English for Everybody

sena2By Lexi Huth

“Oh, entonces, ¿no es posible? ¿Que podemos hacer en vez de eso?”

The answer I received was nothing more than a shrug and an unsympathetic, “No sé.”

I was expecting something to fall through, but I hadn’t imagined that it would be our location for the event… twice (after official confirmations by the director.) Somehow, bingo took priority over our site’s first ever demonstration of the apprentices’ English abilities. You see, the apprentices I teach happen to be the only ones who receive face-to-face English lessons out of our student population nearing of near 2,000.

The rest- they are obligated to learn online, which hasn’t shown to be very successful, unfortunately. After losing five English teachers  from a two month strike that occurred at our SENA in Santa Marta last spring and nearly being pulled from site myself, we were ready to show our the English Program Director, the staff, and the student body what these dedicated individuals had been doing in the classroom before, during, and after a strike that should have discouraged them from coming; (our site was completely shut down). However, that wasn’t the case.- I saw an amazing increase in attendance and class participation, regardless of the unsatisfactory conditions of our temporary class set-up. Their desires to understand this foreign language were incredibly apparent, and I felt that they deserved not only to not only show that to their peers, but more importantly to encourage them and the staff to give our English Department more priority (the English director never came and only one staff member showed, but that’s beside the point ).

The assignment was to use their talents (theatrics, song, poetry, dance, English translation,etc.), with their new English skills, to tell about how SENA is guiding them to a better future. And you better believe we had to turn it into a competition! They created their own English lyrics to a personally selected track, learning English vocabulary to write heart-felt poems, and they created a hilarious skit. My classes are in the Commercial Communications and Hotel Management sectors, so I made sure that we included these skills in our event (creating budgets and money collection, advertisement, event coordinating, technical assistance, program creating, event presenters, guest receiving, you name it). We got crafty and found a new location for the event, passed out flyers and buttons, and everything was set.

However, I was stuck at the airport the morning of the event close to two hours over schedule.- My sister’s flight, of course, was very much delayed that day. I was dreading arriving to site to find no one, with much to do, and probably missing resources that had been guaranteed to us to run this show. We showed up in a speeding taxi with my sisters’ two suitcases and backpack, soaked in sweat, and there they were. Every single apprentice was dressed in a white shirt with jeans as we planned, topped off with their best shoes, and beautiful hair and makeup. The sound system was good to go, and the chairs perfectly staged. Was this really about to happen? Were my Colombian friends really there 2 hours early with our to-do list completed, and all we needed was an audience and some courage to perform?

sena3

Tips:

  • Plan EARLY.
  • Ask around to your staff, students, and community. Learn your resources.
  • Always… ALWAYS, have a back-up plan, or three.
  • Your students and counterparts are happy to help if they feel a part of your event. Allow them to take part in your planning.
  • Never lose hope. When you stick with your plans and give more effort than you even thought you had, your team will get inspired.
  • Don’t expect much thorough planning in advance. This is still the coast, and things inevitably are last minute.
  • With that said, don’t underestimate their incredible procrastination abilities. It’s truly amazing just how much can get done in the nick of time!

senaI realized I was asking them to do something they’d never even done in their own tongue, but with enough passion and dedication, we realized that here on the Caribbean Coast; that nothing is out-of-reach within our communities. It took until our very last practice the day before, (the first and last that actually included music), to really make these apprentices believe they could accomplish their unthinkable. All they needed is that little push… Okay, maybe a big push. These individuals poured out their hearts, sharing that their “very best moments are here at SENA.” Needless to say, they exceeded every expectation I had imagined for this event, and it was the highlight of our first semester together.

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