2014 Hall of Fame Nominee

Norma E. Arroyo

Fossil Ridge High School
Fort Collins, CO
2014 Finalist from SWCOLT

I have always believed that how students interact and are able to practice what they are learning in the classroom is equally important for the student’s learning of language experience in the classroom. Through my 23 years I have engaged my students in many educational and cultural experiences. To begin, I have of course done the obvious; traveled! My students and I have gone to Spain, Portugal, France, Costa Rica and New York City. While my trips to Spain and Costa Rica supported the teaching of Spanish for my students, it was the trips to Portugal and France that proved to be the biggest learning experience. My students were convinced that because none of us spoke Portuguese or French that we were doomed to wander, go hungry, and suffer neglect by the people who lived and worked there. What an eye opening experience to find that as language learners, we were welcomed and appreciated. We always found alternative ways to communicate and it was incredible fun!

But traveling is expensive and not all students are able to afford such a luxury. What can a teacher do? I say, immerse them! Teachers know that they best way to reinforce learning is by teaching; we know this because this is what we do. A few years ago I teamed up with our feeder middle school and my students and I traveled once each quarter to teach the level 1 classes. This was a win-win situation. My students were able to review, reinforce and practice what they have learned, I got to meet prospective students, and the middle schoolers were able to interact with high-schoolers relieving many misconceptions related to entering high school. During that first year our local college, Colorado State University, awarded us with the Cesar Chavez award for community service related to culture.

This experience has also been invaluable, but once again, limited to only the students that are able to transport themselves and had cars. I am constantly seeking for ideas that will help support our program, provide opportunities to involve all of our students, and to promote culture. My language department and I brainstormed and decided to offer a “World culture day” each year on the Monday and Tuesday prior to Thanksgiving. On this day, each of our classrooms hosts a speaker from different countries, each different every period. Among our speakers we have had foreign exchange students, Doctors Without Borders, Peace Corps participants, parents, veterans, retired veterans, student travel companies, and Latin dancing classes, just to name a few. The students absolutely love it! (next is the link as it appeared in the newspaper: http://www.psdschools.org/news/2012/11/frhs-students-learn-about-differe... - that is me in the front teaching!)

What happens in our classrooms is only the beginning of a journey. When I started teaching at Fossil Ridge in 2005, being a new school, I was afforded the opportunity to “design” my own curriculum at the school, hire the teachers, and follow it through. My vision was simple: Encourage student performance in the target language. In only 6 years, we grew to be the largest world language department in the Poudre school district, and the number of students pursuing language classes and our AP enrollment is double as that of any of the other 4 high schools. Two of them have more than 5 times the number of heritage speakers and an IB program, but neither can compete with ours. When you ask our students about why, they always tell us that what we encourage them to do is “real” and they can use it. They can take what they are learning in our classrooms beyond our walls and pursue more interests taking them to understand and appreciate other cultures.