U of A Spanish Research Group Presents at Harvard

U of A Spanish Research Group members, from left, Luis Fernando Restrepo, Brenda Magnetti, Grace González Sánchez and Raquel Castro Salas.
Raquel Castro Salas

U of A Spanish Research Group members, from left, Luis Fernando Restrepo, Brenda Magnetti, Grace González Sánchez and Raquel Castro Salas.

A research group of the World Languages, Literatures and Cultures Department presented an update on the various efforts to advance Spanish teaching in Arkansas at the 10th National Symposium on Spanish as a Heritage Language held at Harvard University April 13-15.

Spanish professors Luis Fernando Restrepo, Brenda Magnetti and Raquel Castro Salas, as well as Spanish graduate student Grace González Sánchez, delivered the presentation "Language Planning in Arkansas Beyond English Only" as part of a Chancellor's Humanities and Performing Arts Grant titled, "Arkansas Participation in a 500 Million Person Community. Building Capacity for Spanish Teaching Statewide."

The National Symposium on Spanish as a Heritage Language brings together educators and researchers from different disciplines, including heritage language acquisition, sociolinguistics, psycholinguistics, applied linguistics and cultural studies, to "collaborate towards the implementation of pedagogies that enable heritage learners not only to develop their language proficiency, but also to reflect on their own identity formation within a context of validation and empowerment." Speakers of a minority language learned at home or in the community are considered heritage speakers. They come to the classroom with different language skills and interests in the language than second language learners.

As part of the new South, Arkansas has received a considerable number of Latino/a immigrants in the past two decades. Without much historical presence of Latinos or institutional support, much work is needed to serve the new Arkansans. The English Language laws and other educational policies have made this task much more challenging, and many Latino/a youth are losing their home language. The Spanish researchers addressed questions such as how to respond to these demographic changes in terms of curriculum development and how to connect a historically white institution with the new multilingual immigrant communities in Arkansas today.

Considering these circumstances, Spanish faculty began collaborating on several language planning initiatives that are opening educational opportunities for the Spanish speaking community of the state, including interventions at the elementary, high school and college levels, as well as literacy programing for adult learners.

Restrepo, a University Professor and director of the Comparative Literature and Cultural Studies Program, reflected on the legislative efforts led by Rep. Megan Godfrey (Springdale) to offer bilingual and dual language immersion programs that resulted in ACT 663 of 2021. Also TESOL and AFTLA' s efforts that resulted in the establishment of the Arkansas Seal of Biliteracy in 2018, and the educational disparities he saw statewide as former member of the Arkansas Commission on Closing the Academic Achievement Gap.    

Magnetti, teaching assistant professor and lower language courses coordinator, presented course offerings and other curricular opportunities for heritage learners implemented at the U of A, which include three heritage speakers courses (SPAN 2123, SPAN 3123 and SPAN 4123) and a fast-track credit by exam, allowing students to place at higher level courses.

Castro Salas, teaching assistant professor and Sin Límites co-director, presented on the development of Spanish for the professions' courses like business Spanish, advanced Spanish for health professions, translation and interpretarion, and the Biliteracy Project. These courses have service learning components that provide meaningful learning experiences to both second and heritage language learners. These courses are bridging the university with the NWA Hispanic community.

Spanish M.A. student Grace González Sánchez presented on her internship experience as site coordinator of Sin Límites, a biliteracy program of the U of A Spanish Program, designed for elementary Spanish heritage speakers at Walker Elementary School in Springdale. The after-school program seeks to help Latino/a students learn to read and write in their home language, appreciate and learn about their heritage, excel academically and prepare for college. González Sánchez discussed the program's curriculum development, implementation and outcomes. 

The Spanish Research group will release a report on the state of Spanish teaching in Arkansas, in public schools and higher education, based on a survey to teachers and education leaders in Arkansas, and also state and national data. The report, which will be released later this year, also makes recommendations for building capacity in language teaching in Arkansas.

More information can be found at The Spanish Roadmap website.

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