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Senior’s efforts leave legacy at local high school

It wasn’t enough for Victoria “Tory” Hill to simply show up for student teaching, give her lessons, and then go home. For the Spanish major who graduates Saturday from Elon University, time spent this spring at Eastern Guilford High School will benefit students for years because of her initiative to support Spanish speakers in a school with few resources to help them better learn their native language.

“I did not think I was going to get this attached to the kids," said Victoria "Tory" Hill, a Spanish education major whose work with Eastern Guilford High School will help native Spanish speakers there for years to come.

In a push to build a collection of Spanish novels for students who learned it as a first language, Hill solicited hundreds of dollars through the online charity website DonorsChoose.org. Visitors to the site can earmark tax-deductible contributions to any of thousands of school projects from across the United States.

Hill turned to DonorsChoose.org once she discovered that almost no classroom or library texts existed at Eastern Guilford to teach pupils in Spanish classes who already use the language at home. “A lot of them had never read a book in Spanish even though they spoke the language,” Hill said. “There were 15 books, in Spanish, in the library. There were twice as many books on fashion design than there were written in Spanish!”

The Massachusetts native’s idea originated from an earlier course she took with assistant professor Rebeca Olmedo in the Department of Foreign Languages. Olmedo emphasized the need for teachers to differentiate their lessons, a technique where educators design specific assignments for select groups of students in a classroom that are tailored to how they best learn.

The daughter of an American father and Cuban mother, both fluent in Spanish and who taught their children the language from a young age, Hill could relate to her own students’ frustrations. She and her twin brother blamed the Spanish they heard in the home growing up for the difficulties in understanding English in elementary school. The two children soon rebelled at home, refusing to speak Spanish in an effort to catch up with their classmates.

That changed by the time Hill and her brother reached high school. With age comes wisdom, and the duo knew that the language their parents taught them – and the lessons they took away from the Spanish classes they selected – would help them in their own careers.

As such, and through the information gleaned from Elon’s School of Education, Hill sought books for her Eastern Guilford students that met two criteria: They had to be penned by authors whose native language was Spanish, and they had to be books that were originally penned in Spanish – not those that had been translated from English.

A suggestion to use DonorsChoose.org came from assistant professor Jeff Carpenter in the School of Education. “The response was unbelievable,” said Hill, who noted that a DonorsChoose.org corporate partner provided a matching gift. “It was funded in three days.”

Just a few miles west of Elon's campus, Eastern Guilford High School now has two sets of novels for students in what are called “Spanish heritage” courses for teenagers fluent in the language. “La Casa en Mango Street” and “Como Agua Para Chocolate” will be available for teachers to assign beginning this fall, along with more than a dozen other novels purchased for the school library for any student to read.

“She is truly exceptional, the best student teacher I’ve ever seen,” Olmedo said. “She’s a gifted teacher and is very creative, and she’s caring. She becomes aware of the needs of students.

That awareness manifested itself later in the spring. As prom season approached, Hill identified another source of angst among her students, Spanish and English speakers alike. Girls would tell their student teacher with the wide smile that they had no interest in attending the annual dance. Why, she asked herself, would otherwise social students shun one of the biggest events of the school year?

Hill soon realized they lacked money to buy the expensive dresses that are common for prom. And as with the Spanish books, Hill turned for help from social media sites – this time, Facebook – as well as members of her service sorority. Within days, Eastern Guilford had in its possession 30 gently used formal dresses, some of which were distributed, and others put into storage for next spring.

The combined efforts for purchasing Spanish books and collecting dresses amazed the longtime educators that supervised Hill’s student teaching.

“If I ever have another student teacher like Tory, I will be blessed,” said Lisa Barone, chair of the foreign languages department at Eastern Guilford High School. “They just don’t come along very often. She’s one of a kind, honestly.”

Hill, an active member of the Epsilon Sigma Alpha co-ed service sorority and volunteer at Elon Elementary School, will spend next year teaching English to students in Spain as part of a program sponsored by the Spanish government. Upon her return, she hopes to again work with students as a high school Spanish teacher. Another interest that arose through an internship is working with community health and social service agencies that attend to the needs of the Spanish-speaking community.

What else did Hill learn through her student teaching? Perhaps most importantly, she said, is that the obstacles children face in school often exist outside the classroom.

“I did not think I was going to get this attached to the kids. For a lot of students, I quickly realized they might be lacking a positive role model or a mentor outside of school,” Hill said. “School was important to them. But I wanted school to be a priority, and I learned that I needed to take other things into account.”


Eric Townsend,
5/31/2011 11:33 AM