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Public Affairs : Learning Languages

Cadets inspire students to learn new languages 

Story and photo by Kathy Eastwood
Staff Writer
WEST POINT, N.Y. (Feb. 27, 2014) — Domenica Conte, a Spanish and English as a Second Language teacher at the West Point Middle School, took part in the Cadet Partnership in Education Initiative Feb. 7. Cadets volunteered with the Department of Foreign Languages to visit the ESL and Spanish learners in the Middle School hoping to interest the youths in learning one or more languages.

“This is a special tactics course focused on conversational language and some service orientation,” Sherry Venere, assistant professor of Spanish in DFL, said.

“I designed and incorporated the service learning to have people practice languages in conversations,” she said. “We are hoping to go to New York sometime in the future to practice Spanish. I would like to have the cadets have the opportunity to help, especially when children love and are impressed with cadets.”

Venere said this program might help with conversations beyond the classroom where they can practice colloquial Spanish.

“The U.S. Military Academy reaches out to school/communities to include a valued local impact,” School Liaison Officer Michi Carl, said. “As the USAG School Liaison, I oversee the partnership in education programs, joint ventures between West Point Activities and local education agencies to help foster educational excellence and facilitate desired support in the local schools.”

Carl said this includes STEM programs and beyond to enrich local curriculums. Not only do these relationships advance and support excellence among the students, they are wonderful opportunities to provide role models or mentorships for area schools.

Cadets had simple questions and answers made up where they would quiz the youths and talk to the youths individually about languages.

“I remember when I was learning Spanish in middle and high school,” Class of 2016 Cadet David Grossman said. “It was very frustrating at first. However, in my junior year in high school, I got the chance to go to Peru. I went and lived in adobe huts and interacted with them in Spanish. I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t studied Spanish.”
Class of 2016 Cadet Hannah Jones talks to West Point Middle School students about learning languages. This was part of the Cadet Partnership in Education Initiative and the USMA Foreign Languages Department who visited the ESL and Spanish Language learners at the school in the hope of influencing children to learn another language and the advantages it would provide.
Soon, Grossman will spend four months in Spain as an exchange student at a Spanish Military Academy.

“I love all that, because I learned Spanish,” he said.

Some children appeared apprehensive about learning a language, but others see a reason for it.

“I think it helps with relations in other countries,” 10-year-old Michael McCarthy said. “Spanish is spoken a lot in this country.”

McCarthy said he might continue learning Spanish, but he is also interested in Chinese.

Cadets are just as interested in volunteering and look forward to introducing children to languages for this project.

Class of 2016 Cadet Patrick Robertson thinks it’s a great idea to interact with younger children, to get to see their point of view and, because cadets are separated from the community, it gives them an idea about how an Army community works.

“It gives you a sense of what the community is like, we exercise our Spanish and help others as well, and we are giving back to the community. So many community members give so much here,” Robertson said.