By Yertty VanderMolen
As a world language educator in the 21st century, I strive to give my students the necessary tools to succeed in the real world.
I don’t just help my students understand grammar concepts or memorize sets of vocabulary words; I create an environment where students are exposed to – and become appreciative of – new cultures. As an educator, I have the responsibility of preparing students to become global citizens and be ready for the big challenges that a fast-growing, interconnected world bring.
When I started working at Western Kentucky University’s Glasgow campus back in 2013, I realized some of my students had not experienced cultural events or been exposed to the world and new cultures other than attending local fairs or visiting a Mexican restaurant. Some students did not recognize any Latino countries other than Mexico. And sadly, some of them did not see the importance of learning a foreign language and its cultures; in fact, they saw it as a waste of time.
After facing those challenges with our Glasgow students and becoming aware of the lack of diversity exposure, I came up with the idea of hosting our first Festival Cultural Hispano at WKU Glasgow. This event started as a way to give students from Glasgow and the surrounding areas in south central Kentucky an opportunity to access cultural events. Our festival contributes to WKU Glasgow’s efforts to enrich the cultural milieu and quality of life in the region and increase students’ attendance at arts and cultural events.
In April of 2014, we organized our very first festival hosted by WKU (as a cross-college and departmental collaboration) and WKU Glasgow Spanish students. We invited area Spanish teachers and their students for a fun day filled with informational booths, Latino dances, dance demonstrations, Hispanic food, traditional games and Latino music. Our efforts were well received, and the attending teachers requested more opportunities based at the Glasgow campus.
In the fall of 2014, Spanish teachers came together for the first time and we established a Spanish teachers group called “Manos a la Obra.” We invited teachers from Barren and surrounding counties to join us. We received a very positive response from high school world language teachers – mainly Spanish teachers. They were thrilled to finally re-establish old connections with WKU and other world language teachers in the area. Our network of teachers has increased and we meet often a to discuss common concerns, share innovative teaching ideas, current teaching trends, offer professional development opportunities and learn from each other.
After a few meetings, we discussed expanding our festival by moving it from a student attendance event where they received information, to a more participant-oriented theme where high school students take an active role. So nowadays, Festival Cultural Hispano is a university-hosted event mainly driven by the participation of Spanish high school students and the collaboration of WKU Glasgow Spanish students.
The festival has three different areas where the students show their language skills and talents – a display booth for their selected country, a talent show where they demonstrate their skills in dance, song or art by showing the audience a piece of their country’s culture; and a living icon biography, where a student dresses as and presents a famous person from their country.
At the beginning of the academic year, participating world language teachers select a country for their students to present at the festival, which takes place at WKU Glasgow during April. With each teacher’s students displaying different countries, all students are exposed to a variety of cultures.
Spanish teachers from Barren County High School, Caverna, Cumberland, Edmonson, Hart, Metcalfe and Monroe prepare their students throughout the year by including information about their country into their regular curriculum, like including paella from Spain in the routine foods unit. Students are responsible for doing additional research, setting up their booth, explaining the booth to the judges, preparing for the talent show and presenting a speech about a famous icon in the target language.
We can proudly say that we have increased students’ participation from 100 students in 2013 to 400 students in 2016. We currently have seven high schools plus WKU Glasgow participating at the festival and we hope to keep growing.
Our festival helps students prepare for the demands of the 21st century and become globally competent through exploring new horizons, enhancing their curiosity, investigating the current events in a specific Latino country, comparing cultures, dispelling stereotypes, speaking and communicating in a foreign language and sharing their projects with different types of audiences. They become informed on a variety of disciplines, such as history, geography, music, dances, customs and traditions, literature, cuisine, sports and current events.
After participating in the festival, students see the world in a different perspective by comparing and contrasting their own cultures with other cultures. They also learn to appreciate cultural diversity and critical thinking.
While Festival Cultural Hispano gives students and the community access to cultures and language beyond their own, it is very important to mention that organizing a once-a-year event is not enough to satisfy all the needs for global competency and world languages education. I hope you can establish connections with other teachers in your area and plan your own festival in the near future.
Yertty VanderMolen is a Spanish instructor at WKU. She is the founder of the Manos a la Obra Spanish teachers group. VanderMolen is a dual credit liaison for the Department of Modern Languages at WKU and she is the chair of Festival Cultural Hispano Committee.