Founders Hall Room 101 on Tuesday evening was packed with smiling faces and tears of pride as 30 legal residents, all aspiring United States citizens, received their "Spanish in the Community" course graduation certificates. Taught by UNT Dallas students, the course prepares immigrants to pass the U.S. naturalization test and interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.
This free, twice-a-week night course is a unique offering in North Texas, and is so important to those who choose to take it that some often forgo overtime opportunities at work to attend each class. Friends and family were invited to attend the ceremony, leading to a happily cheering crowd of some 100.
"There was a lot of emotion in that room last night," said Dr. Mara Vaughn, professor of Spanish and Education. "One of the participants told me that he could never imagine that a course like that ever existed. He stated that the enthusiasm of our instructors motivated him to keep on coming after a hard day at work. Another participant shared that at the beginning she could not believe that the whole course and materials were free of charge. I am so proud of being a part of such a wonderful team of students, instructors and supporters. I rested last night full of joy. I believe UNT Dallas programs such as ours are truly making a difference in our community."
The "Spanish in the Community" course was developed as a service-learning course in 2017 to promote and develop the relationship between UNT Dallas and the surrounding Spanish-speaking community. UNT Dallas students from a variety of majors serve as tutors and receive course credit. Dr. Vaughn said it has quickly become the most popular course in the Spanish minor.
"The 'Spanish in the Community' course is as important to our student tutors as it is to the aspiring U.S. citizens," said Dr. Sheryl Santos-Hatchett, professor of bilingual education. "UNT Dallas students not only improve their own bilingual skills and knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and related social studies topics, but they develop empathy and a deeper appreciation of the plight of hard-working immigrants who aspire to the American dream. In many instances, it is the same dream held by their own parents or grandparents. It was an exciting and proud moment for the graduates and their families when each candidate received their framed certificate of achievement and a hardy applause from a packed house."
The course will resume next semester.