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¿Habla espaňol? They want to hear ‘si’

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Passion, enthusiasm, expertise and commitment. Such is the stuff of an exemplary education. And such is the case during a three-day immersion training for 13 teachers who just arrived from Spain.

For most people, depleted energies would rule following a 22-hour journey to another continent. Instead, these teachers are going full tilt preparing to teach, work and live in school districts throughout Iowa.

The Visiting Teachers from Spain (VTS) program is an innovative approach to meeting the educational needs of Iowa’s children while providing enriching cultural experiences during their academic journey. The program began in the mid 1980’s and now exists in 30 states throughout the country. Iowa has 26 teacher placements set for the 2016-17 school year.

Sponsored and overseen by the Education Office of the Embassy of Spain and the Iowa Department of Education, the program recruits highly qualified, licensed, native Spanish-speaking teachers who have a minimum of three years’ experience in bilingual or multicultural education. Most have master’s degrees. All are rigorously pre-screened, have openness to new methodologies and a strong interest in international education.

Joe Cordaro

By signing on for a one- to three-year teaching commitment, the visiting teachers address critical staffing needs that would otherwise go unmet. Often, districts find it difficult if not impossible to find qualified, Spanish-speaking teachers to fill teaching positions in a rural state like Iowa. Typically, the teachers will spend half their day teaching Spanish language and the other half teaching core content area courses. By utilizing the VTS program, both the visiting Spanish teachers and the communities, staff, and students they serve stand to benefit greatly from the experience. Just ask Joe Cordaro – a 28-year career educator and current principal at St. Anthony’s in Des Moines.

“I am always impressed with the visiting teachers,” he said. “They play a vital role and make a significant impact in the lives of our kids. The experience affects students’ futures in terms of their world view, career potential, and personal, life-long enrichment. And there is added fidelity with the opportunity to learn a language from a native speaker.”

Except for physical education and music, St. Anthony’s offers a full Spanish immersion program since 2010. Currently they have a total of seven immersion teachers, four from Spain and two from Honduras.

“Our staff understands the value and significance of a dual-language program. They work well together with the visiting teachers. It takes plenty of hard work and sacrifice to make it happen. There are many details involved in helping visiting teachers and their families transition to our culture and classrooms.”

“Our students have the option to leave fifth grade fluent in two languages. It is a gift to our kids they will never lose.”

Dennis Phelps

Dennis Phelps agrees. This is his first year of involvement with the VTS program in an administrative role as the shared superintendent for the Tri-County and Keota districts. He anticipates a positive experience for both the teachers and students.

“I want the students’ learning and view of the world to grow with the fusion of different cultures,” Phelps said. “I hope exposure to different perspectives helps them gain a new view of the world. The students access the knowledge and expertise of the teachers, and the teachers get a look at rural culture in the heartland. Both have interaction with real people, rather than just what may be portrayed through the media.”

Phelps’ districts will have a Spanish teacher in both the middle and high schools. The districts also have the unique distinction of hosting a husband–and-wife team. Phelps believes this will only enhance the visiting teachers' involvement with the broader community outside the school setting.

“Living in a rural, less racially and ethnically diverse environment, we have to be creative about providing our students with an expansive, comprehensive education. The Visiting Teachers from Spain program helps us do that by providing exemplary teachers in positions we otherwise could not fill.”

Jesus Jurado

Jesus Jurado, educational advisor for the Embassy of Spain, has no hesitation in extolling the universal virtues of the VTS program.

“There are so many positives for Iowa,” he said. “The students gain international perspective and can take advantage of learning from a native speaker. Bringing the Spanish culture to Iowa makes a difference in a rural district where access is remote by filling positions in dual language programs that could not be filled.”

And Jurado says there are equal benefits for the visiting teachers as well.

“The visiting teachers improve their English, and are enriched and learn from the community and culture they are a part of. We encourage teachers to have meaningful relationships with the families and communities where they reside. When they return to Spain, they transmit their knowledge to their Spanish students. It is a two-way road. Spain to America, America to Spain.

“We are grateful to the school districts, Iowa families, and the Iowa Department of Education for their hospitality. The government of Spain is thankful.”

Meet two of the visiting teachers

Maribel Manjavacas

Maribel Manjavacas comes to Iowa from Cordoba, Spain – a city of about 400,000. This fall, she will be heading to Anita, Iowa, with a population of a little less than 1,000. She is here with her husband, Andres Cosano, himself a music and piano teacher, and her three children: Paula, age 12, Marina, age 10, and Guillermo, age 5. Her husband is taking time off from teaching while in the United States; their children will be enrolled in the CAM Community School District.

Manjavacas has taught for 16 years, teaching English to students from 12 years old to adults since 2000.

Growing up in a family that valued and appreciated travel, she always wanted a variety of broader experiences.

“Having lived and worked in London as an au pair and teacher, I was familiar with British and Irish cultures, but I still felt something lacking,” she said. “I wanted to do something completely different, and better myself as a person and professional teacher. I felt I needed hands-on, face-to-face experience with American culture.”

Manjavacas works in a bilingual school in Spain, and partially credits representatives from the United States for helping open the window to the many possibilities in her profession.

“Others have helped me open my eyes and see things I was missing. I wanted to bring this to my classroom. It was a good moment in my life to apply to the program. I have many experiences, things in my suitcase of life to offer.”

Jaime Gordo Perez

Jaime Gordo Perez from Valencia, Spain, has taught English as Second Language (ESL), and math and science classes for seven years, including one year in the United Kingdom. He will be teaching fourth grade in Dubuque.

Gordo Perez chose to apply to the program because he values travel, new experiences, and saw an opportunity for career and personal development and the chance to learn pedagogy from a different educational system.

He enjoys working in groups and considers himself a good co-worker. He feels welcomed in Iowa, wants to be involved in the broader community. His plans include volunteering outside the academic setting, helping others learn Spanish, and sharing his methodologies and knowledge of Spanish culture, festivities and holidays. He also believes travel is some of the best education you can have and encourages others to lose their fear of traveling abroad.

“When you learn from different cultures, your mind is more open,” he said. “When you learn a language, you have knowledge and more ways to communicate.

“I want to help students not only with academics, but also as human beings, to learn understanding and respect for others. With empathy and respect, the world will change.”

For more information on the program, contact the Iowa Department of Education's Isbelia Arzola at

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Printed from the Iowa Department of Education website on May 22, 2018 at 4:29pm.