Sarah Grace Evans knows the value of real-world experience.
The importance of that experience is magnified when you can speak a second language and assist people in their native tongues.
Evans was one of three students who gained that experience in the spring 2022 semester as part of Mississippi University for Women’s Spanish Service-Learning Internship through the Spanish program.
Evans, who graduated from The W with a degree in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) and a degree in Spanish in May, was one of two interns placed with the Starkville Oktibbeha Consolidated School District (SOCSD) in the past two spring semesters. The work she did at Armstrong Junior High School and Partnership Middle School, which are both in Starkville, helped her earn valuable experience assisting members of the Spanish-speaking community.
“After the internship, I have a greater confidence in my Spanish-speaking skills and about my abilities to properly assist the Spanish-speaking community,” said Evans, who is from Brookhaven. “The resources I gained from the internship will greatly impact my dream of being a bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist.”
Evans is pursuing that dream while she works toward her master’s degree in SLP at The W. She said the opportunity to speak Spanish outside of a classroom setting has helped her prepare for her career and gain a better understanding of what Spanish speakers need from speech/language services.
Evans said the internship enabled her to tutor many students from different cultures and several languages in person and on Zoom and to assist them with grammar, speaking, writing and other things. She said additional work with Dr. Reyna Vergara, an assistant professor of Spanish at The W, annotating a bibliography, dissecting a vocabulary list and writing about and discussing all of the sounds of the Spanish language enhanced the experience.
“The internship allowed me to observe the difficulties Spanish-speakers face in school settings when they don’t have access to staff members who are able to communicate with them in their native language,” Evans said. “I have a desire to be there to help students/adults who are unable to communicate well because of a language barrier. Spanish is the second-most spoken language in the United States, and I think it is necessary to have more healthcare workers who can provide Spanish-speakers equal treatment in healthcare settings.”
Vergara said the first priority in the Spanish program is to send students abroad because it provides them with full immersion in the language and culture. Given COVID and other hardships or responsibilities some students are encountering, Vergara said the class was a needed alternative to the study-abroad experience for the Spanish major and the Spanish Education K-12 Certification requirement. As a result, in the spring of 2020, Vergara started teaching the internship as a special topic to explore the possibility of developing it into a new course. The course features 120 hours divided between theory and practice, and its enrollment has grown each year since inception.
“I have seen the internship evolve in very positive ways,” Vergara said. “This past spring, all three interns had another major. Two of them were double-majors and one was a minor who got accepted in the school of nursing that semester. It gave me great pleasure to see the interest that these interns had not only in serving the communities of Spanish-speaking descent presently, wherever there was a need, but also in their future careers. They wanted to learn terminology and be able to communicate in Spanish in their respective fields.”
Robert Brown, English Learner (EL) student services coordinator for the SOCSD, said all of the feedback about the interns and their work has been unanimously positive. He said all of the students have enjoyed working with the interns and their time together has helped them feel more welcomed and connected to the school.
“The internships are important to the students who are receiving help, but they’re also important to the teachers in the buildings where the interns are placed,” Brown said. “When an EL student has had academic difficulties in a teacher’s class, the teachers have worked with the interns to help these struggling students via more focused, individualized instruction. With the number of EL students nationwide growing every year, it’s difficult for individual districts to provide all the services to these students that we are required to supply. The interns from The W have excelled at helping us meet this ever-growing need.”
Evans praised Vergara for supporting her work during the internship. She said she never felt alone and that she is grateful for the opportunity to earn experience she knows will serve her well moving forward.
“I would definitely encourage other students to get involved with the program,” Evans said. “It was a life-changing experience and I learned so much in a short amount of time. For Spanish majors or for those who just want to learn Spanish, I think it is necessary to use Spanish outside of a classroom setting. I also think it is important to interact with Spanish-speakers and learn about their cultures in a real-life setting. It was a beautiful experience.”
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