South Orangetown Central School District

Tappan Zee High School students in teacher Odette Santiago’s Spanish III class recently created alphabet books–a project designed to hone writing skills and cultural awareness. 

The “Libro Abecedario” project focuses students’ attention on people, places, political movements and historical events that have influenced Hispanic culture,” explained World Language teacher Odette Santiago, who noted that World Language Team Leader Suzanne Grinberg had designed and implemented the project with her own classes. “For example, many students know of popular actors and musicians but this provides them with the opportunity to expand their knowledge by learning about an individual such as Cesar Chavez, who had a great impact culturally, politically and historically. As a department, our goal is for our students to leave TZHS with a global outlook to foster empathy and understanding towards others.”

To complete the Libro Abecedario project, students were challenged to draw on their prior knowledge and strategies and push themselves to expand their vocabularies. “Since cultural impact is the focus of the project, there is more emphasis on comprehensibility–their ability to express what they learned in a way that others can easily understand. It’s a great way for students to grasp the idea that we are not looking for perfection–we’re looking for them to utilize their skill sets and apply them to a new task, with support.”

Owen chose to exclusively focus on individuals for his book. “I really had to dig to find Freddy Ñáñez for ‘Ñ,’ and discovered that Picasso actually belongs under ‘R’ because his full name was Pablo Ruiz Picasso,” he noted.

“It is hard to just focus on people, so I decided to look more broadly,” added Kaitlynn. “The most interesting thing that I learned was just how Hispanic culture has adapted to and incorporated so many influences.”

“I loved this project,” Izely said. “My mom is Hispanic, so when I told her about this project, she introduced me to people she grew up watching, like La India María. I already know a lot of Spanish, but I learned new things about the culture.”

The District’s World Languages program is designed to develop students’ language and cultural literacy, starting in sixth grade. Over the course of their middle and high school classes, Spanish, French and Italian students continually build upon knowledge and skills so that they not only become proficient in reading, writing and speaking their language of study–but also have an understanding and appreciation of the histories and cultures in the countries where the language is spoken, in alignment with the New York State Learning Standards for World Languages

TZHS Spanish class makes alphabet books