During her final semester at HWS, Tatianna Suriel ’20 embarked on a project to highlight the value of bilingual education and ways to improve outcomes and opportunities for students.
Suriel, who grew up speaking both English and Spanish and has lived her life moving between the Dominican Republic and the United States, has seen firsthand “the indubitable benefits of speaking more than one language, and being a part of multiple cultures.”
Working with Professor of Spanish and Hispanic Studies May Farnsworth, Suriel began her independent study, “Bicultural Communities and Identities,” with a reading list of literature by Latino/a-American authors and music and podcasts in Spanish. She also helped coordinate events within the HWS Spanish Department, attended Geneva Reads’ PAWS nights at Geneva schools and volunteered weekly in a dual language first grade classroom at Geneva’s West Street School before remote learning began.
Combined with Suriel’s research into bilingual education across the country, in New York State and in Geneva, the project revealed a number of ways “to increase Hispanic and Limited English Proficiency students’ academic success,” she explains.
“Geneva is an extremely unique community in the sense that there are so many Spanish speaking residents, yet so few opportunities for Spanish to be used outside of the home or classroom,” Suriel says. “One of my largest focuses throughout the semester was determining ways in which we can provide events, opportunities and resources to the Spanish speaking residents and anyone interested in integrating themselves in the language and adjoining cultures.”
The resulting policy brief highlights “the importance of bilingual education, specifically focusing on New York State,” she says.
Even with the improvements and successes of the Geneva 2020 / Geneva 2030 initiative, Suriel observed that those gains hadn’t translated evenly across the board. “In 2019 only 62% of Hispanic students graduated, there was a 28% dropout rate for Hispanic students, and those with Limited English Proficiency had a 52.6% dropout rate,” she explains. “I conclude my policy brief with proposed recommendations and further suggested reading to educate readers on many of the experiences Hispanic/Latino students experience both in their own lives and as a part of the United States’ educational system.”
A Women’s Studies and Anthropology-Sociology double major, Suriel says the project brought together the “overlapping themes revolving around inequalities, race, language, privilege and policies,” and helped her tie the theory and critical thinking skills from her coursework into a “more creative expression, reflecting on my own education and upbringing while still creating solutions and suggestions to encourage others to reach their own educational potential.”
With the project now complete, Suriel recently joined Geneva 2030’s new Bilingual Action Team, focused on increasing support to the Spanish-speaking students and families in the Geneva City School District. The team — which is putting particular emphasis on kindergarten readiness and development, literacy success, STEAM success, college and career readiness, and attendance — had its first meeting virtually this spring to discuss options to create more opportunities for Spanish-speaking and cultural events in Geneva.
“I feel so privileged to be a part of such a wonderful group of HWS faculty/staff, teachers, parents and community members. I hope to continue acting as a resource and liaison for such a wonderful, special community,” Suriel says.