My curriculum unit entitled, "Breaking Bread - Building Bridges", is intended as a springboard from which I can teach my students to understand and appreciate other cultures. Most young people are interested in food. The old saying "the way to a man's heart is through his stomach" can be applied to young people as well.
I teach both Spanish and a Language Exploratory course. Grade seven takes Spanish 1A (which is the first part of a high school level one course). Grade eight takes Spanish 1B (1A and 1B make up level one). Upon successful completion students are eligible for Spanish Two as high school freshmen. Kindergarten and grade one students take a "Spanish for Beginners" course. Students not taking a level one Spanish course are offered the Language Exploratory course, which is an introduction to the study of World Languages. This program includes Spanish, Latin, French and Italian. Along with basic vocabulary, culture is also introduced.
My school is a newly-formed grammar school in New Haven, CT consisting of grades kindergarten, one and two, as well as grades five, six, seventh and eight. It is considered an inner-city school; 85% of our school's population is African-American, while Latinos roughly make up the other 15%. We have very few Caucasian students in our school.
This unit is designed for middle and high school students taking a level one Spanish course. I am the only world Language teacher in our school, which makes my job very ambitious. Time is a very precious commodity for me and I try to use it wisely. My students are not always receptive to my subject area. Spanish is not an elective but a requirement for them. The majority of my teaching time is spent on teaching Spanish, as well as culture. Culture is a great way to "hook" the students' interest in the language.
I think culture helps my Latino students develop a sense of pride, which allows them to speak and share with a sense of freedom. This culture connection gives my African-American students about areas they know little or nothing about. My hope is they develop an understanding about their Latino classmates and the Latino community at large. Many of my students see the world through their limited view, and not the whole picture. The Spanish language and culture provides for me a way to do just that.
I want my students to appreciate and understand how we're alike and different from people around the world. I must be realistic that many of my students are not sensitive to other minorities, even though they are themselves considered a minority. Many have not even left New Haven. The challenge is to build a bridge between them and others. I must make what I teach relevant to my student population. They always want to see what is in it for them. The topic must be interesting and pertinent to their lives. I believe my unit will do just that. Most young people love food, no matter where they are from. Food can be a wonderful way to break down barriers. Starting with a topic like this, I feel I can capture their attention and interest, which should lead the way to cover many other aspects of Latino culture. I will be able to springboard into other current event topics in the Latino world. Such topics might include the growing Latino population in New Haven, as well as the in the United States, the role of Spanish vocabulary in English, the Latino influence on U.S. architecture and immigration issues, just to name a few.
My unit will focus mostly on two important food staples in the Latino cuisine, corn and chocolate. I believe besides being important, they will be a topic of high interest to my students; especially because of the connection between corn and chocolate in their everyday diet here in America. It will also begin with an introductory background to the Mexican and Puerto Rican cuisine. Most of my Latino students are of Mexican and Puerto Rican descent. I would like them to share with their fellow classmates their knowledge of this popular topic. I would also like them to see how important Latino cuisine is in America. They will become aware of the role chocolate and corn play in Latino cuisine, as well as in American cuisine.
In addition, I want my students to be introduced to the finer aspects of dining, such as meal preparations, etiquette and the cuisine for special celebrations. Puerto Rican chef Oswald Rivera writes, "Food is the great equalizer"
. In my opinion, it is a great starting point where people come together.