In her first year teaching Spanish at Trinity Junior High School in Fort Smith, Anna Smith-Garcia is teaching her students about the variations in Spanish-speaking cultures.
Smith-Garcia is originally from El Salvador.
"Each country has its own spice to it," she said.
Spanish has a range of variations on how some words are pronounced or how some things are phrased.
Smith-Garcia is simultaneously working on her master’s degree in educational leadership at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.
What stands out most about Garcia to Trinity Principal Karen Hollenbeck is that she's full of energy and willing to try anything — and her students respond to that.
"When the teacher is excited, the kids get excited," she said.
Smith-Garcia is helping Hispanic students appreciate their own culture more and helping those who know little about the culture understand more about it, Hollenbeck said.
Two of Smith-Garcia's classes are for native Spanish speakers. She encourages them to stay up-to-date on politics in Spanish-speaking countries. She also integrates teaching culture and history by celebrating holidays, such as Day of the Dead and Cinco de Mayo, in class and teaching the students the traditions behind them and why they are celebrated.
"Spanish class is a party every month," she said.
Smith-Garcia teaches seventh through ninth grade, the oldest age group she's ever taught. She sees more of the transformation into adulthood.
"They ask more life questions," she said, adding that she has to give them more thought-provoking answers.
One of the projects Smith-Garcia has been working on is culture night, a night dedicated to celebrating diversity and learning about other cultures. The event was started by former Spanish teacher Haymee Giuliani. Culture night is not limited to Spanish-speaking cultures.
"It's not really where we come from that matters. It's the community that we create when we get here," Smith-Garcia said.