Meionkca Brown had a knack for the Spanish language she unknowingly kept hidden. It wasn’t on purpose. It’s just the way it turned out. She took her first Spanish class in 7th grade as an enrichment course. Her grandmother, a teacher, encouraged Ms. Brown to continue learning Spanish through an “Easy Spanish Book” she bought Meionkca when she was in middle school. Meionkca discovered Spanish would roll off her lips as if she was speaking her native English, and she devoured every page. Her family had no idea of Ms. Brown’s mastery of the language. And Meionkca had no reason to share her newfound passion until later.
If you fast forward to now, Ms. Brown’s been a high school Spanish teacher for 20 years, two of them with UVA. But teaching in the online world is second nature. She spent ten years at the St. James Parish in addition to working in their Virtual Academy. She taught Spanish online to students in rural parishes since those districts had a hard time employing foreign language teachers.
While in St. James parish, she picked up the nickname “The Magic School Bus Lady” because as an assistant basketball coach she used to drive the basketball team to their games and as the student council advisor she took the members to workshops and the annual state convention. In addition, she has been instrumental in encouraging students to travel abroad since 2011. Besides learning the language, Ms. Brown believes in the importance of cultural exchange. She has taken students to Costa Rica (2011), London, Paris, and Barcelona (2013), Greece and Italy (2015), Costa Rica (2017), and Spain (2019). July of 2022, she will be traveling with UVA students to Paris, Normandy, and London.
Ms. Brown’s experiences as a teacher in St. James Parish Virtual academy in the early years taught her valuable lessons. The most important was finding ways of engaging her online students as if they were in a brick-and-mortar classroom. “I had to change that. I came up with a way that I could be a facilitator.” And technology became the foundation.
Meionkca uses that same philosophy at UVA. “I try really hard so that I have diversity in my teaching, ” she said.
Ms. Brown uses a program called Nearpod to create interactive presentations containing quizzes, polls, videos, collaborate boards, and more. Then there’s Jamboard which helps students writing Spanish. Another program, Flipgrid, facilitates students speaking Spanish. And she’s always looking for more. While working from home due to COVID-19, she says she has more time to explore technology. “What else can I learn?” she asked.
It’s the same zeal Meionkca employed to learn Spanish from the book her grandmother had bought her. Years later, another relative reached out to her to become a translator for the Spanish-speaking community during the COVID-19 response. That opportunity reinforces something Ms. Brown tells her students. “You can’t always take an academic approach learning Spanish,” she explained. “This is practical and can be used outside the classroom. And you don’t have to travel outside of the U.S. to use Spanish,” she added.