HS Spanish looks at culture through World Cup

Juniors and seniors enrolled in Spanish Topics: Cultura welcomed Vanderbilt University Associate Professor of History Celso Thomas Castilho in their exploration of cultures in the Spanish-speaking world through soccer.
By Sierra Smith, Communications Specialist
“The topic of the class is culture, so I see it as a great opportunity to dive into subjects the students are already interested in,” High School Spanish Teacher Kate Sullivan shared, explaining her Spanish Topics: Cultura course. “So many of them listen to music by artists with Latin American roots, so that’s an easy way to do so, but this year they were all so into the World Cup, so I thought ‘Why not look at Latin American and Hispanic culture through the lens of sports?'" 

With Spanish IV as a prerequisite, this spring semester course challenges High School juniors and seniors to explore the wide and diverse cultural history and present of the Spanish-speaking world. By looking at a wide variety of topics such as traditional indigenous practices and religions, contemporary art, music, and entertainment, students deepen their understanding of cultural differences and learn to situate culture in a wider sociological and historical context. 

This semester, Sullivan has led students in conversations and research surrounding many aspects of the influence soccer, or fútbol, has on Spanish-speaking countries. The discussions have been broad and diverse including gender pay equity, dismantling stereotypes of machismo associated with athletics in certain countries, and even the increase in domestic violence cases associated with the FIFA World Cup. 

"I love this class because I can really tell that Profe cares what we want to learn about," Zoe Volanakis '23 shared. "We all have a really good relationship with her, so we have a lot of fun while we're learning."

On Friday, February 24, the class welcomed Celso Thomas Castilho, a Vanderbilt University history professor and director of The Center for Latin American, Caribbean, and Latinx Studies, to continue the conversation. Castilho, who teaches the course Fútbol-Soccer: Latinx Culture, Gender, and Diaspora shared his expertise on the professionalization of women’s soccer in Latin America, Latino pick-up games in the United States, and Latino sports media with students. 

"Profe found a way to bring in speakers to talk about things we like that are also part of a bigger cultural picture," Austin Cason '23 said. 

Other faculty benefitted from Castilho's visit as well. 

"As a teacher, I appreciated that [Castilho] shared his syllabus with us, including a recommended list of books that I’m excited to explore. One book in particular, "Futbolera, A History of Women and Sports in Latin America," is on my list to read this month in light of Women's History Month," High School Spanish Teacher Miranda Russell shared. 

In addition to their deep dive into the relationship between sports and overall culture, students have spent time in the class researching and reporting on famous Afro-Latinos, learning about Latin and Spanish dances, and more. On Thursday, February 23, students traveled off campus to watch the Hispanic Flamenco Ballet and even joined dancers on stage to learn a few moves. As the semester progresses, the class will shift its attention from sports to focus more heavily on art and music.

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