Spanish students learn about culture in a ‘hands-on’ way


LEXINGTON — Carmen Santiago Mangual was raised with an acute awareness for those in need, an awareness she has not only passed on to her own children but others as well. As a foreign language teacher at Spring Valley High School (SVHS) in Columbia, she has been a positive role model for many young people who are able to see someone who lives out their faith with enthusiasm and action.

On Sept. 30, under the guidance of Mangual, the Spanish students at Spring Valley gathered at Corpus Christi Church in Lexington to play soccer and baseball with area migrant workers. Later the entire group traveled to St. John of the Cross Church in Batesburg to worship, although the liturgy was optional for the students. Following Mass, students served dinner for 100 migrants and their families living in camps throughout the Midlands. The school-sponsored service project took weeks of planning by the students, who were expected to not only take care of the events of the day, but also collect donations for the camps.

“I have very high expectations for my students, and they have never let me down,” said a proud Mangual, who acts as the project leader for “Arriba Corazones,” which translated means “Lift up your heart.”

In 1996 Arriba Corazones became part of the service learning program at SVHS. Since its inception, almost 20 tons of food, clothing, over-the-counter drugs, and household supplies have been collected and distributed to migrants and their families. One of the greatest accomplishments of the students participating in Arriba Corazones was when they helped establish a food bank at St. John of the Cross Church, where migrants now have ready access to inexpensive food.

As a St. John Neumann parishioner, Mangual has also rallied the support from fellow Catholics and area churches. The Hispanic coordinator for Corpus Christi Legion of Mary, Marcos Sanchez, helps with transporting and translating for the migrants. Anna Santana from St. John Neumann helps students in the kitchen as they prepare dinner for the migrants.

The Spanish students who participate in the project have an opportunity to improve their conversational Spanish and learn about the Hispanic culture in a “hands-on” way. This education is entwined with lessons about civic duty and compassion for others. Non-Catholics are also able to gain insight into Catholic liturgy and mission.

“Giving is an invaluable principle in life. I believe that when we learn to give, we become greatly blessed. It is only through the individual efforts of citizens like us that we will change the world for the better. I believe the migrant project in Batesburg is one step toward making this world a better place to live,” said Monika Curfman, a student reflecting on the experience.

The planning for the recent event began the moment the students started the school year. The service project has four stages: preparation, service, celebration and reflection. Students are expected, for example, to write letters to businesses for donations, keep a journal in Spanish and give a presentation in Spanish and English of what they did during the past four weeks.

Involving students in the care of migrants was Mangual’s idea but it was Msgr. Donald Gorski who first discovered the urgent needs of the area migrants. With the help of the Cruz, Roldan and Santana families, food and other essential items were supplied to the camp in the early 1990s. These families have continued their support throughout the years, first under the guidance of Msgr. Gorski and now under Father Filemon Juya, who is director of the Hispanic Ministry at St. John Neumann. It was not long before Mangual found herself in the middle of the relief effort. Realizing the potential of her students, she enlisted their help in 1996. She has built a program that other district schools are now trying to emulate.

The school has not only received praise from their peers, but has received national recognition. In June 1999, Spring Valley High School was selected by President Bill Clinton as one of 70 National Service Learning Leader Schools. They were presented an award at the Kennedy Center by the head of the Corporation for National Service, Harris Wafford, former senator from Pennsylvania.

“Carmen is like a pied piper who has engaged students in their civic duty, pulling out from them qualities they can use to nurture the next generation,” said Beverly Hiott, Service Learning Coordinator for SVHS.

As student Brandon Poyener best illustrates, “A grade cannot access the emotion of joy I felt in knowing that I did something to help people just like me and my family. I now see Arriba Corazones as a moral obligation that I must help people less fortunate than me.”