2015 Hall of Fame Nominee

Carrie Toth

Carlyle High School
Carlyle, IL
2015 Finalist from CSCTFL

“Preservation of one’s culture does not require contempt or disrespect for other cultures.” As a Chicano fighting for workers’ equality, Cesar Chavez knew this first hand. We live in a multicultural world, and the attitude toward diversity of languages and cultures in the United States can be contemptuous. Like Chavez, language teachers value multilingualism but students often get the message that “English is king.” Changing student attitudes is a challenge, even more so when working with rural students whose connection to the outside world is dependent on Facebook and YouTube.

Some might view this as a dilemma, but I view it as an opportunity! Many of my students may have never been out of the state, or even the county, and I am fortunate to be able to expose them to unique cultural experiences and empower them with language skills that will take them far beyond the corn fields in which they live. I strive to help them see beyond the stereotypes painted by TV, movies and the media, and I accomplish this on various levels.

I begin by providing students the opportunity to view and sample products from the target culture through classroom displays. Next, I focus on inviting guests to our classroom to share unique cultural experiences. Once interest is sparked, I coordinate various global service projects, including fundraisers for Nicaraguan families, water filtration in Uganda, and an education to children living in Guatemalan dumps. A former student reflected, “After April Gulley talked to our class about the Wakiso School in Uganda and all of the challenges they face on a daily basis, I realized that the things they need the most, such as food and water, are things that we take for granted. Helping the students of Wakiso School has positively impacted my life as much as it has theirs.”

Finally, I provide travel opportunities for students. From our annual tours of Chicago’s Mexican communities where we experience the rich culture of the Chicano people to tours of Spain, Panamá and Costa Rica, all brimming with music, architecture and cuisine, students are inspired by experiences that will forever change the way they view the world. Former students who attend nearby Greenville College frequently participate in mission trips to Latin American countries. One student recently returned
from a mission trip to the Dominican Republic and was excited to share that she was the only one in her group who spoke Spanish and she served as their interpreter.

Where then, is the value in learning language and culture? It is in teaching students that beyond the reach of YouTube and Facebook there are cultural experiences available to them. This value is driven home as students use Spanish to communicate with classroom visitors, tweet virtual classmates, bargain on the streets of Madrid, chat with tour directors, and in other real-life situations. My goal is that each of them carry their desire to speak Spanish beyond the high school classroom and into their careers and lives.