By Abra Bennett
Writer in Residence, Walla Walla Community College
Jeff Adams teaches Spanish with visible passion, making light work of memorizing vocabulary and verb conjugations. He’s electrifying in the classroom, doing almost anything to impart to his students the beauty of the language and the many cultures that speak it.
Although he wasn’t exposed to spoken Spanish as a child, he admits that he owes it all to a life-changing epiphany over a can of Campbell’s soup labeled in Spanish.
“I was 8 or 9 years old,” Adams remembers, “and although I knew that there were other languages besides English, that was the first time I realized that they weren’t impenetrable, that I could figure them out. And that intrigued me.”
Then, in the summer before starting high school, he did farm work with migrant workers from Mexico. Listening to them inspired him to study Spanish, and he found his life’s work. He went on to graduate from Eastern Oregon State College with a degree in bilingual education, then earned a master’s degree in Spanish language and literature from the University of Washington.
In 1992 he married his wife Norma, a native of Chihuahua, Mexico, whom he met skiing on Mount Hood, and in 1993 they moved to Walla Walla.
Now in his 25th year of teaching Spanish at Walla Walla Community College, Adams has passed on his love of Spanish to many hundreds of students. His passion for teaching has also proven to be infectious.
In 1996 Brad Hobbs enrolled in Adams’ class, having already taken four years of Spanish at Walla Walla High School. As a child, Hobbs had his own version of the soup-can moment.
“I remember being in a store when I was about 5 years old,” Hobbs says,” and I heard a group of Latinos laughing. And I realized that even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying, I could understand their laughter. And that was interesting to me.”
In the spring of 1997 Adams told Hobbs about a family he knew in Mexico, and recommended that Hobbs spend a summer with them, improving his Spanish. Hobbs had never been out of the country or flown on a plane, but off he went.
“I left here thinking that I knew Spanish, but when I arrived in Mexico I realized that I really didn’t. It was a very rude awakening,” Hobbs recalls. “I could probably find the dictionary I used there. It’s duct-taped together because I had to use it so much.”
He went on to attend Eastern Washington University as an education major, with a minor in Spanish education. He graduated at the end of 2000 and was hired by the Walla Walla School District, first teaching in a bilingual classroom at Prospect Point Elementary, then at Blue Ridge Elementary.
Hobbs and his wife, Siomara, who was born in Guatemala, now both teach in bilingual classrooms at Green Park Elementary.
Now in his 17th year of bilingual teaching, he has influenced the lives of hundreds of children. Among them, Miguel Baza stands out. He was born in California to parents who came from Guerrero, Mexico, with little money and only an elementary-school education.
The stress of that caused his father to become depressed and abusive toward the family. Doing seasonal agricultural work, the Bazas moved around, first to Oregon, then to Walla Walla.
“My parents’ story really impacted me at a young age,” Baza recalls. “In elementary school, having an abusive father, I often felt that nobody understood my pain. But both my second-grade teacher Mrs. Hobbs and my third-grade teacher Mr. Hobbs knew what was going on with my family, and they gave me a lot of really gentle love all the time.”
Life improved dramatically when Baza’s father managed to turn his life around with the help of his church. At Wa-Hi Baza was a Twelve Season Athlete, and he was honored to be invited to tutor at Pioneer Middle School. He tutored during his junior and senior years, while attending Running Start classes at WWCC.
Today he’s a sophomore at Whitman College, is on the soccer team, and is pursuing a degree in counseling psychology. He’ll graduate in 2020, with the goal of becoming a school guidance counselor.
Twice a week he returns to Hobbs’ classroom, volunteering his time.
“I try to reach out to all of the kids,” he says, “to help them get motivated, and to have self-discipline. To tell them that they can succeed in life.”
Through sheer effort Baza has made himself bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. That’s the way the Adams and Hobbs families are raising their children as well.
Adams and Baza have never met, but the torch being passed between them reaches across two decades, with Hobbs as the central link. Each has touched, and will touch, the lives of countless young people, instilling in them a love for the Spanish language and an appreciation of a neighboring culture.
“I feel that my purpose is to serve the world and my community,” Baza says. “It’s really strong in my heart, my desire to help others succeed. Everything I have in my life is because I worked for it, or my parents worked for it. But there’s no way I could have gotten to where I am today without the help of my teachers.”
La magnitud de la enseñanza de un maestro
Por Abra Bennett
Escritora residente, Walla Walla Community College
Hace 25 años que Jeff Adams enseña español en Walla Walla Community College. Trabaja duro para transmitir a sus estudiantes la belleza del idioma y de las muchas culturas que lo hablan.
No creció hablando español, pero durante el verano anterior a comenzar la preparatoria, trabajó en una granja con trabajadores que habían migrado desde México. Escucharlos lo inspiró a estudiar español, y así encontró el trabajo de su vida. En 1992, se casó con Norma, oriunda de Chihuahua, México.
Adams ha transmitido su amor por el español a cientos de estudiantes, incluido Brad Hobbs, quien fue estudiante de Adams en 1996.
Tanto Hobbs como su esposa, Siomara, nacida en Guatemala, enseñan en salones de clases bilingües en Green Park Elementary, en Walla Walla.
En 17 años de enseñanza bilingüe, ha educado a cientos de niños. Entre ellos, se destaca Miguel Baza. Él nació en California, pero sus padres vinieron de Guerrero, México, con poco dinero y solamente educación primaria.
Para hacer trabajos estacionales en el campo, los Baza se trasladaron primero a Oregon y luego a Walla Walla. Miguel fue estudiante de Hobbs en una clase de tercer grado.
Más tarde, en Walla Walla High School, obtuvo el reconocimiento Twelve Season Athlete y se desempeñó como tutor en Pioneer Middle School.
Hoy es estudiante de segundo año en Whitman College. Obtuvo una importante beca, forma parte del equipo de fútbol y estudia para obtener un título en asesoramiento psicológico. Se graduará en 2020, con el objetivo de convertirse en consejero escolar.
Dos veces por semana, regresa a la clase de Brad Hobbs, como voluntario. “Intento llegar a todos los niños”, comenta, “para ayudarlos a sentirse motivados y a tener autodisciplina; para decirles que pueden tener éxito en la vida”.
“Siento que mi objetivo es servir al mundo y a mi comunidad”, dice Baza. “En mi corazón, es muy fuerte el deseo de ayudar a otros a triunfar. Todo lo que tengo en mi vida lo logré porque me esforcé o mis padres lo hicieron, pero no hubiera sido posible llegar a donde estoy hoy sin la ayuda de mis maestros”.