Community Project with St. Mary's

Spanish 105b's community project with St. Mary's, fall 2007.

Staff reflection by Thara Fuller (Experiential Learning Administrator, 2005-2008), December 2007

I would like to add my congratulations to all those who participated in the Spanish 105 community project with St. Mary's. I am so glad I attended the celebration event last night! It was quite moving because it was intimate and personal. The parishioners really honored those of us from Brandeis by welcoming us to their lives and their community.

I was so proud of our students and faculty for presenting a program which highlighted both the academic foundations of the interview project and the value of the personal connections made---the amistad which has developed among the students and community partners. Several students spoke to the assembled group about the meaning of their experience. They all presented confidently in Spanish, which is an impressive testament to their skills. Some of the themes which came up in their comments are worth noting. They found it a bit daunting at first to set up interviews with strangers, but then appreciated the challenge because it pushed them to learn about the Waltham beyond campus and to practice Spanish in a " real" context. They also found it a learning experience on many levels beyond developing language skills. They made meaningful connections with people often quite different from themselves and so broadened their perspectives. They developed respect for the challenges and accomplishments in the daily lives of their partners. This is no small matter in this era of harsh rhetoric about immigration, where the "other" is too often depicted as suspect.

One of the community partners spoke about her disbelief at first that anyone would find her life interesting enough for this project. She was thrilled to have her stories documented and I was thinking about how proud her two children must be to see their mother's life made into a "book." This project is a powerful reminder that everyone's life and experiences matter regardless of income, national origin, citizenship status, or education level. I hope that many of the participants will give their permission to contribute copies of their books to the Waltham Archives so that they can reach an even wider audience and be part of the historical record of our city.

I know that this project required a great deal of planning and ongoing persistence to arrange all the details. I want to commend Olmanda Hernandez, Mariya Kireyeva, and Scott Gravina for their efforts. It was clear that the students had a rich learning experience because of this project.