Education feature: Foreign exchange of ideas

Juan Navarro teaches science at Marshall Junior High. (Staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

By Dan Summers: CNJ Correspondent

When Juan Navarro was a child, he wanted to be an artist like his father, the Spanish painter and sculptor Vicente Navarro.

“I could not draw or sculpt, though,” the younger Navarro said.

The art world’s loss is Clovis’ gain this year as Navarro is teaching science at Marshall Junior High as part of an exchange program that brings educators from Spain to teach in American schools. Navarro is joined in Clovis by his girlfriend, Elena Sotillo, who is teaching music at Parkview Elementary.

According to Maribel Luengo, director of the Embassy of Spain’s Spanish Resource Center in Albuquerque, there are 26 Spanish citizens teaching in New Mexico and more than 1,100 throughout the United States.

“We want the teachers from Spain to bring to New Mexico their experiences from Spain and, when they return, to take their experiences from New Mexico to Spain,” Luengo said.

Navarro explained he and Sotillo could have chosen teaching assignments in several states or even other countries.

“We chose New Mexico because of the Spanish heritage, the landscape, the mixture of people,” Navarro said. “You have a very interesting history here and we wanted to learn about it.”

Navarro’s teaching methods include students reading together and multiple opportunities to master the lesson. At one point, a group of students are invited to the front of the room to act out the process of distillation. Four girls representing the expanding molecules of a liquid heated to the point that it changes into a gas spin away from a group of boys representing the remaining molecules left behind. The class culminates in the presentation of a scientific example of distillation using glass beakers, tubing, and salt water.

Navarro’s students seem to respond to him.

“He makes it fun, if you behave,” said eighth-grader Caleb Herman. “He doesn’t just tell you, he shows you with experiments.”

Marshall Junior High Principal Diana Russell agrees.

“I like that his teaching is student-centered.” Russell said. “I know there is an opportunity for him to stay for up to three years. I’ve already discussed the possibility of him staying.”

Navarro said he developed his classroom methods since arriving in Clovis.

“In Spain, I speak and the students take notes. It is not the same here,” Navarro said. “When I go back, I will be more supportive. I will do experiments there, too.”

Navarro and Sotillo worked hard to prepare for their stay in New Mexico.

“We started studying English in Spain two years ago. We studied English when we were in high school, but you learn to write, but not to speak. So we, Elena and me, studied English on our own, with DVDs, with an American teacher once a week, and with hard conversation for two hours,” he said.

Sotillo and Navarro offer their colleagues in Clovis a similar opportunity to learn Spanish. They present teachers and staff a weekly Spanish-language class.