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Redding teacher creating world language resource

January 20, 2019

REDDING — Students will soon get a glimpse into Peruvian life through a series of videos and 360-degree photos a local teacher created for an interactive website.

Beth Pachas, a Spanish teacher at Joel Barlow High School, said she was inspired to create this because it’s difficult to find level-appropriate content that’s high-definition.

“I’m thinking not just about my classroom,” Pachas, of Norwalk, said. “If this is going to help me, it’s going to help teachers far and wide. I really hope this goes global and Spanish teachers in other countries are able to use it.”

She’s now able to make it a reality thanks to two separate grants.

The first was $4,000 from the Dalio Foundation and the Fund for Teacher, which allowed her to spend five weeks in Peru doing the field research and creating more than 200 videos.

Her husband also took quite a few 360-degree pictures of some of the places they visited, including Machu Picchu, Lima and Cusco.

She just found out she’s one of two winners of The Mead Fellowship program through the Northeast Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, which spans from Maine to Virginia.

The program pairs her with a mentor to ensure the website is interactive and how she envisions. The website will have activities and a way for others to contribute to it using social media.

“Having a mentor is huge,” Pachas said. “My enthusiasm and desire is well above where my experience is.”

She hopes to have the website, Pachasenperu.com, completed by late spring or early summer so teachers can incorporate the videos into their lesson plans the following year. She and a Barlow colleague have already begun using them in their classrooms.

The bulk of the videos are interviews with people she met while visiting the cities and villages. She tried to get a variety of ages and ethnic backgrounds so that viewers can get a better idea of Peru’s people.

She said the different ages also show a linguistic difference, which she thought was important to capture.

“Every generation has their own slang, language and way of talking,” Pachas said.

Each person has a variety of videos, where they talk about who they are, their daily routine, favorite food and education. She also asked them about any times they experienced cultural clashes or language barriers.

A lot of the questions she asked came from what her students said they wanted to know, including a usual day and popular snacks.

“The students were really the impetus for this project,” Pachas said.

Among the videos are interviews with Damaris, a well known Peruvian folk singer and Miguel Ballumbrosio, an Afro-Peruvian musician and dancer. Both of these artists and the videos of the music performed in the street also help Pachas bring arts into the classroom, something she tries to do regularly.

Another interview that stood out was a visit with Chinchero, a group of women weavers who live in a village outside of Machu Picchu and work with dyed llama and alpaca wool. She said she would love to go back and speak with them more in their main language of Quechua — one of the indigenous languages in Peru.

“It was so inspiring,” she said.

Pachas said she wanted to focus solely on Peru in her videos instead of capturing different dialects and accents by visiting other Spanish-speaking countries. She was drawn to Peru in particular because it’s where her husband was born.

“In my 15 years of teaching I wasn’t aware of a site that was dedicated to one country,” she said.

She said she’s glad the conference and foundation saw the potential of her project and hopes students will get to know people from other cultures.

“The purpose is to not better understand Spanish, it’s to better understand the culture,” Pachas said.

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