Elite Language Students Focus on Community Service

Sheri Spaine Long honors the Spanish students using their skills to help others during the pandemic

Even during these challenging times, language students contribute to the greater good. I recently attended (via Zoom, of course) the award ceremony of the Sociedad Honoraria Hispáncia (SHH). The SHH is the nationally recognized honor society for Spanish and Portuguese high school students. It is part of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP). The honor society challenges outstanding secondary students to do more than celebrate their superior grades with somber ceremonies. The SHH encourages students to combine academic prowess, community service, and their passion for language learning. The result is unparalleled student engagement that focuses on improving the lives of others.

With nearly 3,000 active chapters, the SHH is led by arguably the most talented and dedicated Spanish and Portuguese teachers worldwide. In 2019, there were over 70,000 students in SHH chapters.

The SHH supports the community through fundraisers, literacy projects, and more. During the COVID-19 shutdown in March 2020, the SHH students of the Weber School in Atlanta, GA, pivoted from a live Fun Run to a virtual event. The fundraiser supported a local nonprofit called Los Niños Primero that provides free preschool for underserved Latino children. Spanish teacher Olivia Rocamora and the students of the Los Filosefarditos chapter worked to host the Amigos Virtual Fun Run. Spanish students raised nearly $10,000. Rocamora explained that during a typical year, the SHH students designate the funds to a classroom improvement project. This year, the students elected to help pay the rent of families whom the nonprofit serves because 80% of them lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

Spanish teacher Alondra Pacheco, sponsor of the Aura chapter at University School in Hunting Valley, OH, speaks proudly of her students. They found a solution to serve the community despite public health restrictions and recorded themselves reading books in Spanish for Spanish-speaking children to listen to during the pandemic. Prior to COVID-19, the students taught Spanish to a group of senior citizens at the local library. They also participated in a meal program that served mostly Latinos at a local Ronald McDonald House.

Before social distancing was the norm, Spanish teacher Lila Casillas engaged her students in several community service projects. Casillas is the sponsor of the Dr. Juliet V. García chapter at Brownsville Early College High School in Brownsville, TX. The Spanish students raised $3,000 to protect the turtles on South Padre Island and participated in beach cleanup. The honor society students also prepared meals in an underserved, mostly Latino community where they had the opportunity to speak Spanish while assisting others.

Early in 2020, other efforts to serve the community included SHH students and Spanish teachers T. J. Troche and Cassandra Johnston, sponsors of the Gabriel García Márquez chapter at Las Vegas Academy of the Arts in Las Vegas, NV. Working with the Refugee Health Alliance, students put together boxes of medical and hygiene supplies for refugees in need on the southern border of the U.S.

Among Spanish teachers, it is not usual to see queries on Facebook like the one from Spanish teacher Amanda Sue DeSimone, sponsor of the Águilas de la Mancha chapter at V. R. Eaton High School, Fort Worth, TX. She wrote: “How are you doing community service hours in your honor society?” Several Spanish teachers answered by stating that their students are providing virtual tutoring sessions organized by advanced Spanish students for younger learners at a nearby school. AATSP president-elect Maritza Sloan, sponsor of the Los Carneros de Ladue chapter at Ladue Horton Watkins High School, St. Louis, MO, posted that her students are tutoring children from villages in rural areas in Costa Rica via Zoom.

Honor societies such as the SHH are incubators for high-achieving language students to excel in real-world contexts. While many SHH projects are short lived, community service encourages students to go on to consider problems and solutions on a larger scale. Such experiences help build leadership and language skills. SHH students demonstrate how to apply concepts beyond the traditional language classroom with the guidance of outstanding teachers. Tenacity and the creative spirit of the SHH chapters continue to serve others even during the global pandemic. These efforts underscore the unique relationship of language learners and communities. The SHH students and teacher-sponsors truly embody the AATSP motto: ¡Todos a una! ¡Todos por um! All for one and one for all!

Sheri Spaine Long, AATSP Executive Director
To learn more about the SHH, go to www.aatspshh.org/ or contact SHH director Kelly Scheetz at [email protected]

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