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Students Become Teachers for ESL Program

April 4, 2008

Nick Marinello

“I had always thought about being a Spanish teacher, but this is kind of the opposite,” says Meaghan Callahan, who will be graduating from Tulane in a couple of months but will remain in New Orleans to continue helping Hispanic adults learn English.

ESL teachers

A student (right) in the English as a second language class in Newcomb Hall takes up chalk to answer a question at the board, while the Tulane student-turned-instructor, Seth Ruston, standing at left, directs the lesson. Tulane student Tyler Humphrey is seated at left. (Photos by Paula Burch-Celentano)

In fall 2007, Callahan, a native of Marblehead, Mass., who is majoring in Latin American studies, performed a service-learning internship at the Esperanza Charter School, teaching English as a second language.

Though her internship is completed, Callahan continues to teach at Esperanza, logging in two two-hour classes each week. After graduation she will sign on as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Tulane and oversee on-campus ESL teaching and one-on-one tutoring.

Part of the appeal of teaching adults English, says Callahan, is that her students are extremely motivated to learn. And as someone interested in Latin America, Callahan appreciates the opportunity to connect with her students and their culture.

“I get to practice Spanish, but more than that, I get to interact with a group of people and a culture that is outside of Tulane,” says Callahan.

Megan Callahan hands out materials to a Spanish-speaking student during a class in English. Callahan will graduate from Tulane soon but has continued to help Hispanic adults learn English.

Meaghan Callahan hands out materials to a Spanish-
speaking student during a class in English. Callahan will graduate from Tulane soon but has continued to help Hispanic adults learn English.

That kind of experience is typical of service learning, says Amanda Buberger, an assistant director at the Tulane Center for Public Service.

“What is ideal in service learning is that the students learn while they serve. It has been an ideal program all around,” says Buberger, who adds that there are few better ways for Tulane students to learn about Latin America than to have conversations with those who were born and raised in Latin American countries.

The ESL program at Esperanza is one of several that are operated off-campus by the Center for Public Service in partnership with the Hispanic Apostolate, a Catholic organization.

According to Buberger, however, the partnership’s busiest ESL site is located on the Tulane uptown campus at Newcomb Hall. Student instructors teach more than 270 ESL students in classes taking place four days a week. The program is managed out of office space donated by the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

While Callahan possesses modest conversational skills in Spanish, Buberger says that Tulane students can lead the ESL classes without being able to speak Spanish. ESL students learn by being immersed in English with the program segmented into five levels.

“The lower levels deal more with vocabulary and simple sentences,” says Callahan. “In the higher levels it gets more conversational.”

In one class last semester, Callahan’s students learned idioms from the local vernacular such as “neutral ground.” 

Students of both Spanish and English will have the chance to practice their skills next weekend, says Buberger. The Celebración Latina, which is sponsored in part by the Stone Center for Latin American Studies, takes place on Sunday (April 6) at Laurence Square, located on the corner of Napoleon Avenue and Magazine Street.

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000