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Chilean Writer Visits Dual-Language Classes

Luz María del Valle, an acclaimed Chilean author, spent nearly two hours visiting online with eighth grade Dual-Language Spanish Language Arts (SLA) students from McDougle Middle School (MMS) and Culbreth Middle School (CMS) on November 2. Del Valle is the author of the popular Chilean trilogy "Yacay.” 

Brandon Cartagena teaches the DL students at CMS, and Magdalena Berrios Vergara teaches at MMS, but together they developed a unit based on “Yacay” and the traditions of fantasy in Chilean literature. Berrios Vergara said, “Despite her busy schedule, del Valle agreed to take the time to talk to our students about book one of the "Yacay" trilogy and to counsel them on how to write fantasy in Spanish. Students will use what they have learned from the presentation by the author, the second book of the Yacay trilogy, and class instruction to write their own fantasy texts in Spanish.”

“Receiving a Chilean author in my classroom was a huge honor to me, as I studied and lived there in college,” Cartagena said. “I always try to find ways to talk about Chile in my classroom, and giving students the opportunity to live and experience the rich literary culture of Chile has been one of the highlights of my career.”

"It was a great learning experience to hear about the writing process of an experienced and successful author,” said Isabel Hill, a student at CMS. “I’m thankful we were given the opportunity to meet her." 

"The visit of Luz Maria del Valle was an amazing experience for our DL students,” said Berrios Vergara. “The pandemic, and the world online, has brought a lot of challenges for teachers around the world. However, I believe there is always a small window that opens when you have something negative going on. We were able to contact the author and arrange a meeting with the two schools together. On a regular school day this meeting would never have happened. Approximately 85 students were able to be in a classroom with different teachers, listen to each other's questions and the most important thing listening to our variety of accents. I'm sure our students will remember this experience for the rest of their lives.” 

Chilean writer del Valle After a brief flurry of technological challenges, del Valle’s warm, smiling presence took center stage as she discussed the trilogy, writing in general, and why she decided to write fantasy novels. Students had read del Valle’s biography in class before the visit, and they came prepared with many excellent questions.

"It was interesting to learn how she started writing,” said Roberto Leo Ramirez from CMS. “I really like how she explained the plot of a previous book of hers!" 

Berrios Vergara said, “The question I enjoyed the most was one of my students asked about her teenage years and how that period marked her as an author. Luz María is originally from Chile and moved to Spain when she was seven years old, but later came back to Chile. Luz María told the students that this experience changed and shaped her in a positive way and made her more aware of the wonderful country she is from, but also helped her to become a writer. The difficult experiences of her life shaped her writing.” 

That question and the conversation that followed raised a question from the author, "How has being bilingual affected you as writers?" Berrios Vergara said, “Even though our students have been in the program since kindergarten, it is very unusual to have the opportunity to think about their experiences as bilingual kids and how this impacts their lives. We had a very good conversation in the class following her visit.”

"Su visita fue fantástica!” said MMS student, Natasha Bishop. “Ella habló sobre cómo los grandes cambios en su vida, ayudó a darme una razón para escribir y también ideas. Pero la parte que yo le gusto mas que todo fue cuando ella preguntó sobre nosotros! Sentí como ella en realidad le gusto muchísimo su trabajo y conocer a sus fans!"

“It is hugely important to me that we teach authentic literature over translated texts, and one of the main reasons I voted to teach “Yacay” as our fantasy novel was because it was written and published in a Spanish-speaking country,” said Cartagena. “The virtual class with Luz María del Valle was only the beginning, and part of what I look forward to exploring this year is how I can take advantage of our virtual learning environment to create opportunities for students to interact with Spanish-speaking communities and individuals around the world.”

“In the spirit of DL and connecting with Spanish-speaking communities, it is my plan to give an opportunity to my students with the best stories to share their work with other Spanish-speakers from outside of the classroom,” Cartagena said.

Leslie Rangel Ramos, a student at MMS, said, “ It was an amazing experience. It was amazing because I got to meet an author that is famous, and she was really nice. She even gave me tips on some things I could do for my scary stories to make them better. Apart from that, she was really nice, encouraging and very amusing. I loved that she got the time to talk to us and I hope I can see her again soon.”