Language Teachers Bring Summer Experiences into the Classroom
Joanne Miceli

Language teachers Cristina Castillo, Sharon Merrifield and Kate Lavalle each journeyed abroad this summer, taking advantage of the long break to dive deep into educational and cultural experiences in different European cities. Now that the academic year is underway, these well-traveled faculty members plan to share their summer adventures with their students in a variety of ways.

“For language teachers, I think the best part of travel is that it adds to your toolbox of language and experiences,” Ms. Lavalle said. “We can then use these tools to help our students discover new places and make connections on many levels.”

Classes & Tapas in Barcelona

Mrs. Castillo’s destination was Barcelona, where she participated in a two-week immersion course for Spanish teachers at Expanish, a language school located in the heart of the bustling city. Her program included instruction in teaching theory, as well as time to observe other teachers and practice what she learned in lessons of her own.

“I’ve already brought some of the theory into my Spanish classes at Blair,” she said, explaining that she has “gamified” lessons on grammar and vocabulary, used new techniques to teach “class zero,” (the first class for students who have never taken Spanish), and had her students use inductive versus deductive reasoning when introducing new points of grammar.

Another aspect of the trip that Mrs. Castillo plans to share with her students is a taste of delicious Spanish cuisine. Each evening during the trip, Mrs. Castillo and her family, who accompanied her to Barcelona, visited open-air markets where they enjoyed many local foods, including breads and amazing fruit juices. They also enjoyed a guided tapas tour (patatas bravas and pulpo a la gallega were favorite bites) and, one evening, had paella delivered to their apartment for a late evening treat.

“I am looking forward to using the paella pans I purchased in Barcelona to cook paella with my students this year,” Mrs. Castillo said. “The food was, of course, one of the highlights of this trip, but I also enjoyed the opportunity to speak Spanish at a higher, more academic level than I do at home or in my work at Blair. Language has a different feel when spoken by native speakers in their home country, and it is always helpful to speak at that higher level.”

History Comes Alive in Normandy

Paris and the Normandy region of France were on the itinerary for Ms. Merrifield, who spent two weeks in July immersed in French culture and the history surrounding the Allied Forces’ 1944 D-Day landing at Normandy Beach. She and Katherine Holding ’20 participated in a tour facilitated by Normandy Allies, a nonprofit founded to promote greater historical understanding of the World War II Normandy invasion and the liberation and reconstruction of France that followed.

While Blair students and history teachers have participated in Normandy Allies tours for nearly two decades, Ms. Merrifield was the first language teacher to make the trip. “Normandy is one of the most important regions of France, and it was valuable to my teaching to have experienced its history and culture firsthand,” she said, adding that she and Katherine enjoyed daily visits to shops near their hotel in Bayeux, where they purchased the breads, cheeses, pastries and cider for which the region is renowned.

This summer marked the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings, and Ms. Merrifield described how French and American flags were proudly flying in every town they visited. Battle sites, museums and cemetery visits were all part of the tour, as were moving memorial celebrations attended by many veterans. She and Katherine also heard vivid firsthand accounts from French survivors of the Nazi occupation and witnessed the deep gratitude that the Normans have to this day for their American liberators.

“The strong friendship between the Normans and Americans is unique to that region of France, and it’s something I’ll long remember,” Ms. Merrifield said. She will share her trip with her French 3 class this fall when students research regions of France and create travelogues, and she is planning to incorporate research and writing about women who served in the French liberation in other classes as well.

An Amazing Sojourn in the South of France

Ms. Lavalle and her husband, Blair operations analyst Tom Pomeroy, enjoyed nearly two weeks touring the South of France, a region they had long wanted to visit. Their stops included Marseille, Nice, Aix-en-Provence and Avignon, and the couple filled their days with museum visits, a women’s World Cup soccer game, walking tours and much more.

“A former colleague who grew up in Marseille generously invited us to stay with her and her mother, so we were fortunate to spend lots of time with locals who knew the area and its history,” Ms. Lavalle said. Describing the trip as “amazing all around,” she especially enjoyed convivial dinner parties and fascinating conversations with friends of their hosts; a hike in Les Calanques that ended at a secluded beach on the Mediterranean; and the outstanding sights around Avignon, like the town of Les Baux de Provence and the Pont du Gard, a World Heritage site.

Ms. Lavalle looks forward to incorporating fresh perspectives into discussions with upper-level French students as they compare and contrast francophone cultures with their own. Her experience of this summer’s record-breaking European heatwave—and conversations with native speakers about governmental and NGO actions to keep people safe—will come into play when her French 2 students read a magazine article about the heatwave and her upper-level students study units on contemporary life and global challenges.

Adding that she has lots of pictures to share with her students, as well as greater knowledge of everything from the history and geography of Marseille to the use of the public transit app, Ms. Lavalle concluded, “I’m sure there are many more parts of my trip that will make their way into the classroom in one way or another!” 

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