Eleven lucky freshmen set out together with a K-State Spanish professor and an upperclassman Spanish major in January 2013 for the adventure of a lifetime: a service-learning and language immersion experience in Costa Rica. They were the Spanish in Action CAT Community.
Connecting Across Topics (CAT) Communities are part of the K-State First program, which supports first-year students in the academic and social transition to college. In a CAT Community, the same small group of first-year students take two general education classes together, and also meet in a weekly “connections” course that includes a peer mentor. The community model fosters feelings of belonging, offers opportunities for diverse activities and interactions, raises academic expectations with engagement and compassion, and empowers students with a strong sense of personal responsibility and social agency.
CAT Communities have been offered at K-State since 2010, but Dr. Laura Kanost’s 2012 Spanish in Action CAT is innovative in two ways: it is the first community to include a modern language course and the first to feature a Study Abroad component. Spanish in Action linked a special section of Spanish 4 with Introduction to Leadership Concepts. The students covered Spanish 4 material while learning about Costa Rica. They also offered, Spanish programming for children at Manhattan Public Library and prepared for their first university Study Abroad experience. During Winter Break, Spanish in Action traveled with Dr. Kanost and peer mentor Carrie Keck to the small coffee-growing community of Atenas, Costa Rica. They lived with host families and participated in language and culture classes, as well as a service-learning project to help beautify a local school. “At the school, we learned a lot of painting vocabulary and developed our leadership and teamwork skills,” Dr. Kanost recalled. “Using their Spanish skills to meet a community need motivates students and gives them confidence.”
The program included other side trips, in addition to their stay at Atenas. The group visited Poás Volcano, a waterfall, a beach, and the capital city of San José. Ziplining through the rainforest canopy was an exhilarating way to finish out the trip. “There have been so many times I have been in the classroom and wished I could take the students to see the place we were studying, so this was like a dream come true! Seeing my students applying their skills was amazing. The group bonded in a special way during the trip,” Kanost said. “I hope this whets their appetites for future international experiences.”
The Spanish in Action CAT Community will be offered again in Fall 2013. Student Jessica Pennybacker strongly recommends the opportunity to next year´s freshmen. “The trip to Costa Rica was so much fun! The memories I made were priceless and the value of complete immersion in the Spanish language living with the host family was great.”
See pictures from the trip and read more about the students’ adventures on their blog: http://ksuspanishinaction.blogspot.com/