BHS teacher awarded grant to visit Spain this summer

By Aaron Reynolds

The Surveyor

Courtesy photo
TEF Executive Director Kim Akeley-Charron awards BHS teacher Simon Hoepfner with one of two ‘Windows on the World’ grants for 2017.

Summer break for educators is generally reserved as a time to recuperate and reflect on the past school year before planning for the next. As for one teacher at Berthoud High School (BHS), it will take him past the normal boundaries of Colorado and into Europe – Spain to be exact.

Simon Hoepfner is a long-time foreign-language teacher at BHS and one of two instructors in the Thompson School District to be announced as a first-time recipient of the Windows on the World (WOW) travel grant from the Thompson Education Foundation (TEF).

The grant provides educators the chance “to experience a learning opportunity in another country or culture and to bring their new knowledge back to students and other educators in the district,” according to TEF Executive Director Kim Akeley-Charron. Along with Hoepfner’s $3,500 grant, TEF also awarded Laura Light-Kovacs from Thompson Valley High School a rare glimpse into the Syrian refugee crisis where she’ll visit Hungary over the summer.

Hoepfner, who has nearly completed his 11th year at BHS, will depart Denver International Airport on June 12, visit Madrid, and then begin the Route of the Spanish Language days later. According to Hoepfner, after the Windows on the World opportunity was announced at the beginning of the school year he wanted to be considered, yet the idea of venturing on the Route of the Spanish Language tour was not his original idea, and he only learned more about it after doing some research on the country.

“My original idea had something more to do with studying more Spanish in something like a language school – maybe on the border of France and Spain, to study French as well,” he explained. “I kind of stumbled across the Route to the Spanish Language and I thought, ‘Wow that sounds kind of interesting. Maybe I should check that out?’”

Hoepfner traveled to Europe in 2005; however during that trip he did not have time to visit Spain, and after getting married and having children he never thought he would “have an opportunity to travel like that again.” Now, thanks to WOW, he’ll be able to improve upon his vocabulary, accents and dialects of Castilian Spanish, which is rarely heard in Colorado because most of the Spanish here derives from Mexico and Central America.

“It’s really hard in Colorado to find people that speak Castilian Spanish like they do in Spain,” Hoepfner said. “It really is quite a bit different. It’s a different culture. It’s hard to come across it in Colorado, so just the opportunity to experience that language, the culture, as well as the history of the language itself – I’m really looking forward to it.”

After arriving in Madrid, Hoepfner will travel northwest through six cities, landmarks and villages that are part of the Route to the Spanish Language, before concluding in the coastal city of San Sebastián, which is not part of the route but, according to Hoepfner, “has a really unique culture in itself.” Along the way he’ll visit a monastery with a book that contains evidence of the first written words in Spanish by a monk hundreds of years ago, as well as tour the humble beginnings of Miguel de Cervantes – largely considered the greatest Spanish-language writer of all time and author of “Don Quixote.”

Hoepfner plans to spend approximately three days at each location along the route, that will amount to around 21 to 24 days in the country. After San Sebastián, he plans to take some personal time not included as part of the grant proposal to spend time in Paris that will help with his understanding of the spoken word of the French language before leaving Europe on July 20.

When asked what he is looking forward to the most, Hoepfner was quick to respond that the stories he’s heard about Spanish food and the whole culinary scene is a major part of their culture and anticipates some exemplary seafood.

Hoepfner stated, “It’s really embedded in the culture. Who doesn’t like good food, right?”

Additionally, Hoepfner is excited for the scenery and going past the traditional tourist spots as he noted “talking to the locals and finding out what the real culture is” will provide a genuine look into the country. Still, the experience of witnessing Spanish culture and language first-hand is for his students and “that’s what it’s all about.”

“What can I bring back to benefit my students directly, or, how can I pass on information and resources to other Spanish teachers in the district?” Hoepfner asked. “There are plenty of Spanish teachers in the district who haven’t been to Spain. I know that for a fact. I’m also looking forward to improving my Spanish so I can expand students’ vocabulary.”

One of his primary objectives on the trip is to collect what he calls “authentic resources” for students that he can immediately implement next year in his Spanish I and Spanish II classrooms.

“It’s hard to find authentic resources that are written by Spanish speakers for Spanish speakers, but easy enough for [Spanish I students] to read and understand and get something out of. Those are hard to come across. I’m hoping being immersed in Spain and the culture and the society, I will come across some resources; whether it’s printed material, a website, recordings, videos, movies, even advertisements – all that kind of stuff. That’s authentic material. Students didn’t have that before.”

Editor’s note: Mr. Hoepfner will maintain a blog that he plans to update daily with photos and journal entries during his travel overseas. You can follow it at: https://bonjourn.al/journal/71657-route-of-the-spanish-language

 

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