Recently, Princeton Day School students Tommy Bocian '20, Riley Felsher '20, Aaliyah Sayed '21 and Megha Thomas '20 wrote an article that was published in EntreMundos, an international digital magazine. Their story, "COVID 19: La inequidad de salud en Guatemala y sus consecuencias durante la pandemia," was researched and written as part of Sra. Michelle Simonds' "Identidades Latinoamericanas" advanced Spanish course.
According to Sra. Simonds, "Identidades Latinoamericanas is a project-based learning course in which students arrive to this class already fluent in Spanish and prepared to embark on unique team-based projects that require sustained inquiry. The students were very interested in Guatemala, so we narrowed our focus to that region in particular this year." The student group worked in conjunction with PDS Global Studies collaborator, community organizer and local educator Rich Brown, from the organization "Where There Be Dragons" based in Guatemala. Mr. Brown helped the group by facilitating conversations with individuals in Guatemala who shared their experiences directly to the students.
"These students were fearless in their ambition. They willingly and enthusiastically reached out to individuals in Central America to hear their stories firsthand," Sra. Simonds explained. "Their confidence in their communication skills grew tremendously over the course of the fall/winter which led to them being well prepared to write the article this spring. They are very passionate about the authenticity of what they do."
What started as a research project focusing primarily on health inequity in Guatemala transformed after the initial stages of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic this spring. The group shifted the focus of their project to focus on how health inequity in Guatemala would impact their preparedness for the pandemic and the country's subsequent response to the pandemic. The culmination of their dedication and hard work is an internationally published piece that also reflects their growth as language students and scholars.
The following reflections are from the students as well as faculty advisors:
"The pandemic gave us a venue to apply our relatively abstract research to a legitimate global problem. To me, this was the most satisfying aspect of the project and my language experience at PDS. One of the major tenets of project-based learning is the application of learning, and our article achieved that in a tangible, interesting way. If we can learn from the issues that Guatemala will face in the handling of the virus, we can improve our state and country's response."
"Coming into high school, I was shocked by my Spanish class, where we spoke exclusively in Spanish all the time–a huge shift from Middle School. However, all my Spanish classes have challenged me by reading books and news articles and practicing speaking. My favorite aspect of my language classes has been the focus on current events. Even while we were reading medieval literature in AP Spanish Lit, Sra. Simonds encouraged us to find themes parallel to our world today."
"My group and I jumped at the opportunity to culminate our year-long research project with an article in EntreMundos, but as we began to plan the article, COVID-19 struck. We decided to change the topic of our article and focus on how health inequity in Guatemala would impact their preparedness for the pandemic. It was very interesting to draft and edit it together, because we were doing research in real time about Guatemala’s response to COVID-19 along with synthesizing our prior knowledge about health inequity in Guatemala. It was such an amazing opportunity to write this article with Riley, Aaliyah, and Tommy, and I’ll miss working with them and Sra. Simonds!
"Language has been a very consistent part of my experience, and PDS Spanish has always challenged me to take control of my own learning. Their philosophy is more 'fumble around, fail, and learn by doing' rather than 'I'll tell you exactly what to do and when to do it.' With that mindset, I've gotten comfortable working in Spanish: applying my language skills to the real world and not always knowing the right answer. My teachers, especially Sra. Santacruz and Sra. Simonds, have shown me that Spanish does not exist in a vacuum—it is a whole world, where language is just the tool. PDS has given me the confidence to talk to native Spanish speakers and combine my love of Spanish with my interests in social issues and technology."
"We never thought we would be writing and publishing an article in September, that's for sure. Over the course of the year, we had been working to build and share a platform to teach about health inequity in Guatemala. We conducted heavy research for the website, and we used a lot of articles from EntreMundos in our research. Rich mentioned that he knew the editor of EntreMundos and asked if we were interested in writing an article for them and we were ecstatic."
"We divided the research based on our previous focuses. Riley and I researched current events in Guatemala and the response of government bodies and NGOs, and Tommy and Megha wrote about current inequities in health. Together, we connected Guatemala's response to the preexisting weaknesses in the health system. We were all really comfortable working with each other since we had been a group since September, so it was fairly easy to divide the work and synthesize it."
"When I first came to PDS, I started in Spanish 3. After wanting a bigger challenge, I took it upon myself to learn the necessary chapters to move up to Honors Spanish 4. I fully immersed myself in the Spanish language and culture when I took AP Spanish Language and Culture; in this class, my love for the language only grew. Taking Latin American Identities this past year has been the most challenging Spanish course, but it made me realize that I may want to minor in Spanish in college."
"At the beginning of the school year, Megha, Tommy, Aaliyah and I created our group, later known as "walMART" because we all shared a common interest in science and human rights. During the first half of the year, the four of us tediously conducted our research so we would have the necessary knowledge to complete the steps we would later take. We always had to make sure that the work was evenly distributed, which made the entire process flow much more smoothly. I'm so proud of this group for all of the hard work we put into making our website and getting our article published!"
Brian Mayer (Tommy Bocian's advisor)
"Tommy has really come into his own this year. He has always been a self-assured and confident person and this year these traits have become a huge benefit both to him and to the community at large. One great example is his Upper School Speaker Series in which he has succeeded in satisfying his own curiosities while also facilitating interesting discussions with prominent public figures to share with the community. Colleagues have also noticed and mentioned the marked growth that Tommy has demonstrated throughout his time at PDS, and the fact that he was chosen by his peers to speak at graduation is a fitting testament to that as well."
Jason Park (Aaliyah Sayed's advisor)
"Aaliyah is a very conscientious person, who has a strong sense of right and wrong, and tries genuinely to follow her passion and her principles. She is devoted to helping the environment, but is also passionate about utilizing her skills in computer science to help others. She is also well-rounded, with drive and determination both in athletics and in school. Aaliyah is also very creative and a natural problem-solver. In my advisory, Aaliyah is not afraid to stand up for what is right and empathize with both sides of an issue. As her advisor, I have supported her through her interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning by serving as her mentor in her junior year independent studies. Whenever Aaliyah has ever experienced negative news, she has always had the resilience to press forward and move onto the next challenge. She is quite self-motivated and willing to lean into failure to achieve success."
Sra. Michelle Simonds (Megha Thomas' advisor)
"Each of these students is incredibly talented in unique and compelling ways. Their team worked very well because they have complementary strengths, leadership styles, and communication skills. They collectively showed tremendous compassion for one another in the manner in which they shared work and ideas, allowed one another to make mistakes and grew together from the resulting "lesson" that each mistake provided. They also shared the workload in a dynamic way that demonstrated empathy for the busy and complicated lives that they led outside of the classroom. Many of the collaborative skills they practiced will distinguish them in the university classroom. I am extremely proud of their vision and accomplishments."
Dr. Mia Manzulli/Christina DeCesare (co-advisors for Riley Felsher)
"Riley has been an extraordinary student-athlete for her four years at PDS. Riley joined the Manzulli-DeCesare advisory as a senior and brought to our group her work ethic, sense of humor, and honesty. As a senior, Riley has remained committed to her studies and her sport, and has challenged herself to the end with rigorous courses like BC Calculus and Honors Physics, along with the Advanced Spanish class that produced this amazing published article. Riley's amazing energy and determination to succeed will hold her in good stead as she transitions to college in the fall. She has grown in confidence and has learned to celebrate her many wonderful accomplishments. We are incredibly proud of Riley, a true Renaissance woman!"