Trigg County High School junior Sadie Utter recalled how she and fellow student Camila Tenorio sat together in Spanish class and became “really fast friends” — despite a language barrier that separated the two girls.
“We’ve gone through a lot to kind of get here,” Utter recounted recently to members of the Trigg County Board of Education, as she and Tenorio talked about the website they created to help non-English speaking students, their teachers and staff at the high school and other residents who are new to the community.
Known as “Open Minds, Open Arms,” the website is at https://bit.ly/openmindsopenarms.
It offers resources like online translators and English as a Second Language lessons for teachers and a series of instructional videos for students featuring Tenorio and Utter speaking common phrases in both English and Spanish.
A third link has information about the different cultures of the two girls, with Utter among other things sharing how she enjoys eating “the greasy fair foods” at the local Trigg County Country Ham Festival, while Tenorio, a TCHS freshman who came to Cadiz from the Latin American country of Colombia, points to the importance of Holy Week in her country.
The girls’ website garnered attention earlier this month at the state Student Technology Leadership conference in Lexington, with the two youth ultimately placing among the top 4% of the students vying in state competition.
Their project was among 90 that made it to the third level of the STLP competition, which began last fall with 2,500 projects statewide.
Trigg County Public Schools’ Chief Information Officer Rory Fundora said she was extremely proud of Utter and Tenorio and their project.
“I think that’s an accomplishment that maybe has gone a little bit unrecognized to the magnitude of that,” said Fundora, who spoke during a school board meeting on May 11.
The technology chief noted that she spoke initially with foreign language teacher Maureen Llarena, and they thought a project like a website assisting non-English speaking students would be a good thing for Tenorio.
The project was to fall under STLP, which offers youth a chance to do community service projects that use technology in some form.
Fundora noted that the Tenorio and Utter had numerous people coming up to their booth during their presentation in Rupp Arena.
Tenorio began presenting on her own, Fundora observed, and did so with such confidence.
Fundora said it’s been “the coolest thing” to watch Tenorio come to life with her confidence and to see Utter with her passion and advocacy for Camila and others like Camila who are struggling with the language.
“So watching the two of them come together and form this bond and this friendship and watch this project bloom from that has been beautiful,” said Fundora, who added other districts have been interested in the project.
Utter recalled an earlier experience at an authentic Cuban restaurant and how she was nervous at the prospect of ordering from the menu using her skills with the language.
“That experience alone gave me a little bit more insight (into) just how nerve-wracking it is to go in somewhere where almost everybody speaks the language,” the young girl said.
Utter said she and Tenorio also reached out to Austin Peay State University and received resources and advice about their project.
Among the suggestions: to see the person before the language, according to Utter.
She noted that the project right now only has English and Spanish speaking introductory materials, but may be expanded in the future.
Tenorio said she believes the new project will be able to help people who speak a different language to learn the English language.
Speaking through an online translator, she noted that it’s important in doing so not to pressure the person but to trust the individual and give him space to learn English.
“I think and I am sure that we can help many people who speak another language to be able to learn English, not pressure them and give them that support,” the young girl said.
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