G.W. Carver High School’s Spanish teacher, Rebecca Blumenfeld, has a pretty ambitious idea about foreign language instruction.
“When students leave my classroom,” she says, “I want them to be motivated to become lifelong learners of the Spanish language, to use their Spanish to bridge differences between people, and to help their peers and their community as a whole. I want them to have a better understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the world through experiencing different cultures.”
After talking to Blumenfeld, it’s obvious that the Dothan native is doing everything she can to make that philosophy a reality in her classroom.
Upon graduating from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in sociology and Spanish, Blumenfeld came back to Alabama and worked with Birmingham Reads as an AmeriCorps State member.
“That’s when I knew I wanted to be a teacher,” she said.
She then traveled to Indiana University where she completed her Masters in education in language instruction, and then came back to Alabama once again, this time as the Spanish teacher at Carver, where she has been ever since.
Blumenfeld said she was influenced in articulating her teaching philosophy by former Teach For America Alabama Corps member and Carver teacher Wyatt Smith, who championed a trend of taking students abroad with the Birmingham To Beijing program. Similarly, in 2012-2013, Blumenfeld took students on a trip to Spain and France with a fellow teacher in the French department. Of the trip, Blumenfeld reminisces: “I’ll never forget how the kids were so terrified on the trip out – many of them had never been on a plane before – and on the way back, they were leading us through the airports, they had the maps in their hands.”
Blumenfeld has seen first-hand how these experiences are shaping kids lives, how powerful it is for young people to have the opportunity to navigate places they have never been before and communicate with people from all over the world.
In my class we talk a lot about the importance of having new experiences,” says Blumenfeld. “And we talk a lot about empathy. Both of these concepts are central to our theme of being cultural ambassadors.”
This year, Blumenfeld is thinking big once again, taking six students – a group of talented and ambitious seniors and juniors – to Costa Rica for nine days in June. Once there, the students will have certain challenges to complete in the target language – they may be asked to bargain for a souvenir and will spend an entire day interacting with kids their own age in Spanish at a local school – and will participate in other cultural experiences such as eco-tourism, visiting an active volcano, and ziplining. Blumenfeld says that the students have been staying after school to learn about the culture of Costa Rica and were inspired when they learned that it is considered one of the world’s ‘greenest’ countries. As a result, the class has determined to start a Go Green recycling campaign to launch at the school in February. The students are researching statistics and information to share with their fellow students about the importance of recycling and how to leave a smaller carbon footprint.
“It was actually through Ed’s Asset-Mapping program that I was able to connect with the Alabama Environmental Council to bring the recycling program to Carver,” Blumenfeld says. Ed’s Director of Community Partnerships Marshall Pollard spent the fall meeting teachers at Carver, Hudson K-8, and Tuggle to learn about their individual gifts and talents and connect them to additional resources in the community to create a forth-coming, comprehensive community Asset-Map .
Last month at Ed’s inaugural meeting of the Carver Feeder Network – another program that Pollard is spearheading that helps provide the structure for individuals across the community to offer their gifts and talents to and request help from other Network members – a participant highlighted the need for marketing to jumpstart Blumenfeld’s Carver to Costa Rica fundraising campaign.
“I think that these kinds of experiences inspire students to see that there is more beyond Birmingham City limits,” she says. “And there is a whole world out there for them to explore. [Connecting us to the Alabama Environmental Council] and publicizing our Carver to Costa Rica program is just one of the many ways Ed Birmingham is helping to bring real world experiences to our students.”
To contribute to Blumenfeld’s Costa Rica trip and her campaign to get 500 people to donate $10 each, visit gofundme.com/carvertocostarica. You can also watch the video below to learn about the opportunity as her students see it.