Spanish Service-Learning Internship allows Winter to give back
Walker Winter couldn’t pass up the opportunity to serve.
But Winter never imagined his involvement in the Spanish Service-Learning Internship at Mississippi University for Women would help him grow as much as it did.
“If I hadn’t had this experience, I wouldn’t be the Spanish speaker I am today,” Winter said. “I also would not have been prepared to the extent I was to begin a career as an educator.”
Winter, who is from Houlka, earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish (2020) and a master’s degree in teaching (2022) from The W, and is in his third year as an English as a Second Language (ESL) and Spanish teacher at Pontotoc Junior High School. He said he participated in the Spanish Service-Learning Internship because he wanted to do something meaningful with the language skills he had learned and help meet the needs of the Spanish-speaking community in the area.
Winter realized those goals with the help of Dr. Reyna Vergara, an assistant professor of Spanish at The W. Vergara and WInter worked together with different organizations, schools and people from the Hispanic community. He said Vergara guided him as he taught English classes to adults, youth and children in the area.
“We had the opportunity to help a high school student from Colombia learn basic English as she transitioned to her new life in the United States,” Winter said. “We provided ESL classes for adults in Starkville via the Emerson Family School. I also had the privilege of working with a 3-year-old from El Salvador integrate into his new school environment at Jumpstart in Columbus. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the vast opportunity for Spanish-service learning in our area.”
Winter said he also benefited immensely from the “incredible” internship and that it has prepared him to be a better global citizen in all of his future endeavors. He credits communicating only in Spanish with Vergara for helping him cross over from translating everything to English to simply thinking in Spanish, which he said is critical for all language learning.
Winter also praised Vergara for teaching him effective lesson-planning strategies and for helping him to see the most important teaching points for language learning.
“This is all just an added bonus to the internship. I have seen practical results of how the people we served benefited from the program,” Winter said. “The high school student we worked with is now achieving well academically and working at a restaurant—and she’s doing it all in English. I’m very proud how she’s doing and that God gave us the opportunity to play a part in her story.”
Vergara said the first priority in the Spanish program is to send students abroad because it provides them with full immersion in the language and culture. Given COVID and other hardships or responsibilities some students are encountering, Vergara said the class was a needed alternative to the study-abroad experience for the Spanish major and the Spanish Education K-12 Certification requirement. As a result, in the spring of 2020, Vergara started teaching the internship as a special topic to explore the possibility of developing it into a new course. The course features 120 hours divided between theory and practice, and its enrollment has grown each year since inception.
“I have seen the internship evolve in very positive ways,” Vergara said. “This past spring, all three interns had another major. Two of them were double-majors and one was a minor who got accepted in the school of nursing that semester. It gave me great pleasure to see the interest that these interns had not only in serving the communities of Spanish-speaking descent presently, wherever there was a need, but also in their future careers. They wanted to learn terminology and be able to communicate in Spanish in their respective fields.”
Winter said he would highly recommend the internship to other students in part because it will help them grow – regardless of their field — but that it also will help serve the many needs of the Spanish-speaking community.
“Dr. Vergara is a magnificent professor and director,” Winter said. “This internship will help any student who is ready to put themselves out there, to serve and to grow.”
Students with questions about the Spanish Service-Learning Internship or the Spanish program can contact Dr. Vergara at firstname.lastname@example.org.