Abriendo Caminos: Breaking new ground in Community-Engaged Learning

Vivian Brates
Paitra Houts
Irene Carvajal
Citlalli Del Carpio
Misla Barco

This qualitative study of a critically conscious (Freire, 1970/1993) community-engaged learning (CEL) track in a second-year university Spanish program examines (1) students’ evolving identities as speaker/actors (Kern & Liddicoat, 2008) of and in a language, (2) their increased appreciation of the cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005) evident in Spanish-speaking communities, and (3) students’ enhanced abilities to reflect upon these phenomena and develop perceptions about various societal systems at play (Plann, 2002). The study describes three quarter-length courses, each engaged with a different Spanish-speaking community partner: an art class at a nearby Boys & Girls Club, a Spanish for heritage speakers class at a local high school, and a class of elderly adults studying for their U.S. citizenship test at a local institute. Through a line-by-line analysis of students’ written texts, this chapter bears out Bettencourt’s (2015) contention that a CEL approach combined with world language study expands student learning in nontraditional ways. In this study, students developed their identities linguistically, culturally, socially, and civically, gaining new solidarities with communities and community members. Gains were not unidirectional and also included setbacks such as persistent misperceptions and stereotypes, which, though sometimes discouraging, also provided opportunities for class discussion and ongoing course improvements.