Spanish class gives back to community


One TCU Spanish professor is ensuring her class gets a hands-on experience when it comes to developing their foreign language skills by plunging them into their community. 

Offering a “mini study abroad in your backyard,” Dr. Mary McKinney’s Service Learning in the Latino Community class helps students not only advance their Spanish language skills but also aid Hispanic citizens in Fort Worth. 

The class meets every Wednesday at 2 p.m. Each student will spend 18 to 20 hours throughout the semester in the community working with an agency of his or her choice, including: Cancer Care Services, First Command Financial Services, SafeHaven, John Peter Smith Hospital, Campfire USA, Fort Worth Independent School District, Iglesia San Miguel, Courtyards at Fort Worth and various others.

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At the start of the semester, McKinney arranges a day for the different advocacy groups to meet with the students in small groups. Students can ask questions and the groups can explain what they are expecting of the class.

McKinney said some students have been able to go beyond course requirements and work with these groups during health fairs or school fairs. Some advocacy groups even offer students jobs after graduation. 

Before teaching this course, McKinney taught Spanish for Health Care, a class mainly for nursing and pre-med students.

McKinney said she “wanted the students to use their new, specialized vocabulary” in real world situations, “which is difficult to do in a classroom.” She began working with different advocacy agencies, including JPS Hospital and satellite clinics.

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Even though there were initial problems with tight schedules and transportation issues, the class gave students more opportunities to serve the community, McKinney said. 

The idea for the service learning class also stems from the study abroad program that McKinney participates in during the summer. Students can study in Spain to strengthen their vocabulary through real life experiences and cultural influences.

But instead of flying to Spain, students can get a similarly immersive experience in McKinney’s class.

Rosangela Boyd, director of TCU student affairs, said the class “teaches [students] important lessons about culture by immersing them into Latino culture right here in Fort Worth, so they can learn about its strengths as well as the social issues faced by Spanish-speaking individuals in our area.”