BME student helps create library in apartment to promote literacy among Hispanic children


On a cold, rainy Saturday at the Clairmont Apartments in East Nashville, a group of Spanish-speaking children from the area gathered inside one particularly colorful and lively unit, paying close attention to their teachers, Vanderbilt undergraduates Jillian Currie and Thomas Davis. In the day’s lesson, the children were learning English words and phrases related to sound and instruments. However, Currie and Davis’ goals aim much higher than teaching English to these children.

Davis, a senior biomedical engineering major who lived in Mexico for four years, originally hatched the idea for the apartment complex education program when he was a volunteer Spanish interpreter and noticed that many children of Spanish-speaking origins did not speak Spanish. He realized that they were pushing away their native tongue because they wanted to fit in with their English-speaking classmates at school. Davis wanted to help the children develop their language skills in both Spanish and English. To do so, he worked with the apartment complex to reserve one unit, which had previously been used to teach English classes, as an early childhood classroom and library.

When Currie, who is triple-majoring in early childhood education, child studies and deaf education, joined the program, she helped improve the classes by creating lessons that develop literacy skills through active engagement and problem solving.

“My education at Vanderbilt has served me well in both interacting with the students and also designing creative and fun lesson plans for my students,” Currie said.

With Davis and Currie working together, the program has begun to see much success and progress among the students and also within the community. According to Davis and Currie, many students who were shy at speaking Spanish in the beginning now use their native language while simultaneously developing their English skills.

When asked how they felt about the success if the program, Davis and Currie, who are also teammates outside of the classroom on the university’s Cross Country team, both noted that helping these students was not only rewarding but that they matured and grew as teachers.

The library is open from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. A homework help session for middle school students is held on Tuesdays and a girls’ club is held on Fridays.

Alfred Chan, a first-year graduate student in secondary education at Peabody College, contributed to this article.

Media contact: Melanie Moran, (615) 322-NEWS