Fort Atkinson’s Diversity Communication Project

by Mabel Schumacher, Ph.D., Retired WSPRA Executive Director, Fort Atkinson

At the 2006 President’s Luncheon of the WSPRA conference, a Spectrum Award of Excellence was awarded in the Diversity Communication category to Second Languages and the Basics, a Service-Learning and diversity project implemented by Lori Warren, Foreign Language Department Chairperson and Spanish teacher at Fort Atkinson High School.

Introduction
The Second Languages and the Basics project is the result of the meshing of two experiences involving Spanish instruction. The Second Languages and the Basics project began as a service-learning program to benefit two classes of Spanish III students and the community of Fort Atkinson. The service-learning project was designed to address Standards 5.1 and 5.2 of Wisconsin’s Foreign Language Standards-community involvement and lifelong learning.

Based on the results of the service-learning project, Lori Warren recognized the need to develop an instrument that would help teachers to introduce students to the concepts of service learning while meeting the needs of students at all levels of ability and understanding.

The following information describes the research, analysis, communication, and evaluation that were involved in both elements of the project. Contents of the binder include the elements of both elements in addition to an upcoming presentation to be made at the Wisconsin Foreign Language Teacher Association (WFLTA) conference in November.

Research
Research for this project began with a service-learning program that was implemented in the Spanish III classes of Fort Atkinson High School. The initial research took four tracks: (1) an investigation of the growth of the Hispanic community in Jefferson County [+161%] and in the City of Fort Atkinson [+306%], (2) an investigation of the various agencies and businesses that were affected by this increase, and (3) a study of the elements of service-learning in the classroom. Subsequent research surrounded the need for differentiated instruction.

Analysis – Hispanic Community
Analysis of the research data showed that between 1990 and 2000 the number of Hispanic individuals reported in Jefferson County had increased 161%, and 306% in the City of Fort Atkinson.

Affect on Community Agencies and Businesses
Many agencies found it necessary to respond to this increase in the Spanish-speaking population. The response took many forms-hiring bilingual employees, providing interpreters for specific events, adding Spanish collections to the public library, providing information in bilingual format, etc.

Service-Learning
A study of service-learning provided an understanding of the required elements of service learning and the benefits of such learning opportunities for students. The four-point test of a service-learning program is (1) youth leadership, (2) community need, (3) curricular connection, and (4) reflection and evaluation. Service-learning projects provide many benefits for students: student engagement, academic improvement, enhancement of higher order thinking skills, development of important personal and social skills, stronger student ties to the community, exploration of various career pathways, positive school environments, and increased community support for schools.

Differentiated Instruction
Because students learn in a variety of ways, it is critical for teachers to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students. It is helpful to have a graduated guide to provide assistance to teachers as they introduce students of all learning levels and abilities to the concept of service-learning.

Communication – Service Learning Project Communication
The data regarding the Hispanic community, the affect on community organizations, and service learning were presented to the Spanish III classes. Students used the information as a springboard for planning the activities of the service-learning project. Many projects evolved including the development of Spanish-English cookbooks for the local food pantry, the purchase of Spanish children’s books for local doctor/dentist/hospital waiting rooms, involvement in the US Postal Food Drive, development of bilingual activity workbooks for the county Head Start program, and involvement as student interpreters in a local health fair.

Differentiated Instruction Guide
As a result of the classroom service-learning project, Lori Warren assessed the experience and recognized the need for expanded information that would help teachers to differentiate instruction for all levels of learners. She designed a handbook that would communicate to teachers the natural progression of student skills and the application to service learning.

Evaluation – Student Evaluation
After the service-learning project, students were given the opportunity to reflect on their involvement and on the results of the project. [See the Student Information section of the binder.] In addition, Lori Warren reflected on the entire process and the availability of information to help other teachers differentiate instruction through service-learning.

Differentiated Instruction
The service-learning and differentiated projects were accepted for presentation at the WFLTA conference to provide much needed background in service-learning and differentiated instruction for foreign language teachers. This will provide an opportunity to communicate the benefits of service learning and instructional methods to Wisconsin teachers.

For further information about the project, contact Lori Warren at Fort Atkinson High School, 925 Lexington Blvd., Fort Atkinson, WI 53538, lwarren@mail.fortschools.org.

About the author

The Wisconsin School Public Relations Association (WSPRA) is a professional association representing schools, school districts, educational associations, consulting agencies and organizations. WSPRA is a state affiliate of the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA). 4797 HAYES ROAD | SUITE 103 | MADISON, WI 53704 | PHONE: 608-241-0300 | WSPRA@AWSA.ORG