Paella day created an easygoing learning environment for Spanish students

Spanish teacher Tammie Dykhouse enjoys unearthing Spanish culture and all that it has to offer.

Dykhouse indulges in many aspects of the culture and loves sharing one part of it with her students in particular: food. As a teacher of three different Spanish classes—Spanish 1, Spanish 4, and AP Spanish—Dykhouse is rarely separated from thoughts of her students. Recently, she had the idea to introduce her students to a traditional Spanish dish: paella.

On Tuesday, October 22, Dykhouse organized an event in which students from Spanish 3, Spanish 4, and AP Spanish classes were able to connect, converse, and consume paella.

Students were matched together for the event—members of the Spanish 3 classes were paired with students from the higher levels. They acquainted themselves with their peers while eating the paella and got to know one another by speaking strictly in Spanish.

The inspiration for the event sprouted from Dykhouse’s own experiences with Spanish foods.

“I went to a food truck festival in Kentwood,” Dykhouse said, “and I found out that [one of the food trucks] prepared foods for events. I thought it would be a great opportunity for the kids to try something.”

Tammie Dykhouse

Dykhouse has worked on organizing events for her more advanced Spanish classes in the past, but she thinks that the integration of Spanish 3 classes into the plan this year was vital.

“I want to build confidence in Spanish 3 kids,” Dykhouse said. “That way they can be more comfortable and be ready for Spanish 4 and see what they can do.”

As a student enrolled in Spanish 3, sophomore Brian Travis feels the event did allow him to build some confidence in his abilities.

“It was kind of fun to demonstrate that you actually do know enough to have a pretty decent conversation with somebody else in Spanish,” Brian said. “[It was cool] to hone your skills in a more real-life scenario.”

Brian started taking Spanish in eighth grade in order to fulfill his language credit, but he has since found that he can apply his Spanish knowledge in his life outside of school.

“One time [my family and I] were visiting National Parks in New Mexico, Utah, [and other] areas like that,” Brian said. “We went to an authentic Mexican place, and it was cool because I asked for the bill in Spanish, and I felt a little bit of pride.”

Experiences like these may seem insignificant, but being able to use the language he has been studying in a real setting was rewarding and special for Brian. The paella event gave him another opportunity to showcase all that he has learned and allowed Brian to feel that “little bit of pride” once again.

Students demonstrating their understanding and care for Spanish culture is a dream for Spanish teacher Carlos Silvestre, and he loved the environment that the paella event created.

“It was an idea to bring the upper classes together—three, four, and [AP]—so they can experience something authentic,” Silvestre said. “They had an opportunity to converse among themselves in Spanish and find something fun and interesting.”

Silvestre teaches Spanish 2 and Spanish 3 classes and is happy to reward students that pursue the language beyond the required two years with fun events like the paella day.

“It’s a special thing for the higher classes,” Silvestre said. “It’s something that the Spanish one and two classes can look forward to if they continue the language.”

Those who were in the higher levels of Spanish felt that they had an opportunity to show off their skills as well, and they enjoyed being able to share those skills with other students who had worked just as hard to pick up the language.

Junior Hannah Wordhouse is enrolled in Spanish 4; she thought the paella event was a good way to push students out of their comfort zones and encourage them to really speak the language.

“I think that generally people don’t realize how much Spanish they can speak until they’re forced to speak non-stop Spanish,” Hannah said. “It was really good to be in an environment where we could talk to our friends—where we all struggled but were still able to have fun with it.”

Hannah knows that the conversations were nowhere near perfect, but in the real world, no conversations are. Events like the paella day really benefit Hannah; she is interested in traveling to Spanish countries and plans on using her skills there.

“I really enjoy the language,” Hannah said, “and I hope that someday I can use it to go to a third-world, Spanish-speaking country to do missions there and help out.”

Hannah takes advantage of any opportunities that help her improve her basic conversation skills in Spanish, and events like the paella day really allow for her to connect with students on a cultural and educational level.

“I think it was a really good learning opportunity for all of us,” Hannah said, “and I like that they brought all of the classes together because it gives the people that know more an opportunity to help others. We all learned.”