Each semester, Notre Dame's Spanish department, in conjunction with the Center for Social Concerns (CSC), offers community-based learning (CBL) courses that allow students to integrate their Spanish language learning with community service at various partner organizations in South Bend.
"Any community-based learning program is going to be coming from a perspective of mutuality," said Rachel Parroquin, director of Spanish service learning. "We're looking for ways that are going to be helpful for the community partners but also meet the learning goals of our students."
Parroquin said student involvement in CBL programs allows for interaction with native speakers, language skill improvement and intercultural competence.
"It's almost like a mini-immersion," she said. "Getting off campus, getting to the community, having to negotiate meaning, having to figure out ways to say things, it definitely helps them to work on strategies."
Parroquin said students in CBL programs have the opportunity to participate in activities including mentoring middle school students, reading aloud with preschoolers in Spanish and participating in a Latino outreach program through Memorial Hospital.
"We try to have a variety of programs in terms of student interests," she said.
The CBL program works consistently with more than a dozen community partners, including La Casa de Amistad, El Campito, South Bend Community Schools and the Sister Maura Brannick Health Center.
The impact of the CBL program on its partners has been enormous, totaling over 3,400 hours of community time in the 2011-12 academic year, Parroquin said.
Parroquin said programs have experienced growth and expansion, especially youth-centered programs, such as La Casa de Amistad's ¡Adelante! Youth Development Program.
"Last spring [La Casa de Amistad] had their first group of the ¡Adelante! students that Professor [Marisel] Moreno's classes had worked with all graduate from high school and all go on to some kind of either university, culinary school, or some kind of program with scholarships," Parroquin said.
Spanish CBL currently comprises three components, Parroquin said. At the intermediate level, about 10 to 15 percent of students choose to participate in a CBL program to satisfy the experiential learning component of their Spanish requirements.
This semester, Parroquin teaches a new class titled "Language, Culture and Community" that requires students to commit to a minimum of 10 hours of service.
"The focus of this class has to do with immigration issues, looking closely at the South Bend community and how it's impacted by immigration," she said. "What are the issues that the Latino community, recent immigrants especially, have to face?"
At the senior level, Moreno teaches "Migrant Voices: Latino Literature through Service-Learning" and "Race and Ethnicity in U.S. Latino Literature," both of which require two hours of community service per week.
Parroquin said the Spanish department's Community-Based Learning program continues to grow with the help of the CSC and will be adding new courses in the future.