By Adam Gerchick ’13

Maillo (right) with her composition students

Like students in many of Amherst’s other “writing-attentive” courses, Sara Abrahams ’14 and her 12 classmates in Spanish 199: “Spanish Composition” spent the fall semester writing frequent essays. But they also contended with a different kind of assignment: reporting the news.

This past fall, Senior Lecturer Victoria Maillo and her class launched El Periódico en español, an online Spanish-language newspaper covering Amherst-related and international news and offering students’ views on a variety of topics. Maillo assigns students to write articles or editorials for each of the digital paper’s 16 sections, which cover everything from economics to travel to crime (including a translated version of the college police blotter). The section “Tiempo libre” (“Free time”) discusses the college’s social scene. For each assignment, Maillo also designates students as section editors.

Hosted by the college as a blog within Amherst’s website, the paper serves three principal purposes: to educate Maillo’s students on the culture and politics of the Hispanic world, to develop those students’ proficiency in Spanish-language writing and to provide an additional media outlet to Spanish-speaking readers affiliated with the Amherst community.

Maillo found her inspiration for the project in The Kaimin, the multilingual newspaper of the University of Montana, where Maillo taught from 1995 to 1999. After spending eight years in Europe, she arrived at Amherst in 2007.

Maillo says that one motivation for replacing some essay assignments with the newspaper concept stemmed from her observation that students often find foreign-language assignments repetitive and uninteresting. This is a sentiment that several of her students acknowledge.

“In foreign-language courses, it is hard to find a balance between interesting essay topics and ones which fall within the bounds of students’ language skills,” says Abrahams.

Though she does not track how many visitors access the newspaper’s site, Maillo says her students have been encouraged by comments that readers post. “We receive many comments for every issue, all of them in Spanish, not always from people on campus but also from people around the world who find the newspaper blog [while] searching the Web,” she says.

Buoyed by the publication’s success, Maillo has launched a weekly Spanish-language program on the college’s radio station, WAMH, and has made plans to expand the Periódico project to other Spanish classes. Mi radio es su radio (“My Radio is Your Radio”) airs from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and features some of Maillo’s students reading stories, performing on instruments and playing their favorite Latin songs—all while speaking Spanish.    

Photo by Rob Mattson