Chris Beedie ’11 – Considered by my host teacher to be “the best kept secret in the Chicago Public School system,” Benito Juarez Community Academy is a school with a level of cultural identity I have never experienced before. Far from what I experienced at my high school, which is not more than 20 minutes away, Benito Juarez clearly takes pride in the cultural heritage of its students and community. With 95% of the student population being Hispanic, the school is decorated with mural paintings traditional to Mexico and Latin America and the hallways and classrooms are abuzz with students speaking Spanish during passing periods, as well as during class.
The classroom which I have been observing thus far this week, and which I will have the opportunity to teach later on in the week, is host to “Spanish for Spanish Speakers I” as well as “Spanish for Spanish Speakers II.” Before learning of my placement for the week unit, I actually had no idea that such a class existed! To me, the availability of a Spanish class completely geared towards native Spanish Speakers is the perfect example of the ability and desire of this high school to take pride in, promote, and preserve the cultural identity of the student body and the surrounding neighborhood.
Although all of the students in each of the classes that pass through room 316 each day are native Spanish speakers and have undoubtedly been speaking Spanish far longer than I have, not many have had much prior formal Spanish grammar instruction and it is interesting to me to see the mistakes they make, why they make them, and how a teacher can address these common mistakes and teach Spanish grammar to native Spanish speakers.
Not only has the weeklong Wabash Urban Education unit blessed me with the ability to spend the entire school day in this amazing, culturally rich environment, but I also get to spend the week with a teacher who is definitely passionate not only about the subject she teaches. Not only is she passionate about her students, she is even more passionate about the students she teaches. This attitude of the teachers speaks volumes to me. Sure, many teachers will have pride in their school, but I think that the attitude at Juarez is completely different.
From my experience the students have been hands down the most well behaved students I have observed. Yes, I will hear occasional curse words (in Spanish and English), more than at other schools, but I have never observed students who are so respectful when the teacher is talking or when they are to be working on something. While there still are students who may not be paying attention like at any other school, at least they respect their fellow students and teacher enough to not disturb the class.
This week will definitely be one that I will always remember, not only in my educational experience preparing to teach, but also as a teacher in the future. I greatly value the ability of Benito Juarez Community Academy to maintain such a strong cultural identity and to continue to provide its students with a classroom environment where teachers and students are so actively involved together in education.
In Photo: Stairs in the Pilsen train station. The students toured the area Tuesday afternoon.