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Rockford Spanish Teacher Receives Aquinas Grant for Cultural Education

Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a 3 part series on the recipients of the 2010 Alumni Association Educator’s Grant.

Aquinas alumna and Rockford Freshman Center teacher Amira (Lama) Ponne ’01, has recently received the 2010 Aquinas Alumni Association Educator’s Grant. As a Spanish teacher adapting to a streamlined trimester schedule, Ponne advocates maintaining cultural education in addition to the teaching of the Spanish language. “In order to better understand each other,” she said, “we need to better understand our many cultures.” With her mission in mind, Ponne applied for the grant, and has already begun to utilize the essential tools to further the cultural education of her freshman students.

Ponne began her education at Aquinas in the fall of 1996 after moving from her home in the suburbs of Chicago. “I fell in love with Grand Rapids and its somewhat big city feel with small town traffic,” she said. Originally an English major with Spanish minor, she cultivated an interest in study abroad programs in Europe and, after participating in Marquette University’s semester program in Madrid in the spring of 1999 (Aquinas had not yet developed programs in Spanish-speaking countries) added the language as a second major. As a teacher, Ponne applies her travel experience in the classroom. “I completed one semester abroad and had the time of my life; an awesome experience to share with my students,” she said.

During her four years studying English and Spanish at the College, Ponne looked forward to a career in education. “I think I always knew I would be a teacher, following in the footsteps of my amazing mother,” she said. However, Ponne considered teaching a second language only after an eye-opening student-teaching experience. “I never envisioned myself teaching [Spanish] until I was forced to for my student teaching placement. I realized how awesome it was to teach a foreign language and bring that cultural experience that I fell in love with to kids.”

Now, after working as an educator for over ten years, Ponne maintains her passion for both teaching and the Spanish language. “I have been fortunate to have had many wonderful, brilliant, and amazing teachers in my life. I hope to have that influence on my students,” she said.

After Rockford’s conversion to a trimester schedule almost three years ago, Ponne began to notice vital components of the Spanish curriculum omitted in order to maintain schedule efficiency. “Most of what has taken a hit in our curriculum is the culture aspect of a language which is a shame on many levels,” she said. In order to maintain this piece of Spanish education, Ponne researched effective cultural DVD’s and games that would inform the students of the prominent aspects of Latino/a culture while remaining within a strict time frame. “Taking two days to explore the tradition of Día de los Muertos, our All Saints and All Souls Day, is fabulous when you have the time, but when you don’t, an under 30 minute effective video is important,” said Ponne.

After learning about the Aquinas grant from fellow Rockford educator and Aquinas Men’s Soccer Coach Joe Veal, Ponne applied for the funds during the first week of school and was notified that she had received the award shortly before Christmas Break. “It was definitely exciting,” she said, as she reflects that the tools have already begun to make a noticeable difference in her classroom. “I am so thankful to have won this grant money,” said Ponne. “It has provided me with more powerful and engaging tools to help my students learn.”