Original URL: http://www.azstarnet.com/star/thu/30501NW4SCHOOLMAIN.html

Teacher's skill extends far beyond language to reach middle schoolers
Tucson, Arizona Thursday, 1 May 2003
By Colleen Sparks

Despite swimming pools and other summer diversions offering stiff competition, so many students have signed up for Estela Rivas' free Spanish classes at Amphitheater Middle School that there's a waiting list.

More than 100 students have signed up for the June 2-27 classes, Rivas said.

The way she uses Mexican history, art, music and traditions to teach Spanish has made her a popular teacher at the middle school at 315 E. Prince Road during the school year as well.

"I'm concentrating not just on uno, dos, tres," Rivas said. "I'm exposing my kids to the culture and Mexican way of living. I hope to put a little seed there for them to learn other cultures, to understand where, how, why we have so many Mexican people in Arizona.

"I love it. I get so involved with the kids."

Rivas was born in Mexico City and moved to the United States 24 years ago. A former school volunteer for more than 15 years and a teacher's aide in Sierra Vista for nearly two years, Rivas earned her teaching degree at the University of Arizona, and later taught at Cochise College.

She teaches students about how the Aztecs built pyramids and how Spaniards came to Mexico, bringing a different religion, horses and chicken pox with them.

Rivas explains to students that Cinco de Mayo or May 5 is the celebration of Mexicans' victory over the French in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Many blond, blue-eyed French descendants now live in Los Altos de Jalisco, near Guadalajara, she said. Students will celebrate the holiday Monday with music and food, Rivas said.

Students have made sombreros and will paint birds to emulate Mexican Huicholes Indians' paintings on bark.

Rivas' students also will be writing essays comparing and contrasting Abraham Lincoln with former Mexican President Benito Juarez. Both presidents grew up poor, became lawyers and fought for the poor, she said.

Eighth-grader Veronica Covarrubias, 14, was born in Mexico and moved to Tucson when she was 6. She knew how to speak Spanish when she entered Rivas' class.

"I think it'd be more interesting to learn about Mexican culture," Covarrubias said. "If you don't know, it's like you didn't care about your people. You need to be supporting your people."

Eighth-grader Edna Torres, 14, moved to Tucson from Mexico four years ago and said that she has learned how to write in Spanish in Rivas' class.

"I sort of feel like I'm in Mexico again," she said. "I think we have to know things from Mexico so you can know more about yourself."

Curtis Hand, a 13-year-old eighth-grader, said he likes the variety in Rivas' classes.

"One day she'll be teaching about ancient cultures and the next day teaching music," Hand said. "She's a good teacher, so she makes it easier to learn."

Lourdes Delgado said that her son, Marcos, 13, is always asking her to speak Spanish to him since he entered Rivas' class. When he was younger, she didn't want to speak Spanish to him because she wanted him to learn English so he would do well in school. Now that he knows English, Delgado said she is talking to him in Spanish because he's excited to learn it.

"He loves Spanish," she said. "The other day he was talking to me about Cinco de Mayo and what it means."

Principal Chuck Bermudez said he has seen many students blossom in Rivas' classes.

"She definitely has a progressive style that really gets the kids involved and truly helps them understand their culture a little bit better," he said. "She connects the Hispanic history and American history very nicely for the kids."

For more information about Rivas' summer school classes call Amphi Middle School at 696-6230.

* Contact reporter Colleen Sparks at 434-4076 or at colleens@azstarnet.com