Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Christine Shea is an associate professor at the University of Iowa in the departments of Spanish and Linguistics. With the help of the Community Impact Grant, Shea heads the Iowa Talks Bilingualism program (ITB). The program aims to promote bilingualism in public schools across Iowa, primarily through supporting teachers.

With the help of her two graduate assistants, Shea has been working to develop curriculum, gather resources, and provide general assistance to Spanish teachers in Iowa.  Shea has mostly focused on aiding teachers working with heritage and sequential Spanish speakers. Generally, Spanish teachers in Iowa have been trained to provide curriculum optimized for students with no background in the language, but when it comes to assessing and placing students with existing knowledge of Spanish, there are no clear road maps.

“The problem is there is no material for them. Where do I go? How do I teach these kids? How do I evaluate them? How do I get them to get the same Spanish credit for the University of Iowa?” Shea says of teachers with heritage speaking students.

Reaching beyond Johnson County, Shea travels across Iowa to meet with teachers and provide support customized to their individual circumstances.  With the Community Impact Grant, Shea has been able to respond to teacher needs by supplying books, sponsoring workshops, and subsidizing professional conference trips.

Looking forward, Shea says she would like to have the teachers she’s worked with come together and share what they’ve learned through the ITB program.  Further, Shea would like to develop a website and accredited training modules for teaching heritage languages. Shea hopes to ultimately reach more schools and bring more teachers together.

When asked of the immediate impact of the ITB program, Shea says, “Teachers feel supported, teachers feel valued. The teachers feel that, in a nontechnical sense someone’s got their back.”