As Hispanic Heritage Month draws to a close, we share the fellowship of Jeannie O’Meara, teacher at Saint Adalbert Elementary School in South Bend, IN. With her Fund for Teachers grant, Jeannie completed a Spanish Language Immersion Program at Academia Hispano Americano in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, to inspire, resonate with and teach the arts with an emphasis on Mexican culture in an urban PreK-8th school comprised of a 96% Latino population. Her fellowship came full circle last weekend, as she shares below…
Saint Adalbert Elementary is a preK-8 school that serves the highest concentration of minority students in a city of 100,000 and, as of three years ago when I started teaching there, our school had no formal visual or performing arts program. My principal succinctly described the students during my initial interview, saying, “They are in a cultural no man’s land. They know very little about their Mexican culture and very little about their U.S. culture. Neither their English nor Spanish is fluent.” I chose to design my Fund for Teachers fellowship to address these cultural and academic gaps.
My Spanish language instruction prior to the fellowship was limited to exchanges with the preK teachers aide. Therefore, I spent one month last summer at the Academia Hispano Americano learning basics of the language, as well as Mexican folk art, singing and dancing. My goal was to better inspire, relate to and teach my wonderful students who grew up in poverty, yet display exceptional natural gifts in the visual and performing arts. In addition to attending daily classes and the Folk Singing and Dancing Workshop, I absorbed Mexican culture through visiting galleries, museums, plazas, restaurants, churches, festivals and ruins, including gallery of Fabrica la aurora, Galeria Atotonilco, the ruins of Canada de la Virgen, the Parraquia de San Miguel Arcangel and the Fiesta de la Virgen del Carmen.
My knowledge of Spanish improved exponentially on my fellowship. Although still a beginner, I am able to speak with people who only speak Spanish, as well as write and read the language. Equally as important, my instructional practice has had a paradigm shift. While trying to soak in the new people, language, culture, environment, I couldn’t help but empathize with my students who are in a very similar situation, but in reverse. They are in the US learning English, and, at the same time, learning a new culture. It is truly humbling! I am now far more patient with my students and brought back a sense of humor to the classroom – just as my wonderful instructor, Jessika, did for me!
Last week for our school’s Fundraiser/Art Auction, my sixth graders created “Corazon” piece above, inspired by the gorgeous art I saw in Mexico. Seeing their work and learning was a profound step in my ongoing journey to establish credibility and authenticity with my students and families, increase respect for the values of different cultures in the school community, and deepen my personal sensitivity.
In addition to teaching, Jeannie has served as artistic director and founder of a 501©(3) musical theatre in Seattle, Washington. For more than 30 years, she has inspired youth in music, drama and art and has led hundreds of youth from audition to theatrical performances. In addition to her Visual and Performing Arts background, she has enjoyed producing television shows for a local PBS affiliate.