10/26/15 Colombian instructor teaches classes in Spanish for immersion program
|Making a Splash in science|
Steven Mantilla / Times-News
Colombian instructor teaches classes in Spanish for immersion program
By Isaac Groves The Times-News 10/26/15
Reprinted with permission.
ELON — In some ways, Patricia Amorocho-Gualdron is still getting settled.
“Sometimes, I am feeling like it’s my first year as a teacher, even if I have 12 years’ experience,” she said.
She came from Colombia about four days before school started in late August and started teaching at Western Alamance Middle School right away.
Amorocho-Gualdron, who uses both names, teaches science in Spanish in the Splash Spanish-immersion program. She came through Visiting International Faculty, which works with the Alamance-Burlington School System to bring in teachers from abroad, in this case so local students can learn Spanish from a native speaker.
“I had two colleagues, they worked with VIF several years ago,” she said. “They told me about the program and I was very interested.”
This is the second year Western Middle has had Spanish immersion. As the kids who started out doing it in kindergarten at Elon Elementary School got older, the program moved up.
In Colombia, Amorocho-Gualdron works with a similar program called Proyecto de Bilinguismo teaching students there in Spanish. Those students are getting older too. In a few years she hopes to be teaching highschool chemistry in English.
She says she also wants to learn more about the American education system. There are a lot of differences. She said schools here focus more on the basic subjects — what is called the core curriculum. In Colombia, she said, students are spread more thinly.
“Many take 13 classes a week,” she said.
They also start working toward careers a lot sooner. She taught high school in Colombia in a preparatory school for teachers called Escuela Normal Superior de Bucaramanga. She said it’s considered one of the most important schools in the capital of the state of Santander because it produces teachers.
Amorocho-Gualdron said she is impressed with the level of organization she sees in her school and pleased with the support she gets from its administration and teachers as well as the families of her students.
She also wanted to teach more about her own country, which is why there are maps of Colombia and a flag on the wall.
Colombia shares a lot of history with its neighbors with which it won its independence from Spain including what are now Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. All of those modern countries, she said, revere Simon Bolivar as an independence hero and several have the same colors on their flags, gold for their resources, blue for the waters and red for heroes’ blood shed in wars.
Amorocho-Gualdron said she would like people to pay attention to the first two more than the third because things have changed a lot.
“I think Colombia at this moment has a different face to show,” she said. Growing up in a town called San Gil in the state of Santander, she said she remembers hearing about terrible violence from the war with the FARC guerrillas and among drug cartels. It did not touch her family living far from the major cities, but they were afraid to travel for fear of kidnapping.
“Thank God it didn’t affect my family or me,” she said.
Peace with the guerrillas looks like a possibility and the government has a done a lot to deal with cartel violence, she said.
San Gil, she said, is already a tourist destination known for its natural beauty and hospitality.
This adventure means living more than 2,000 miles from her family and friends for three years in a place where so many of the little things are different from her work hours to her lunch options.
She has had help. When she first got here she stayed with a student’s family and was in contact with families before she left Colombia who told her they were collecting things like furniture and dishes for the apartment she moved into a month ago.
While she is still catching up with work, she is starting to find a life outside school like finding a gym. Still her life is centered on Western. Her 36th birthday is this week.
“I’m going to celebrate with my students,” she said. “Right now they are my closest family.”