Understanding Oregon's Hispanic community, hands-on

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Students in Lauren Reggero-Toledano's class work with Spanish speakers
From the Spring 2009 Caller

By Nadine Fiedler

A student volunteers at A Child's PlaceIt’s snack time after siesta at A Child’s Place in Hillsboro. In a sunlit room, still-sleepy little children chatter in Spanish and nibble on cheese sandwiches. As bright as the sun streaming in are the faces of the three Catlin Gabel students sitting here, totally engaged with the kids who adore them right back.

These students are part of Lauren Reggero-Toledano’s Spanish 5 class, which distinguishes itself by requiring field experience in the Spanish-speaking community. In its second year in this incarnation, the class emphasizes culture and civilization, with a second-semester focus on the Hispanic experience in Oregon. “There’s a huge Spanish-speaking population here, so we decided to learn more about them,” Lauren says.

Lauren Reggero-Toledano in the classroomLauren developed this class to accommodate different learning styles. She says, “These students have a passion for Spanish and want to continue learning and practicing it, but are looking for something more applied.”

The community projects in the class cover a wide range and reflect the students’ particular interests. Two students work on Spanish-language radio programs, one with migrant farm worker families, and one in a Spanish-language theatre group. Catlin Gabel has long connections with these agencies: both middle and high school students have done community service at A Child’s Place, and many other high schoolers are frequent volunteers at a homework club for children of migrant workers. This year Lauren’s students also attended a workshop on immigration law related to migrant families and visited a migrant labor camp to better understand their living conditions.

“The class strengthens our contacts in the community and brings more consistency to the agencies we work with,” says Lauren. “It’s a positive experience for everyone, and more agencies ask to work with our students, which gives the students more exposure.”

When the class meets back at Catlin Gabel, Lauren brings the service work back to what they’ve learned in class. She asks: “What are you observing? Did your reading help? Did you hear different languages?”

This community work builds the students’ confidence, but right now they are a bit nervous and excited as they begin this chapter in experiential learning. “The students grasp that the work is meaningful, and they see that they can help, especially with the children,” she says. “But it’s not just that we’re going to help or right the world. We experience their world and learn from them.”

Next year Lauren and Spanish teacher Roberto Villa will try something new with the class: half the year Roberto will teach a literature and grammar seminar, and in the other half all the students will be involved in service work. “We will consider this a success when all our students work in the community,” says Lauren. “It’s eye-opening for them. They often tell us that they had no idea before about the lives led by these neighbors of ours.”

Lauren Reggero-Toledano and her adorable babyLAUREN REGGERO-TOLEDANO
Lauren got involved in the local Spanish-speaking community in her hometown of Middletown, New York. “I’m from an immigrant Greek-American family. I saw how difficult it is for immigrants to live when I was growing up,” she says. She went on to the University of Miami, studied for a year in Spain, then earned a master’s in Spanish language and culture from the University of Salamanca in Spain. Her husband, Juan Carlos, is from Adra, Almería, Spain. They’re raising their daughter Elena, 1, to speak Spanish.

Nadine Fiedler is editor of the Caller.