and ready to go by 6 a.m. We all had a lot of energy, believe or not; we all worked really hard!” Jackson says of the daily work she and the children did.

The students also toured the neighboring capital city of Quito, and the Pachamama School there - where they met their yearlong pen pals, took classes, and had the opportunity to spend a night with their pen pals and their families from the Pachamama School.

Annice Pelletier says of her experience, “For me I was so scared to be alone with my pen pal because I only knew her from writing. I was just shaking and thinking 'Oh my God, is she nice? Is she going to like me? Are we going to communicate well?' And she was really nice, and her parents spoke English, but with really thick accents, so it was really hard for me to understand. I just nodded a lot and then they'd say 'Well, do you?' And I'd say 'Wait, what?' And it was just so scary because I was afraid I'd offend them and make a mistake but they were really hospitable.”

Toby Weed reflects on his time spent with his pen pal: “I had a lot of fun; my pen pal was very outgoing and we ended up hanging out with some of his friends, going to [a] mall, watching a horror movie, which I found just awful because I couldn't understand the talking, but I think it was the kind of movie where the talking didn't matter, so that was fun. We went back to his house and he lived in a really nice neighborhood and some of his friends had this really cool four-wheeler and they all piled on it and just drove around his neighborhood. It was a lot of fun but tiring because Spanish is hard to speak. And every time I talked his mom would just laugh so it was hard to communicate with her, but it was definitely fun.”

Between the chores, tours of Quito and Pachamama, spending time making jelly, attending classes, and visiting the local aqueduct caves, the students also had some quiet time set for reflecting on how they were feeling on the trip.

Russell Boswell, whose father also attended the trip, said, “Usually a little before meal times we would have solo times where we would write in our journal, and I would read, and after meals we would have a meeting and talk about chores and we would convey what chores we had to do.”

During these meetings, one of the heads of the trip, an indigenous man named Tupuck, would often discuss the children's experiences.

Pelletier said, “I remember that in one of the meetings he asked us three words to describe how we were feeling that week and I think I said, 'Excited, homesick, and loved,' and loved was just such a big word for me because I did feel loved. I felt so at home everyone was nice and I didn't even really know them that well, and they took me in as if I were one of their own. It was such a great feeling to know that they don't have to be your family to make you feel so invited into their family. It felt so good.”

Jackson, who has had a longstanding relationship with the people of the Nahual-Kroka Sustainable Farm and School, said she hopes to soon make this into the eighth-grade trip, instead of just including a smaller group of students.

And with the success of the pilot program, who would blame her?

The students came away from this trip with a new understanding of the work involved in providing healthy, sustainable food for a community and a new relationship with another country and its people. When asked if they would like to return, the students filled the classroom with a resounding “Yes!”

Katy Brennen said of the trip, “The work we did there was fulfilling; if we had to do the same work around here, we'd probably complain and it wouldn't be as fun. Something about the feeling of being in a whole new country with all these people, it was different.”

The students also learned how to become better friends to their classmates back home.

“I like how when we are here at home, we have different friend groups, like we are better friends with some people and other people we're not really friends with, but there it was like we were all good friends and it was awesome,” said student Libby Green. “We all loved each other and worked hard together and we we're just all good friends, it was so nice.”

Student Josie Weil said, “I liked everything about the trip, it was so fun. I thought that we all really bonded and had an amazing experience together and I love how it turned out.”

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