By Adam Gerchick '13
Like students in many of Amherst's other "writing-attentive" courses, Sara Abrahams ’14 and her 12 classmates in Spanish 199: “Spanish Composition” have authored frequent essays and are completing final papers. But the students of lecturer Victoria Maillo's Spanish class have also contended with a different kind of assignment: reporting the news.**
Victoria Maillo guides her students through a discussion about cultural perceptions of "el bario," during a Wednesday afternoon class.
This semester, 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 crime blotter). The section “Tiempo libre” (“Free time”), discusses the college’s social scene. For each assignment, Maillo also assigns 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.
That last role particularly appealed to Chris Dale ’14 when Maillo introduced the project. “I felt [the newspaper] could serve as a bridge for the Spanish-speaking community between The Amherst Student [the main student newspaper] and major news outlets, covering both campus and worldwide news,” he says.
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. “[In] every issue, the newspaper published a page in a different language, with the translation in English. Spanish was one of the languages taught [at the university] and the most popular, and we got a page every month.”
After spending eight years in Europe, Maillo arrived at Amherst in 2007. Two years ago, she urged Haley Castro ’11, then the editor-in-chief of The Student and a student in Maillo’s Spanish 01 section, to publish at least some of the paper’s content in both English and Spanish. After Castro declined the suggestion, citing the logistical difficulties of translating stories in little time, the lecturer decided to launch a media project with her own class.
Maillo acknowledges that one motivation for replacing the standard series of essay assignments with the paper concept stemmed from her observation that students often find foreign-language assignments repetitive and uninteresting, a sentiment several of her students acknowledged.
“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.
In contrast, El Periódico “is a great channel … to practice my writing,” says Jeannette Ortega ’14: “I’m writing about relevant, current events.”
Though the class does not track how many visitors access the newspaper’s site, Maillo says her students are encouraged by the comments that readers have posted to the site. “We receive many comments for every issue, all 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 also 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 a core group of five of Maillo’s students reading stories, performing on instruments and playing their favorite Latin songs—all while speaking in Spanish.
As for El Periódico, Maillo intends to expand the project to her Spanish 212 course, “Hispanic World: Past, Present and Future” next semester. She further hopes to incorporate the paper’s production into every Spanish course offered by the college next academic year.
From her students’ reactions to the project, Maillo can expect a warm reception to her efforts. Concludes Abrahams, “[She] has discovered a way to engage us in the writing process while connecting us to the Spanish-speaking communities on and off this campus.”
**The first paragraph of this story corrects two mistakes in the original version, which misstated Maillo's title and incorrectly reported that her students complete no essay assignments. We regret these errors.