When Laura Guerrero was 12, she accompanied her mother − a professor at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter − on a trip to Costa Rica, where she tested her burgeoning Spanish skills and first discovered the power of speaking another language.

Eighteen years later, she’s an instructional coach at Eagle Heights Spanish Immersion (EHSI) and recently led a group of students and parents on their own language adventure in Guatemala with Common Hope, a St. Paul-based organization combating poverty with education, health care and housing aid.

“I was by no means fluent when I was at that age, but I was able to say a few words, speak a little bit,” Guerrero recalled. “I remember thinking that was so cool.”

Unlike Guerrero at that age, the six EHSI students who traveled to Antigua, Guatemala, this summer are all fluent in Spanish, and they helped their parents navigate the language barrier during the seven-day trip.

“They got to see, I do have an advantage by speaking the language,” Guerrero said. “They see the importance of being bilingual.”

While the Common Hope trip has been a part of EHSI for several years now, a few summers ago it nearly didn’t happen. The teacher who’d led most of the trips became pregnant soon before she was supposed to lead the trip, and she asked Guerrero to step up to the leadership role. Guerrero saw the promise and importance of the program after leading it and decided to make sure there would always be a teacher to lead.

“The trip kind of fizzled out a little bit,” Guerrero said. “I realized I really want to revitalize it.”

While she plans to step back from the trip next year, she’s working to involve more teachers at the school, so if there’s a change of plans, someone else can step in to lead.

Guerrero and this year’s co-leader, Morgan Huber, an EHSI classroom teacher, had help from Common Hope as they guided their charges through activities, day trips and projects that taught them about Guatemalan history and culture. The students visited a weaving cooperative, learned how people make chocolate and ceramics, and met students from Antigua while also helping paint houses and examining their own privilege, Guerrero said.

“It was really eye-opening to see that not everyone lives the way they do,” she said. “Kids get the opportunity to see outside their bubble.”

The teachers began every day with a question for the students to reflect on as they worked and explored, and the group gathered every night to discuss questions and experiences they’d had that day, Guerrero said. Before they returned to the U.S., leaders from Common Hope helped the students find ways to talk about what they had seen and learned in Guatemala with family and friends, “to make sure we’re really doing it justice” and sharing their positive experiences as well as the difficulties they’d encountered.

Eden Teller is the multimedia reporter for Eden Prairie News. She's passionate about fostering productive conversations and empowering communities. When she's not reporting, she can be found reading a book, on a hike or tackling home improvement projects.

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