Kendall Locke encountered students of many cultures as a substitute teacher at Joseph Zito Elementary in Phoenix while in her senior year at Grand Canyon University.
“One student, I couldn’t even pronounce the name of their language,” she said.
But on her 10-day education mission trip to Spain in May, she saw a whole new vantage point.
Locke joined five other GCU College of Education students and assistant professor Dr. Shawna Martino in helping mostly Muslim immigrants from Morocco to Spain learn English at the Friendship House in Madrid.
The students already knew two languages, French and Arabic, and were undertaking two more — from American teachers in training who were learning Arabic during off hours.
“I knew Spanish going in, but we all took an Arabic class. You have no idea what is going on,” Locke said. “So when you come back and finish the year and (my students) are sitting in class and doing the same thing I was doing ... You give them more grace and patience, really try to reach their level and support them and use more visuals.”
COE students were among the first educators in training to volunteer at Friendship House, a nonprofit center in Madrid that seeks to connect with the unreached people of Spain through community involvement. Its director said GCU brought the "best group ever," Martino said.
“The key is they are educators, so they knew the steps and strategies and how to be flexible because they applied what they learned in their classes.”
They also shared cooking classes and evening gatherings with the older students and some adults to learn more about one another.
“I really feel like that cross-cultural piece was important. Our students got to not only see the Spanish culture but the Muslim culture,” Martino said.
“The highlight was the final night (with high school girls) when they were outside the educational space, just talking and laughing and dancing. I feel the two pieces of it came together, the education piece but also the cultural and Christian piece. They had given of themselves and wanted to show love to these girls through everything they did throughout the week.”
Martino, who is a faculty lead with Canyon Global Educators working with partner organizations to place educators across the globe, said the COE students planned the materials and strategies before their May 5 arrival. Friendship House helped to tailor the plan for students from first grade through high school – a big range of teaching everything from a single word for younger students to what a past participle is for older students.
“As teachers it was really critical for them to be in that position to not be in the primary culture,” Martino said. “When they had to go to that Spanish class or that Arabic class, they understood how it felt to be a language learner again.”
For GCU incoming senior Carli Cortes that exchange of language led to an interesting back and forth.
“It felt a lot bigger than us,” said the elementary education major. “We went there to teach them, but it felt like I had so much to learn from them. Even though there was a language barrier, they wanted to teach and love us as much as we want to teach them and love them. It was a mutual transaction that I was not expecting.
“Despite the language barriers, people communicated in love language – smiles, hugs and high fives.”
It also broadened her perspective on immigrants who come to the U.S., especially the many from Mexico surrounding GCU.
“I have a greater heart for being a minority from another country,” she said. “You need to know the language. But it’s a lot. So my heart for them grew a lot.”
In their fun moments of playing games or cooking, they swapped personal insights and faith.
“We are not allowed to talk about faith very much, same as in public school education in the U.S,” Locke said. “So it was more in the actions that we showed them how we can be the hand and feet of Jesus.”
It’s how she lives out her faith to her students now – after graduating with an early childhood education degree and landing a job as a kindergarten teacher at Joseph Zito Elementary. Care and empathy has a language all its own.
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected]