Connections: Linking Talented Educators
Connections: Linking Talented Educators

Building Bridges: Legislators in the Classroom

May 12, 2017

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Spanish teacher Vanessa Torres (SC '16) came home from the 2017 Milken Educator Awards Forum in New Orleans with a plan.

It was veteran Milken Educator Nancy Norman (AK '94), one of the speakers at the Forum, who floated the idea of inviting local lawmakers into the classroom—something that had helped her build important bridges and promote her educational policy ideas in Alaska. Sitting in the audience, Vanessa was intrigued. When she got back to Nursery Road Elementary School in Columbia, South Carolina, Vanessa started making calls.

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One of her first invitations went out to South Carolina State Representative Chip Huggins. "I invited him because I wanted to learn more about his vision for our state's education," says Vanessa. "I also wanted to let him witness the power and magic of teaching elementary-age children other languages." Representative Huggins, whose district includes Columbia, joined Vanessa for lunch before visiting her second-grade Spanish class.

The children greeted Huggins in Spanish, sang a few songs, and then acted out the story of Little Red Riding Hood ("Caperucita Roja"). Huggins joined the students for games that reinforced the vocabulary they learned in the story. Vanessa assigned one student to be Huggins' "interpreter" during the class. "He participated in everything and was a great sport," says Torres. "The kids loved him and loved showing him what they know." Students taught Huggins to say "Yo quiero..." ("I want") and then shared the names of different foods in Spanish.

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"Fostering a relationship with Representative Huggins has engaged policymakers in world language education and has helped my children know that world language learning is important to people outside our school," says Vanessa. And this wasn't a one-time connection: Next week Huggins will accompany Vanessa's class on its annual visit to a local Mexican restaurant. Adds Vanessa: "Claro que si, my children plan to order for him in español!"

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