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Language students introduce fifth graders to a world of words and culture

With rice stuck all over his fingers, Darius, a curly-haired New London fifth grader, tries to pronounce the new Japanese word he's just learned.

"Ona … Ony ...," he says, pointing one sticky finger at a handout with Japanese words and their translation. "Onigiri! That means rice ball."

Darius is one of more than 80 fifth graders from New London's Winthrop Elementary and Regional Multicultural Magnet School who attended Connecticut College's recent International Children's Expo on Foreign Languages and Cultures.

The day-long event was the brainchild of former New London student Pablo Tutillo '13, who is studying Arabic.

"I want to expose students to the diversity of the world's languages and cultures," Tutillo said. "Two things that I love are working with kids and learning languages, and I got to do both with this event."

Tutillo initially approached the college's Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy with the idea. He applied for a $500 grant through the center's Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, which supports students and student groups who are creatively pursing lasting social change on campus and in the community.

"We loved Pablo's proposal," Tracee Reiser, associate dean of community learning, said. "The Expo promotes diversity, encourages life-long learning and builds on the strong partnerships Connecticut College has with local schools."

After securing the grant, Tutillo recruited 35 Connecticut College language students to plan and organize workshops for nine world languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japanese, Russian and Spanish.

With colorful displays, large maps and exciting props, the Connecticut College students introduced groups of fifth graders to each of the languages and the culture and geography of the countries that speak it.

Benjamin Jiang '14 described China's spring festival to a group sprawled out on the floor, for example, while Italian students Nick Luce '14 and Francesca Guglielmi '11 supervised an impromptu bocce competition.

"They get really competitive," Guglielmi explained as one little girl rolled her bocce ball close to the jack. "It's fun getting to know the kids and I love hearing them use the new words we taught them. One little boy was telling everyone 'ciao' at lunch!"

Luce added, "We are trying to break cultural stereotypes, to show them that Italy is more than just pizza and pasta. We talked about soccer and Italian fashion and they each got to try a Ferrero Rocher chocolate."

Patricia Edwards, a career educator and aid at the Winthrop School, said the Expo was a wonderful experience for the students.

"They love this sort of thing," she said. "It's great for them to get out of the classroom and see what else is out there, and it's great for them to see what they can do with their lives; to see that they too could one day go to college at a place like this."

She added, "Where else would they get the opportunity to be exposed to all of this in one day?"


March 14, 2011