Southampton Spanish teacher Sarah Underhill understands how being bilingual can open up opportunities for her students down the road.The teacher, who got her start in 1994 helping teachers learn how to use the internet, eventually transitioned into teaching Spanish after spending a summer in the Hamptons. Now, 20 years later, she has been recognized as a top instructor in her field, and has been awarded an Advanced Placement Fellowship through the College Board.
As an AP Fellow, Ms. Underhill will attend meetings and conferences throughout the summer focusing on how the AP Spanish curriculum is being transformed to meet the new Common Core standards. Ms. Underhill will be able to bring what she learns at the conferences back to the district to ensure that Southampton is ahead of the curve in testing.
“A Latin poet once said that in learning a second language, you acquire a different heart,” she said while sitting in her Spanish classroom at Southampton High School this week. “That is, for me, what it is to be bilingual. Not that you know the language—we have dictionaries and Google for that—but to be bilingual is to have a sensitivity to the person you are speaking with and their perspective. It is to be bicultural as well.”
She first found out she received the AP grant three weeks ago. While she is excited to participate in the program over the summer, she has not yet been told which conferences she will be attending or where they are.
Ms. Underhill, who was born in New York but grew up in North Carolina, has taught in the Southampton School District since 2000 after spending three years teaching at Hampton Day Care.
In Southampton, she is in charge of AP Spanish studies at the high school, and she works closely with the district’s dual-language program to help shape the skills students will need to succeed in the Spanish AP class later on. Currently, she teaches one AP class that has 18 students, all of whom will be fluent, if they are not already, by the time they leave her class. Her goal is to give the students a deeper understanding of Spanish culture, she said.
During her courses over the summer, Ms. Underhill expects to learn more about recent changes to the AP course for next year. Traditionally, she said, AP language classes focus on four key skills, listening, writing, reading and speaking. While the revised course will still focus on those skills, it will also focus on intrapersonal, interpersonal and presentation aspects for each of the skills.
“We are going to be taking it a step further now,” she said. “Of course you do all of those skills, but there are a subset of skills they are learning now. The course will kind of try to orient teachers to those tasks that you need to do as a person being alive, and making sure they can reflect, communicate and present.”
One thing Ms. Underhill said she is especially looking forward to with the AP fellowship is being a part of the conversation in designing the future of the AP courses. It will allow her, she said, to implement changes at all grade levels in the district to better prepare students for the future requirements of an education in Spanish, which in Southampton starts in kindergarten.
“I am hoping to be involved in the dialogues,” she said. “Being on the forefront of these dialogues, I can make sure that at Southampton there is vertical planning from Spanish 1 to the intermediate school, all the way up through the AP Spanish, and make sure that the Spanish 1 teacher knows what is expected and can tailor her lessons and decide what to focus on.”