While the COVID-19 pandemic and its resulting stay-at-home requirements have made volunteering more difficult than usual, three Clarkies are making it work. But instead of doing their jobs in person, they are using Skype.
Zoe Redfern-Hall ‘21, Andrew Vontzalides ’21, and Michaela Davies ’20 are working as culture and language assistants for a program affiliated with the Council On International Educational Exchange (CIEE), and meet online with students from Sevilla, Spain, twice a week for English lessons and conversations. Teaching online — without whiteboards or textbooks — has forced the Clark students to work creatively.
Redfern-Hall, a political science major and Spanish minor, is working with Paula, a 12th grader at C.E.I.P Macarena. Their sessions are conversation-based, as Redfern-Hall’s main goal is to create a space where Paula feels confident enough to speak and practice her English.
“I started working with Paula because all programs were shut down for both of us, and I wanted to continue to be in a community, even a virtual one, that valued learning language and communicating,” says Redfern-Hall. “I enjoy being able to talk to someone who has had a very different life from me, yet right now is dealing with similar problems due to COVID-19.”
Vontzalides, a double major in political science and Spanish, meets each week with siblings Javier (seventh grade) and Diana (11th grade), students at C.D.P. San José Sagrados Corazones. Vontzalides, who has no previous teaching experience, decided to volunteer after his spring semester abroad in Costa Rica was cut short because of COVID-19. He formats his lessons like a cultural exchange, where he practices his Spanish and the kids practice their English by sharing stories about what it’s like living in their communities right now.
“I wanted to continue some sort of international cultural experience, and tried to take advantage of this opportunity,” he explains. “My favorite part of working with Diana and Javier is the shared experience we’re facing across cultures, and how despite all the uncertainty in the world we can still get together, play games, and share stories.”
Davies, a media, culture, and the arts major with a Spanish minor, is working with twins Marta and Victor, who are sixth-graders at C.E.I.P. Huerta de Santa Marina. To keep things interesting in her virtual classroom, Davies has implemented a lot of make-believe scenarios. This week, teacher and students pretended they were the co-owners of a new restaurant opening in Paris — Marta and Victor’s location of choice.
“We created a menu together, and next week we will pretend we are customers at the restaurant to practice ordering and chatting over a meal,” explains Davies. “At the end of the day, teaching online has really been about two things: creating a personal connection and having an open mind. I love working with Marta and Victor because I think we mutually make each other’s day. They put a smile on my face every time, just as I do on theirs.”