Arizona Republic
March 21, 2007

 (Phoenix, AZ)
Author: Stephanie Armenta

Students in Corinne Araza's advanced Spanish class feel like family, precisely what the Paradise Valley High School teacher set out to do.

But that feeling did not happen overnight.

She intentionally partners junior and senior native fluent Spanish speakers with appropriate prerequisites with non-native Spanish honors students who have taken up to a third year of Spanish.

Some of the 14 students in the Advanced Placement/honors Spanish class said they were a little apprehensive when talking to their fellow classmates at the beginning of the year.

They worried about making grammar mistakes or using the wrong words in either Spanish or English, but they know now their peers would never make fun of them.

"Little by little, we started integrating more," said Colombian-born senior Sandra Londono, 17. "After time, we became comfortable speaking to one another, we are like a family."

Araza's class has a blend of nationalities, with each student bringing their own culture and viewpoint into the mix. Her mission is to mix language and culture for an overall educational experience.

"If we believe that ESL (English as a Second Language) students should be immersed in the language, then why don't we encourage the reverse in any language," Araza said. "This is one sure-fire way to get students to learn about each others' cultures in a non-threatening environment."

During in-class debates she introduces issues such as illegal immigration, English-only laws or college tuition. Students have found their points of view are not as different as they once thought.

Senior Brad Melnik, 17, and junior Ivan Gonzalez, 17, have become friends since they joined the class.

Gonzalez said he was surprised when they debated in class whether the U.S.-Mexican border should be open.

"I thought that Brad and I would have different opinions about that issue because of our different cultures, but they were the same," Gonzalez said.
"The experience has brought us all together."

Brad said he feels like a well-rounded person because of the insight he has gotten about other cultures.

In contrast, in classes like math and English, students say they feel like one person placed in a large group of strangers.

"In our other classes we don't have the opportunity to explore the other cultures," said junior Rene Carrasco, 17, also a Spanish honors student.
"There should be more activities to join us together."

Ultimately, Araza's goal is to teach communication skills in reading, writing, listening and speaking. But appreciating other cultures is a plus.