South Orangetown Central School District

#ProudTZGrad Christina Garcia (‘16) has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to LaRioja, Spain! The prestigious and highly-competitive program funds American citizens to study, conduct research or teach English abroad.

“I will be teaching multiple subjects in English to elementary students and acting as a cultural ambassador in the community. As my side project, I plan to start a volleyball club in the community for my students as I’ve always loved playing sports and thought that volleyball may be an interesting change of pace for a country of die-hard soccer fans,” she laughed. “I am over the moon with excitement to immerse myself in a new area of Spain, practice my Spanish skills, and apply my teaching skills in another country.”

Garcia graduated from SUNY Cortland in December 2020 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish. “I spent my first year at the University of Delaware studying Wildlife Ecology and Conservation before I realized I wanted to work with children,” she said. “I decided to transfer to SUNY Cortland and enroll in their renowned education program. Instead of picking a concentration like most of my peers, I was able to double major in Spanish. Spanish was always my favorite subject in school and I did not want to lose my skills–I wanted to build on them.”

Pairing education and Spanish was a strategic decision for Garcia, who hopes that more U.S. schools will begin teaching world languages at a younger age. “As a student teacher, I was placed in the Suffern School District, where they have been running a Foreign Language in Elementary Schools (FLES) program for nearly 20 years. I observed the pedagogy applied to teaching Spanish to young children and was intrigued,” explained Garcia. “Following graduation, I interviewed to be a building substitute for the district, and I was beyond lucky to be offered the leave replacement position of a FLES teacher. In the blink of an eye, I was teaching over 300 elementary students, across grades one through five, grades, Spanish–my passion! “

Garcia fell in love with the culture, the lifestyle, and Spanish language while studying in Madrid her sophomore year. “Last year, I decided that I wanted to travel back to Spain to teach. Many parts of the country start English language immersion young. As an early childhood educator, it sounded like a perfect opportunity to see another country’s approach to teaching a world language,” she noted.

Last summer, Garcia worked on her application and essays for the Fulbright scholarship and other programs in Spain. She was notified in March that she was a semifinalist and was awarded the scholarship earlier last week. “I have my friends, family, and university to thank for their overwhelming support and encouragement, but I also cherish my roots as a Dutchman,” said Garcia. “I met my best friends in the world in this school district, who I’m sure will come to Spain to visit. TZ culture was resilient and powerful. Many of my most cherished memories were made playing sports and cheering on our legendary basketball team. My coaches were role models, teaching me to be driven and to always have my teammates’ backs. I also enjoyed my time in the classroom with some of my most inspiring teachers. I have Ms. Arietta to thank for not only teaching me Spanish, but teaching me about the cultures and histories of Spanish-speaking countries and motivating me to be a conscious citizen. Her passion was stimulating and has, without a doubt, rubbed off on me. I could listen to stories about her adventures for hours and to this day consider her one of my role models. I had other great teachers who ended up being some of my inspirations for choosing this career, notably Mr. Matulac. He, among many others, always felt more like my friend than my teacher and I think that makes a world of difference in this profession.”

Her advice to current TZHS students: Keep building your world language skills. “I cannot emphasize enough how advantageous learning a second language is, mentally, socially and professionally. I have met so many friends thanks to my Spanish skills and there is definitely a need for bilinguals across all professions as demographics in the U.S. continue to evolve,” she advised. “As for anyone considering studying education, do it! Children are the future leaders of the world and a teacher who models the importance of kindness and respect while making learning fun and meaningful will have an impact on both the individual and our society.”

TZHS alumna Christina Garcia ('16)