The Language Learning Process: Ep.2 Spanish – Reducing Environmental Impacts


Rita Li

In this episode, junior Ali Browne leads us through SPA’s Spanish V class and their unit on reducing environmental impacts. Browne interviewed junior Naysa Kalugdan, junior Anna Nowakowski, Sr. Castellanos, and Sr. Daniels. Topics regarding the language learning process and global impacts were both applied in students’ studies. (Made via Canva)

Browne: Hi, I’m Ali Browne, and today I’ll be discussing how we can reduce our environmental impacts with juniors Naysa Kalugdan and Anna Nowakowski and upper school Spanish teachers Pete Daniels and Rolando Castellanos.

Beginning at the end of quarter 1, the level five Spanish classes have been exploring the generation of waste on the planet and how this impacts our quality of life and the environment.

The United States is one of the largest waste producers in the world. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, each American in 2018 on average produced 4.9 pounds of municipal waste per day, and this number continues to rise. Much of this waste comes from plastic packaging, plastic bags, and food waste, which can easily be reduced with a few simple actions.

With the growth of the zero-waste lifestyle, many individuals are becoming more conscious of the waste they create with daily habits like a morning coffee run or a trip to the grocery store and they’re taking active steps to increase their personal awareness of their impact on the environment.

With that being said, let’s dive into the lessons the Spanish students have learned on this issue and how they will take this new knowledge into their daily lives.

Kalugdan: My name is Naysa Kalugdan and I use she/her pronouns

Nowakowski: Anna Nowakowski, she/her.

Castellanos: I am Rolando Castellanos, he/him pronouns.

Daniels: I am Pete Daniels, he/him pronouns.

Browne: How would you describe your most recent unit in Spanish class?

Kalugdan: We’ve been learning a lot not only about trash consumption but like also the ways we can help manage it using methods of reusing, reducing, and recycling. Señors Daniels has put a lot of emphasis on like education as well which is a new thing I didn’t really know about trash consumption, so like the importance of educating the community about these topics.

Castellanos: It’s about the trash that we generate as individuals in the world and in our community, and we encourage our students to kind of think about what we generate individually and the impact it has in the ecosystem that we live in. It’s more than just trash, it’s how our existence impacts the environment.

Daniels: And it’s a bit of the idea of think globally, act locally. We’re asking students to really be persuasive and pushing for change here at a local level here in our school, and that fits nicely into some of the work that we’re trying to do with level five in terms of the different ways that students can approach advocating for themselves, advocating for their needs. And of course, the Spanish, the grammar functions that go along with that.

Castellanos: We want our students to be able to make a suggestion or express an opinion. For that, they would have to use the present subjunctive. We invite them to use hypothetical situations and use the act of persuasion. So it’s all with the idea of using subjunctive for expressing opinions, desires, and expectations, and whatnot but built into something that really touches on lives and is not one more empty grammar exercise

Browne: What have been the most important lessons you’ve learned this unit?

Kalugdan: Well, like I said before, I didn’t realize the impact on educating people. I guess knowledge is power, so like educating people on the ways they can, even in minimal ways, help reduce their consumption and also, using reusable methods for minimizing the amount of trash that we generate.

Nowakowski: Something that we looked at was the really specific [methods of] recycling, and then how much that reduced the amount of garbage. I thought that was really interesting and also the use of compost is really important.

Browne: How do the environmental impacts of the U.S. compare to those of other Spanish-speaking countries?

Kalugdan: I think with trash generation, it’s really hard to like quantify the impacts within our society, so it’s been super shocking learning about how much trash we actually do consume or generate. We had to do an activity to measure the amount the average person does, and it was just a really big number. It’s crazy to think about. We have lots of waste products basically because our industries are very into consumerism and want to make as much money as possible, so a lot of times, they make products that only have one use and it’s leading to lots of trash within our nation compared to others.

Nowakowski: In the U.S. it’s a lot more garbage, and it’s also the rate of consumerism is a lot higher, so that makes a lot more garbage because of the mentality of just buying stuff and not thinking it through before purchasing.

Browne: Why do you think it’s important to learn about this in Spanish class as opposed to in other classes or subjects?

Castellanos: In our upper school Spanish classes, we don’t talk about Spanish, but we talk about life and living on this planet today in Spanish with history and geography, and science and theater and music and band and whatever, but in Spanish. It’s not that it is a Spanish class, but it’s a cultural content, current events, geography, and history course in the language. There are things that are missing in our curriculum that we have the opportunity to give our students exposure to in those missing areas, and we feel that gap, but we have the privilege to do it in Spanish. We hope that they will improve their Spanish, but they will be connected to the world in new ways.

Daniels: Absolutely, It’s the idea of you gotta make what’s important interesting. For us, we want students to be engaged in the topics that we’re covering, and though you can come towards this topic from many different angles in your day and throughout your classes.. would it be lovely if we did a climate change-oriented, garbage/recycling, waste-oriented, cross-curricular thing? Yeah. I mean absolutely, that would be a great sort of an experience for folks. But for us, what we love about it is the comparison. We know that there are so many different communities that are approaching the waste that we are creating in so many different ways.

Kalugdan: I think because Señor Castellanos who is the other Spanish teacher talks a lot about shaping the hearts and minds of people who will change the world, so I think understanding social problems [and] social issues within an international context is super important., not only for educating the people and its importance for educating but understanding how our community interacts with others.

Browne: What types of activities have been really important in learning about this topic?

Nowakowski: I think in Spanish class, it’s really helpful because we can compare what the U.S. is doing with our garbage versus what other places and other people in different countries are doing.

Kalugdan: I think one of the best ways to educate the people and think about our trash consumption is by bouncing ideas off of each other. We watch videos and then have many conversations about what we think about it or ways that we could implement it in our lives and I think that’s great because it not only puts into perspective what we’re learning about but also how we can apply it to our own lives.

Browne: Why is it important to teach students about these issues?

Daniels: It almost would be worth adding some of the content from that global summit. I watched former President Obama’s remarks at the Summit and he had so much to say about how much more forward-thinking the youth of today are in global issues, particularly in climate change. For him, it’s hypothetical. It’s like he can see signs for it, he can understand the data but when he thinks about his children when he thinks about his children’s children, that’s where the empathy comes in. For younger folks, it’s like “this is our reality, this is the reality we are living in and this has been our experience since day one.”

Castellanos: My son, for the longest time he did not have children and often my son would say “why would I like to bring a child into this world?” And that’s kind of painful for a parent to hear. This is reality and it’s true. The life of that child that was just born a month ago will be much different than my life was and how my son’s life is, so it’s like that idea that if we can raise awareness, hopefully blah blah blah shaping the minds and hearts of the people who will change the world, maybe we can put a little grain into that and plant the seed.

Browne: How do you think the SPA community could take lessons from this unit to lower our waste as a community?

Kalugdan: I think, as I was saying, making sure that they find products with longer shelf life and making every effort not to contribute to growing waste whether that be bringing your own bags or using less plastic water bottles and investing in reusable water bottles. I also think that for the SPA community for snacks during x-period, they could try to find products that don’t come in plastic packaging. Last year, they invested in a lot of compostable products for the school due to Covid, so I think if they continue doing that and following those protocols, it will help manage our trash consumption at SPA.

Nowakowski: Shopping is a way that a lot of people produce a lot of unnecessary garbage so one of the things that we saw a lot was when people shopped in local markets, they can use their own bags and their own containers that are reusable so then that unnecessary waste is not made.

Castellanos: Often what students have done is they write a letter to the principal, which they have done to two principals so far, in Spanish about what they as a group see as problems and what suggestions they offer to improve the situation. So far, we have never had one of the two principals respond or acknowledge. Hopefully maybe this time we will get at least some kind of acknowledgment that “hey we see a problem, and we have this idea to offer as a suggestion for the environment”. At the end of the day, we want our students to get excited and to experience the fact that you can do this, in this language, it’s possible

Browne: Once, again I’m Ali and after this in-depth discussion with upper school level five Spanish students and teachers, we all have a lot to think about relating to our own impacts on the environment and how we can help spark change, no matter how small.