It’s the fourth quarter, the final stretch of the school year. After an exhausting nine months worth of projects, tests and papers, naturally all students begin to wind down as brains shift to summer mode. Seniors in particular fall into a trance of senioritis, as college is now in the near and quickly-approaching horizon.
Although most teachers see the end of the school year as an opportunity to assign final projects and tests, Upper School Spanish Teacher Mariana Mariel likes to take a different approach to this final quarter of the school year.
Mariel teaches various sections of Upper School Spanish, one of which being the Latin American Perspective Class. This class focuses on giving the students a general understanding of Latin America as well as the different cultures intertwined within the countries.
The students in Mariel’s class do not have a typical work-filled fourth quarter. Instead, they do a hands-on project that simultaneously improves their Spanish skills while giving back to the community.
During a few class periods, the students will travel to the Wesley Rankin Community Center, a community shelter in West Dallas, and work with the elderly who attend the Wesley Rankin’s Senior program. This program runs from Mon-Fri, and provides elders with breakfast and lunch, along with a place to socialize with others who live in the community.
The initial goal of students’ is to visit with the seniors and form bonds with them. Then, once they have gotten to know the seniors and discover their needs, they will collaboratively come together to design a project that will in some way benefit either the elders or the center.
This project is unique to the Latin American Perspectives class. Mariel first constructed and executed the idea last year. This year, however, the project was vamped up even more and on a greater scale so that the students work would have more of a lasting impact.
“I wanted to expand on what we started last year and do an actual project,” Mariel said. “Now that we know the Senior Center at Wesley Rankin, I wanted to do something for them. I wanted us to think about them.”
Beginning in the fourth quarter, time was scheduled and set aside during class periods when the girls would go to the Senior Center and visit with the seniors to better understand their needs. For both Mariel and the girls, building the relationship with the seniors was the key part of the project. Not only would it allow them to become more acquainted with the elderly’s needs, but it would allow the girls and the elders to form a bond that would last longer than any project ever could.
“That’s the most important part: building the relationship. Understanding and building the relationship,” Mariel said. “I didn’t want to just go in and look around and say ‘Oh, I think that you need to have these walls painted,’ and then go in, paint it, and get out. I wanted to build that relationship.”
Laura Day, Director of Service Learning at Hockaday, helped aid the project along the way, as she has worked closely with the Wesley Rankin Community Center before. An important aspect of the project that both Day and Mariel stressed to the girls was that of design thinking.
“Profe Mariel and I collaborated together on the idea of design thinking, which basically means solving a problem with a community, but building empathy first,” Day said. “So the idea of going and learning everything about them in order to help solve their problems.”
Day helped teach the girls about this idea of design thinking, an aspect that they kept in mind as they began brainstorming for their projects.
After visiting the Senior Center numerous times, the girls began piecing together ideas on the project that they would like to implement within the center. Mariel teaches two different sections of the Latin American Perspectives Class, so both the classes created a separate project. However, they collaborated when constructing these projects, so they ultimately relate to each other.
The first class’s project idea was to provide artistic materials for the seniors to make crafts with. The seniors enjoy craft-making, particularly jewelry making, so the Hockaday students decided to give them more materials in order to pursue these passions.
The second class fed off of this idea, and has committed to helping the seniors sell the jewelry and other crafts that they make. In addition to this, the girls are going to repair a door handle and hole in the women’s bathroom, and touch up on the deteriorating walls in the men’s bathroom.
Maria Moreria is the coordinator of the Senior Center. Moreira is very complimentary of Hockaday’s work and lasting impact on the Wesley Rankin community, and feels that their time and dedication truly makes a difference in the lives of the seniors.
“The girls are going to try to be at the Center once a month. I think that would be good for the seniors, they look forward to that,” Moreira said. “The girls making the effort to come and visit with the seniors once a month is really awesome.”
Charlotte Dross – Asst. A&E Editor