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Spanish students inspired by sights and culture of Costa Rica

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While painting a local house, one of the various volunteering activities offered during her stay in Costa Rica, Coppell High School junior Taylor Leathers was conversing with a young neighborhood boy in Spanish when he innocently asked her, what is it like to fly on an airplane?

Coppell High School juniors Avery Davis, Taylor Leathers and Alina Ladha lived with a host family last summer while visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica. The group of six students led by Spanish teacher Trent Pickrell returned to Dallas on June 26.

Coppell High School juniors Avery Davis, Taylor Leathers and Alina Ladha lived with a host family last summer while visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica. The group of six students led by Spanish teacher Trent Pickrell returned to Dallas on June 26. Photo courtesy Taylor Leathers.

 

The young child had never ridden one before in his entire life.

 

For him, the very idea of an airplane was a fascinating mystery. For Leathers, this was a moment of clarity. She knew this, amongst everything else she had experienced over the course of one week, would remain with her forever.

 

“You realize exactly how much we have here,” Leathers said.

 

On June 19, Coppell High School Spanish III teacher Trent Pickrell and six students landed in the city of Liberia.

 

For the close-knit group, Costa Rica was much more than a languid summer vacation to spend tanning at the beach. Rather, the week they spent in the beautiful cities of Liberia and Monteverde was one completely immersed in the Spanish language and culture they have been studying extensively for the past two years.

 

This trip, offered exclusively to Spanish III students, was meant to test their fluency beyond an American classroom for the first time. Instead of simply reading about the character of a Latin American society, students who participated in this study abroad program were able to fully live it for seven days.

 

“It was something we liked to offer to the kids,” Pickrell said. “I felt like if I’m going to be teaching the kids Spanish and want them to really have an authentic experience, then I want them to have the opportunity [to study abroad].”

 

Pickrell accredits much of his own Spanish speaking ability to similar trips that he had taken as a high school student.

 

During their visit, students lived with host families either individually or in pairs and were able to attend classes alongside local students. Other activities, such as touring the city and community volunteering, offered them equally engaging opportunities to practice their language.

 

According to some of the travelers, being able to only communicate with others in Spanish for a week enabled them to walk away with significant improvements in all aspects of their language development. This is especially evident in their performances as Advanced Placement Spanish students this year.

 

CHS junior Taylor Leathers, currently enrolled in AP Spanish IV, is one of the six students who went to Costa Rica. She compared the linguistic exposure she received from the trip to a traditional classroom experience in Coppell.

 

“You really spoke Spanish the entire time. Having to do that, it almost forces you [to learn],” Leathers said. “In class, you can always turn to your teacher and be like, ‘what is this?’ It’s just natural, and you become a lot more fluent.”

 

Beyond the the language itself, Pickrell said the trip impacted students on a deeper level.

 

Costa Rica is classified as a third-world country and lacks what many Americans have access to on a daily basis, including clean water and advanced technology.

 

“The world is not Coppell,” said Pickrell, a statement that rang particularly true to students who met and spoke with Costa Ricans who have lived with so little for so much of their lives.

 

There will be another opportunity this year within the Spanish department to travel to Costa Rica and several rising AP Spanish students this year have already expressed interest.

 

CHS sophomore Katie Walker is one of them.

 

An avid Spanish student who intends on achieving mastery of the language, she has already been on past immersion trips in Honduras and the Dominican Republic, and can attest to the benefits.

 

“My Spanish is as good as it is right now because of my immersion trips I have taken over the years,” Walker said. “Putting what you learn in the classroom into a real-life situation is the only way you can truly master the language.”

 

Pickrell has already begun preparations for a spring break trip and will disclose more details in the coming months.

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Spanish students inspired by sights and culture of Costa Rica