Riverview School District

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Tolt Students Help Generate “La Chispa” at Bilingual Leadership Conference

By: Kaeleigh Wilson, Riverview School District ELL Specialist

Sharissa Farrell (far L) and Kaeleigh Wilson (far R) stand with Tolt's student representatives.

On November 16, 2017, Riverview ELL Specialist Kaeleigh Wilson and Tolt Middle School teacher Sharissa Farrell traveled with eight Tolt Middle School students to La Chispa (“The Spark”), a bilingual leadership conference for middle school students from around the State of Washington. Tolt students traveled to Cavelero Mid High School in Lake Stevens, as part of more than 230 students who attended the event.

Led by adults and high school student mentors, the students spent time team building, discovering, and unpacking the assets of bilingualism. Assembling in small groups, students had conversations around education and some of the hardships that Hispanic students face. Discussions included the importance of native language and cultures, and students felt inspired to share within similar peer groups. Teaching of the programs and breakout sessions occurred in both English and Spanish.

Sixth grader Giovanny Espejel said that his favorite part of the field trip was meeting new people because they were able to work together to accomplish a goal.

One of the major pillars of the conference was “School Success.” Attendees talked about attendance, positive attitudes and behavior, academic achievement, strong role models and mentors, and the importance of school and community involvement. All of these factors play a huge role in student success; the conference emphasized how important it is for Hispanic students to know these things and for their teachers and community members to believe that they are capable of achieving great things.

Tolt 8th grader Mario Narciso Felix reflected that, “it was inspiring and it made us feel like we are not the only ones going through something.” Kayla Espinoza, a 7th grader, said that she now will, “think of being bilingual as something to be proud of!”

While an impactful experience for students, Wilson and Farrell were impressed by what they witnessed. “While students participated in team building and leadership activities, teachers had the opportunity to collaborate and discuss community resources available to all bilingual students,” shares Wilson. “It was incredible to sit down with a group of caring and passionate educators and share ideas on how to best support our students. We also discussed the importance of supporting home cultures and languages in our classrooms, schools, and communities as these are integral aspects of our bilingual students’ identities.”

Wilson and Farrell are also grateful that Tolt’s administrative team and the district’s Student Services team were so supportive in making the attending of this event a reality for all involved. “We hope to take an even bigger group next year and definitely see the need and importance of incorporating leadership opportunities in our school culture!” said Wilson.