Eleven-year-old Wesley plays football. His favorite positions are linebacker and cornerback, so he is very familiar with the blitz—a defensive play in which multiple players rush the other team’s quarterback. But before today, he didn’t know the origin of the term.
"Blitz means lightning in German, Peter Burdge '17 explained to Wesley and a dozen other fifth graders gathered around him in the Connecticut College student center. “So when your coach tells you to blitz, that means to run as fast as lightning.”
As he listens, Wesley’s eyes light up and he fidgets with excitement. “I can’t wait to tell my teammates,” he announces.
Wesley was one of more than 100 fifth-graders from New London’s C.B. Jennings Elementary School on campus Feb. 19 for the College’s Sixth Annual International Children’s Expo. During the daylong event, 35 Connecticut College students used colorful displays, games and even a little face paint to introduce the youngsters to nine different world languages and cultures: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Korean, Latin, Polish and Russian.
“This is pretty much the best day of the year; it’s so much fun,” said Kaitlin Cunningham ’16, a Russian language student who was participating in the event for the third time. “The kids love being here; they love seeing what opportunities exist.”
Classics Professor Nina Papathanasopoulou helped plan this year’s expo. Together with Instructional Designer/Developer Laura Little, she oversees the College’s Foreign Language Fellows initiative, through which advanced-level language students and international students design and run co-curricular and extracurricular events in several foreign languages. Many of the Conn students who participated in the expo are language fellows; others are language students or native speakers.
“Our new curriculum includes engagement with the local and global community, and the International Children’s Expo is a great example of such engagement,” Papathanasopoulou said. “The children learn a lot, but our students do too. Teaching is a great way to learn; our students have to think about the material in an entirely different way.”
As several Conn students led a group of children in singing, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” in Latin, fifth-grade teacher Danielle Cohen smiled.
“I’m really impressed,” she said. “The kids are coming back and talking about the information—they are learning.”
The expo is the brainchild of international relations major and Arabic studies minor Pablo Tutillo ’13. Tutillo initially approached the College's Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy with the idea in 2011. He applied for a $500 grant through the center's Social Entrepreneurship Initiative, which supports students and student groups with new ideas that address identified social problems.
Six years later, Tutillo, now a teaching assistant at New London’s Regional Multicultural Magnet School, was on hand to watch a new generation of College students inspire a love of language learning in a new group of fifth-graders.
“It’s become a tradition that everyone looks forward to,” Tutillo said of the expo. “I want to see it continue to grow; to engage as many schools as possible.”
For the children, visiting a college campus is almost as exciting as learning to write your name in Russian.
“I want to go to a place like this,” said fifth-grader Lizvalerie over a big bowl of ice cream in the College’s Harris Refectory. “I think this is a very fun place to come and learn.”
The Sixth Annual International Children’s Expo was sponsored by Connecticut College’s Office of Volunteers for Community Service, Student Activities Council, Holleran Center for Community Action and Public Policy, Toor Cummings Center for International Studies and the Liberal Arts, Department of Human Development, Department of French, Department of Classics, Department of Slavic Studies and The Mellon Initiative on Global Education.