Language and Learning

Celebrating 10 years of a unique educational collaboration

A dynamic partnership between the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, the Center for Social Concerns and local Latino community organizations has flourished since it began with a single class in 2010.

Faculty member Marisel Moreno first brought her Spanish majors to work with Latino children at La Casa de Amistad, a youth and community center in South Bend. That same year, Rachel Parroquin was hired to nourish the seed of what’s known as community-based learning (CBL).

CBL classes focus on community engagement, prompting Notre Dame students to interact and learn their subject by doing hands-on projects in the community. The Center for Social Concerns has deep ties to a wide range of community organizations and has promoted community-engaged classes across different departments, growing its list to more than 200 through relationship building and training workshops.

A line drawing of an open book.
60 Spanish CBL classes
A line drawing of a clock.
16,200+ hours by students
A line drawing of a graduation cap.
800+ students

But few departments have jumped on board with more enthusiasm than those who teach Spanish. Parroquin said the goal has always been to develop a top Spanish CBL program, and it has grown to one of the largest in the nation over the last decade.

“To my knowledge, there’s not another program that has six teachers involved, with the regular rotation of between five and seven classes a year where students have the opportunity to do different level classes,” she said. “So what we’re doing here is kind of unique.”

The program grew from Moreno’s fourth-year Latino literature class to include a few second-year courses and now third-year offerings as well. After spreading across South Bend, the focus now is on community partners La Casa; El Campito, an early child development center; and Holy Cross Grade School, an elementary school with a dual-language program.

“Each one of the faculty members has a different focus or a different niche depending on what our own interests and passions are within language instruction, within the kinds of cultural content that we want to be teaching,” Parroquin said.

Engaged Scholarship Production

  • 100+ presentations, articles, chapters, op-eds, etc. on CBL have been written by a cohort of six faculty (and often with community partners and colleagues), five of whom do not have research, writing, or presenting as a key part of their job description.
  • Almost three dozen professional development opportunities organized by Spanish CBL faculty ranging from individual guest speakers to Kaneb Center reading groups to full blown conference organization.

State Level Awards

  • Students: 21 (since 2014)
  • Faculty & Department: 7 (since 2011)
  • Community Partner: 1

Campus Level Awards

  • Students: up to 5 annually
    • Winners participate in multiple CSC/ROLL-CBL programs/classes, CBL in study abroad, volunteering, etc. Typically they collectively contribute thousands of hours over their four year careers.
  • Received by Faculty: Sheedy, Madden, Toohey, Joyce

Parroquin said teaching CBL classes is challenging and requires the teacher to cede some control, but research in the field shows that it helps improve student learning outcomes. “One of the really important pieces of CBL is that students are combining or integrating learning that they’re doing in the classroom with their lived experience,” she said.

For example, Notre Dame students might discuss a book scene about the family experience of making tamales with local students who can relate with similar family tales. “It’s been an enriching experience professionally and personally, I think, for pretty much all of us,” Parroquin said.

Below are stories that illustrate how this partnership is providing a unique educational and community impact.

Notre Dame students talk and smile with a grandmother and her grandchildren in a classroom.

June 2019

Face to Face

Community-based classes help students learn Spanish

Three students wearing backpacks walk and talk through campus.

April 2013

Spanish Community-Based Learning at Notre Dame

Since the fall of 2010, Notre Dame’s Center for Social Concerns and the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, through a joint faculty appointment, are extending student learning into the Latino community on South Bend’s west side.

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