Professor Bunten Brings Language to Life

By Eric Dubrow
Elm Staff Writer

Ever since her days in middle school, Associate Professor of Education Bridget Anne Bunten has had a passion for the Spanish language. After college, she used her proficiency in both Spanish and English to aid those native Spanish speakers whose English was not up to snuff. Now, she is using that knowledge to influence the next generation of teachers.

Bunten, who only joined Washington College as a professor at the start of this academic year, has had extensive experience working in a Spanish setting. After graduating from Gettysburg College in 2001, her first job was as an elementary school Spanish teacher, though she said “I originally went to college thinking I was going to be a high school Spanish teacher.”

During her time at Gettysburg, Bunten had a volunteering experience, which pushed her away from her previously decided career plan. “I was at an after school community center where they did programs for the migrant population, primarily families from Mexico, and I would volunteer there after school working with the kids. That was my initial experience working with immigrant kids who were learning English.”

After graduating college, and after that first job as an elementary school teacher for native speakers, Bunten found work more in line with her time as a volunteer at Gettysburg. A native of Rockport, Mass., she was employed in a large school district in nearby Salem.

At one of the schools in this district, they started a “two-way bilingual program.” Because of the large Hispanic population in the area, the school instituted this initiative, which split the native Spanish and English speakers into separate groups. “They needed a fifth grade Spanish side homeroom teacher, so that was my position,” Bunten said. “My students were all primarily from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and I taught all subjects to them in Spanish. For math, science, and social studies, they were mixed with the English-speaking group, and would be with me for one week and the English-speaking homeroom teacher in another, so they would be getting the content in both subjects.”

Her area of expertise was strongly influenced by her time in this program, and she “focuses on children learning English at the elementary level, their language and literacy development.” She received a masters from the University of Massachusetts Boston in 2006, and a Ph.D. From Pennsylvania State University in 2010.

Her time at WC, which Bunten described as so far “very positive,” has enabled her to engage in a key area in her field, which is training new teachers. “I’m seeing them semester after semester, year after year until they graduate, as opposed to one semester and then ‘see you later’ [as in a larger program],” she said.

Bunten also hopes to establish a connection to the local Spanish-speaking community through the school by having her students intern at local schools. “I’m hoping to develop some experiences where they’re going into schools specifically just to work with English language learners and the ESL [English as a second language] teacher there, to develop that field experience.”

She is also pleased with the rapport that she’s has been building with her students, and how “they seem genuinely concerned from a teaching standpoint, and want to individualize their instruction to help the children succeed as students.”

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