Interview by: Antonia Offen
September 23, 2017
Kim Faber is a professor of Spanish Language and Teacher Training. She is from California and received her Masters in Research from UC Davis. Faber started the Spanish In The Elementary Schools (SITES) program in 2005 and has been Program Director ever since.
"To immediately apply what you’re taught about in the classroom makes for a much deeper learning experience."
Q: How would you describe SITES to someone from outside of Oberlin?
A: SITES stands for Spanish in the Elementary Schools. Through SITES, college students get to teach Spanish to kids in the Oberlin schools. It’s a chance for them to apply what they’re learning in college about language education. But SITES also allows college students to learn about the community they live in. So the program is beneficial not only to the community and the public schools, but my students are also learning a ton. To immediately apply what you’re taught about in the classroom makes for a much deeper learning experience.
Q: How did you get the idea for SITES and what motivated you to put it into place?
A: When my son was starting Kindergarten, I asked the schools when their foreign language program would begin. They said, ‘Well it begins in high school.’ Since I studied linguistics and education in grad school, I know how important it is for a child to learn a second language as early as possible.
So I decided to try and see if it was possible to to create a language program starting earlier than high school. At the time I was teaching a course called Linguistics for Language Students. I asked the students if any of them would be interested in volunteering to introduce languages into the public schools. They overwhelmingly said, ‘Yeah let’s do it!’. It turned out, the schools had already done a parent survey that said that, if there was going to be a second language taught, they preferred it to be Spanish. So I said, ‘Well that’s handy. I’m coming from the Spanish department, so that will be easier for me to organize anyway.’ The college students were super excited about working in the schools. Their energy was contagious.
"The kids will notice things in a way that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t learning another language."
Q: How would you describe the community in Oberlin and how do you think that SITES has impacted the community?
A: One of the things that I did as SITES director was starting the culture festival. Both SITES and the festival really bring everyone in the town and the college together. I’ve gotten to interact with parents, teachers, and administrators in a way that I never would have before. SITES helps bring home the idea that learning a language is not as hard as many people think. What we do trickles down to what kids think about learning languages. The pedagogy that we use, the way that we teach kids in schools- it’s amazing. A lot of parents, administrators, and especially teachers who have seen us work are getting really excited about how we are teaching. Since we only teach Spanish twice a week, we’re not actually in the classroom enough for kids to be gaining real proficiency in the language. Still, though, they are learning. All kinds of cognitive abilities increase if you know a second language. So these kids are going to actually learn to read better in English because they’re looking at language in a more profound way. The kids will notice things in a way that they wouldn’t have if they weren’t learning another language. These are all really positive things that SITES has helped make people more aware of.