Cecilia Jerez is a 2021 Virtual Fellow in Venezuela, where she has collaborated with the local embassy and American Spaces to host online lessons and events for the English Access Microscholarship Program. She has worked closely with 15 English teachers and their combined 100 Access students over the course of her Fellowship. Teachers and students attend her sessions from four different regions across Venezuela. Jerez’s project focuses on creating activities that promote cultural exchange, which she encourages through inviting guest speakers to interact with the students.
Cultural Exchange with Guest Speakers
Jerez was able to invite various guest speakers to her online Access program classes. One of the highlights of this exchange was when she invited her personal friend from USC, American college football player Frank Martin II, to a class that had a focus on Project Based Learning. Jerez had her students create videos about their lives to share with Martin. Students created videos and discussion questions on the topic of sports and their regions. The time with Martin was motivating and inspiring for the 95+ participants who attended.
Students were thrilled when snowboarding Olympic medalist, Alex Diebold, also “visited” Venezuela through one of Jerez’s online sessions. Prior to the session, students prepared questions on the topic of “Chasing your Dreams” for Diebold. The session also focused on learning and practicing English via the Zoom platform, which was new for participants at that time. Students participated in polls to practice their use of the platform and engage in the presentation. Jerez and Diebold met through a running club and have worked together on community projects.
Guests from outside the sports world enriched students’ online learning as well. Jerez organized a session for Access students and their parents to raise awareness of the risks of modern-day slavery. Founder and president of the Human Trafficking Survivors Foundation, Virginia Isaias, joined Jerez in presenting on the red flags associated with human trafficking. This is an especially important topic in Venezuela, as the number of people emigrating has been increasing.
Bringing Countries Together
Jerez also promoted cultural exchange by inviting Access teachers and students from Pakistan and Egypt for an online conversation and cultural exchange. Jerez got in touch with these Access Teachers through videos shared through the English Access Microscholarship Program. Teachers and students prepared presentations and questions on their cultural dress, food, and flags. The presentations allowed the students and teachers to practice skills they had learned through their sessions. “Apart from the valuable professional experience I was able to take away from this project, I feel like this exchange allowed me to bring a bit of both cultures into my home as well,” explained Jerez.
Online Successes & Challenges
Hosting online classes had its share of challenges for Jerez due to the low bandwidth and lack of access to online resources in Venezuela. Even though Jerez could only use WhatsApp for assigning and collecting homework and struggled with connection, resulting in rescheduled classes on occasion, she explained that “working and getting to know the participants from Venezuela was a life-changing experience.” Her greatest success included seeing her students’ smiling faces as they embraced her and their own learning.
“The English Language Fellow Program helped me be more grateful for my country’s freedom and open doors,” said Jerez. Seeing her students’ eagerness to learn with few resources has left an impact on Jerez. Through the program, she realized how fortunate her own learning and life is, and how important it is to share with the world.
Cecilia Jerez holds an MA-TESOL from the University of Southern California. She became passionate about teaching English as a second language learner herself. Cecilia has taught in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles, Cambodia, and Indonesia. She has led teacher training workshops for over 2,000 teachers. Her interests include project-based learning, educational technology, teacher training, social and emotional knowledge, culturally relevant teaching, and multilingual literacies. She is currently teaching as a Virtual English Language Fellow for multiple cities in Venezuela.