Students in Spanish classes at John Brown University will soon trade the classroom for the newsroom of Northwest Arkansas’ number one Hispanic newspaper.
In an unprecedented partnership, JBU Spanish students will publish news articles this semester in La Prensa Libre, a weekly free newspaper with circulation in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri.
Ivan Iglesias, assistant professor of Spanish, got the idea while preparing the curriculum for his Professional Spanish class, a required course for Spanish majors and minors to strengthen their professional field Spanish level.
Besides interview preparation and resume writing in Spanish, Iglesias decided to include a practical assignment: each student will write a 450-word article in Spanish connecting their professional future with the Hispanic community.
Earlier this month, Iglesias contacted his friend Biasnheyv Taormino, general manager of La Prensa Libre, who is also a native of Iglesias’ hometown of Barranquilla, Colombia. Taormino said her publication was “very interested” in working with JBU students.
Twenty students from the Intermediate II class and 16 students from Professional Spanish are scheduled to publish between two and four articles every week. The first articles are slotted to appear in the Feb. 9, issue.
Students came up with their own topics. Those in the intermediate class will write about simple topics, such as different holidays, JBU projects or touristic attractions.
Laura Roller, a student in Iglesias’ Intermediate II class is excited about writing an article in Spanish. “It is going to be scary, but I get to write about the project I am working with in Students in Free Enterprise, which helps families in Guatemala efficiently grow tomatoes using hydroponics.”
The topics in the Professional Spanish group range from internet privacy concerns, the construction at Highway 412, and the architecture and design of Crystal Bridges Museum, to the advantages of multilingualism.
The published work amounts for 10 percent of the final grade. Iglesias said his students were doubtful at first, but after a meeting with Taormino they became decidedly eager.
“Not everyone can write an article for a newspaper, much less in another language,” Iglesias said, explaining that students are taking the assignment seriously.
Beyond providing a practical experience and a rewarding feeling, Iglesias said one of his main objectives was to help Hispanics learn about these topics, and to inculcate in his students the idea of service learning. Iglesias also said this was a good chance to advertise the JBU language studies program to the growing Hispanic population in the area.
This is the first time Iglesias has tried a project of this magnitude. During his time at Hampden-Sydney College, Va., he helped publish his students’ Spanish poems in the school’s magazine.
When he saw that communication students at University of Arkansas contributed to La Prensa Libre, Iglesias was confident his students could succeed as well.
“It brings more work for me, but it is worth it,” Iglesias said. “I am not a journalist, either, so I am also learning in the process.”
In his three years at JBU Iglesias has tried to incorporate diverse activities to promote active learning. For example, he brought guest lecturers to campus from the University of Arkansas. His students have interacted with the Human Resources director for Arvest Bank, other Hispanic professionals from the area, a Zumba instructor and a Colombian music ensemble as part of their classroom experience. He also takes his students caroling in Spanish around campus every December.
Iglesias said he hoped this partnership with La Prensa Libre would be a long-term player for the Spanish department. He said he always found support from his colleagues and the administration to execute his projects.
“I try to integrate culture, get students involved so they develop passion for the language; I want them to have fun while they learn,” Iglesias said.