Members of Raceland-Worthington High School’s Spanish honorary society wanted their visiting counterparts from other Kentucky schools to feel welcome when they arrived for the society’s state convention.
So they erected a sign on the grassy slope in front of the school, a sign like the ones typically put up for birthday greetings.
“Bienvenidos Sociedad Honoraria Hispanica Convencion 2013,” it announced in two-foot-tall letters of yellow, blue and orange.
“The children were squealing on the bus when they saw the sign,” said Beth Watts, the Spanish teacher at Louisville’s Christian Academy, which brought 16 students to the convention.
The sign told them they’d arrived not just at a convention but at a gathering of like-minded teenagers connected by their commitment for learning foreign languages.
“The convention gives them opportunities for using the language in real and meaningful ways with others with the same passion,” Watts said.
All of which was pleasing to Breanna Grubb, the Raceland senior whose successful campaign last year for student presidency of the state honorary was the key to bringing the convention to her school.
She’d staked her campaign on a motto: “Together we can reach the stars,” and an equally lofty goal of uniting students from disparate parts of the state who have in common their appreciation for the Spanish language and culture.
It was a goal that evolved from the cooperation last year among three local honorary societies, Raceland’s, Greenup County’s and Russell’s. The three usually rival high schools hosted a joint induction and built an alliance that solidified into a powerful voting bloc at the 2012 convention.
Grubb also had found that students from the Lexington and Louisville areas, where the convention generally is hosted, didn’t know much about eastern Kentucky and she wanted them to find out first hand that her home has much more to offer than hills and cornpone culture.
About 200 students from 16 schools are attending the convention, which includes workshops on cooking, dance, arts and games, all with an emphasis on the Spanish language and culture. Participants also attended a mixer at the Ashland Plaza Hotel and had their pick of other entertainment options.
Scheduled to speak today is Brian Ross, a 2002 Raceland graduate and former member of the honorary society who now is a movie and video producer in southern California.
Also today, participants are scheduled to elect next year’s president, and one of the candidates is Greenup County High School junior Sydney Shoemaker.
“I love the unity this society brings,” Shoemaker said. “Raceland and Russell and Greenup usually are rivals, but here we’re a family. We help each other out, and I want to see that statewide.”
If she is elected, the convention will be at Greenup County High next year.
“They’re all working for something, and I like to see all the schools working together,” said Greenup County Spanish teacher Catherine Del Valle.”
Del Valle is president of the state chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and she expects to be on hand today when the association awards a first-ever scholarship to one of the senior students at the conference.
The scholarship is merit-based and applicants have to write an essay and undergo a question-and-answer session, in Spanish, with teachers.
Seeing the students during a meet-and-greet session reminded Raceland Spanish teacher Zenaida Smith of why she became a teacher.
Her first convention she attended as a volunteer because Panama-born Smith is a native speaker of the language.
After the convention, one of the area Spanish teachers persuaded her to change her educational plans from nursing to teaching. “It inspired me to teach,” she said.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.