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Holy Cross Spanish teacher Caroline Mejia named KCPL’s Mary Ann Mongan Literacy Award winner

As a Spanish teacher at Holy Cross High School, Caroline Mejia is addressing literacy in two languages.

She quickly identified that within her classes was an important and growing population in Northern Kentucky – heritage Spanish speakers. These are students who have learned Spanish informally at home due to one or both parents having immigrated from a Spanish-speaking country but have not formally studied the language.

Mejia believes teaching the language is not enough – the curriculum must be rooted in an understanding of the cultures, histories and challenges of the many diverse peoples who speak the language. And because of her efforts, she has been selected as the Mary Ann Mongan Literacy Award recipient from the Kenton County Public Library Foundation. Mejia will receive a trophy along with a $250 check and her name will be on a plaque at the library’s administration center.

Caroline Mejia (Screencapture from KCPL)

Since 2009, the Mary Ann Mongan Award recognizes an individual or organization that has shown outstanding service in literacy in Kenton County. The award is named after former Kenton County Public Library Director Mary Ann Mongan, who served as library director for over 40 years.

Mike Holtz, Principal of Holy Cross District High School states why Mejia is so valued. “With her unique characteristics, Caroline Mejia is very strong and passionate about the success of her students. She is at her best when she is sharing the passion and culture of the Spanish language with her students.”

Rather than focusing on the mechanics of language acumen through canned Spanish lessons, Mejia has developed her own curriculum to bring to life the peoples behind the language. This is more than an embedded geography lesson; it’s a focus on the essential cultural differences that make each country unique. It’s a richer approach, and one that requires considerably more preparation on her part.

Holy Cross High School junior Dominic Vennemann “I like going to Mrs. Mejia’s class because it’s not that it’s easy, but it’s fun in a challenging way. You want to be able to learn what you are doing and everything in her class is always fun for me.”

Mejia developed a special class at Holy Cross for heritage speakers. As in any Spanish class, the students expand their vocabularies and gain confidence in their command of written and spoken Spanish. But the curriculum goes beyond that. They are required to read literature written by renowned Latin American authors in both English and Spanish.

This allows them to increase their understanding of the nuances of both languages. The students especially enjoy learning about their individual heritages through the reading modules. When she conceived of the class, Holy Cross did not own the books required for this approach nor did they have the budget to buy them.

Mejia undertook a crowd-sourcing campaign and raised money to buy the books in both Spanish and English. The first year of the class in 2021-22 was a great success, and the class has grown this year. Many see Holy Cross developing a reputation as a school of choice for students with Latin American heritages.

Mejia is also committed to her own continued development to ensure she can maximize her effectiveness. She was awarded a Fulbright-Hayes scholarship to study in Columbia in summer 2022. She also applied to Thomas More University for her credentials to be recognized as a Spanish instructor so that her advanced students can receive Dual Credit upon successful completion of her courses.

While Mejia’s energies are primarily devoted to improving literacy in Spanish, her tireless efforts are building literacy in the fullness of the definition, as adopted by UNESCO — the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization:

Beyond its conventional concept as a set of reading, writing and counting skills, literacy is now understood as a means of identification, understanding, interpretation, creation, and communication in an increasingly digital, text-mediated, information-rich and fast-changing world

“Caroline is a devoted teacher who is appreciated by the entire Holy Cross community. Her innovative methods of teaching the Spanish language and associated cultures inspires her students to expand their knowledge of the world around them. Caroline embraces diversity and all the joy it brings to her students and their families. She is an exemplary recipient of the Mary Ann Mongan Literacy Award, and we are proud to present her with this deserved recognition. I had the privilege of knowing Miss Mongan for more than a decade, and I know she would be so pleased to see Caroline receive this award given in her name.”

Video featuring Mejia’s work

Former Mary Ann Mongan Award winners can be found at kentonlibrary.org.

Kenton County Public Library

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