Can you speak a second language? If the answer is yes, is it French? Being so close to our northern border, most wouldn’t be surprised to hear it
If you’re one of the roughly 6,800 people in Vermont who also speaks Spanish, were you taught by Lamoille Union High School’s (LUHS) Caresse Whyte? If you were, we’re glad to hear it!
Across the globe, Spanish comes in as the fourth most spoken language - behind English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi. Here close to home, Spanish accounts for just 1.14 percent of spoken word in the Green Mountain State. But it’s a statistic set to grow thanks to educators like Whyte.
Enter Caresse Whyte’s LUHS classroom and you’re immersed in a space filled with colors, flags, and posters. The walls are covered in large, bright, handmade signs that display common Spanish phrases and conjugations. “I’ve always seen my classrooms as resources to help teach,” explained Whyte. “If we can create an environment that is light, bright, and exciting, we can hopefully put students in a good place to learn.”
Whyte has been teaching for 30 years with more than 20 of those spent in Lamoille North Schools.
What keeps her going? “Each day is different, it’s never boring, and it’s been amazing to see our language classes grow each year,” she said. The department has seen its Level 3 advanced Spanish class grow from just 10 students in the past to nearly 40 now.
About five or six years ago Whyte switched her teaching style to one known as comprehensible input. It’s a type of teaching focused on having students learn Spanish the way they learn their first language: through stories that are short and understandable, with lots of repetition, image use, and gesturing. “It’s about acquiring the language instead of memorizing it,” added Whyte. It's why her students start each class reading short stories, working to master reading, speaking, and eventually writing Spanish.
And it’s that dedication to her craft and passion for teaching that has led Whyte to be named the Distinguished Teacher of the Year by the Vermont Foreign Language Association (VFLA).
The organization ‘envisions a Vermont of multilingual global citizens who collaborate and connect to the world as a result of meaningful world language experiences’. Their annual award is given to those who are innovative and creative in their practices, reflect on their practice and strive for professional growth, inspire and encourage students to become global citizens, and share expertise with colleagues. All qualities belonging to Caresse Whyte.
With teaching being such an important part of her identity, Whyte says she was blown away by her recent recognition. “I wasn’t paying 100% attention when they were announcing the recipient, but I started to hear things they were describing and it sounded like me. They said my name and I couldn’t believe it,” she says, “the rest of our department came up and had some wonderful things to say. I’m very grateful. We have an amazing team of educators.”
While not a fan of the spotlight, Whyte hopes the award will bring more recognition to the department. Taking a language course at LUHS is an elective, not a requirement to graduate. That stated, Whyte and her colleagues have seen more students join their classes, and more students stick with a language class beyond the two years that typically help enhance a high school transcript.
As a Vermont native who’s had the chance to visit a handful of Spanish-speaking countries, Whyte understands the importance of broadening your perspective. The ability to step into the shoes of another, even through language, only enhances your view of the world and helps to make Vermont a more diverse place.