Guiding students from across the pond.
Walking near the center of Navalmoral de la Mata, Extremadura, Spain, you can see remnants of decades past through gothic architecture and cobbled medieval roadways. But there’s one building on this road that stands out among its neighbors. It has bright blue trim, colorful bubbles, and inspirational wording on the windows — all written in English. Its appearance is new and different, yet, much like its owner, it brings remarkable value to its community.
Caminando alrededor del centro de Navalmoral de la Mata, Extremadura, España, se puede ver décadas del pasado por la arquitectura gótica y los caminos medievales hechos de piedra. Pero, en el camino, hay un edificio que sobresale de los demás. Tiene una tapicería brillante de color azul, burbujas de colores vivos y palabras inspiradoras escritas en las ventanas, todas en inglés. Su apariencia es nueva y diferente pero, como su dueño, trae un valor nuevo a la communidad.
At only 21, Whitney Griffin followed her dream of living abroad after studying international business and Spanish and minoring in leadership studies at Westminster College.
“I followed my dreams and moved to Spain after graduation to teach English with the Language and Culture Assistants Program, which is organized through the Spanish Ministry of Education,” Whitney says.
After eight years of teaching and the ever-increasing request for tutors, Whitney established the Whitney English Academy.
“Year after year, I always had more calls and interest from new families for me to give their children lessons,” she says. “I finally decided it was time to open an academy to be able to help more kids. People had always told me I should open an academy, but I found the whole process a bit overwhelming until I finally dove into it.”
Within its first year, the academy had enrolled up to 100 students and is now just shy of 200, along with two additional teachers, Isabel Cortés González and Shona Atkinson-Dalziel. Upon opening, Whitney decided to ask parents what they wanted in an English academy, as there were already five or six others in town. The responses were that they wanted a place where their children could go to practice English in a fun, dynamic way and then go home without having homework to worry about.
“I organized the academy lessons so kids could come one or two days a week depending on what skills they wanted to practice,” Whitney explains. “One day a week is focused on conversation lessons with me. The other day, with Isabel, is focused on other key skills like reading, writing, listening, and grammar. Our groups are also smaller in size in comparison to other academies in town, almost by half. We have groups of only six students, which I think allows all of them the opportunity to participate whether they want to or not!”
But as part of her program, Whitney also wanted to present her students with the opportunity to learn outside of the classroom, and in 2019 she was able to bring 10 high school students to live with eight American host families in the Wardsville and Jefferson City areas.
“Before ever mentioning it to the students and their families, I contacted Helias [Catholic High School] to see if they would be interested in such a thing,” Whitney says. “They were quick to respond and give me the OK! They thought it could be mutually beneficial for everyone, and I do think it truly was. We coordinated with the Helias International Club and had a joint meeting where students played bilingual games, Spanish students shared photos about their life in Spain, and then they all shared a meal together at El Jimador.”
Whitney was also able to make the visit easy on students and their host families by finding families with other high school-aged kids. Several families had already hosted exchange students before through Rotary, some who lived abroad at one point in time, and others were just nice families who would have fun sharing their life with a foreign student for a few weeks. Although the trip was shorter than a full school semester, students were still able to experience the normal life of a Missourian – watching football practices, attending family barbecues, visiting the Amish, spending a day on the Lake of the Ozarks, and attending a Cardinals baseball game.
“They loved visiting Walmart and Target,” Whitney adds. “They loved seeing the sizes of the food containers, the selection of cereal, cookies (Oreos), chips (Pringles), drinks (soda in general), etcetera. They also loved buying super American foods they see in TV programs or on TikTok, like Reese’s, Pop-Tarts, Kool-Aid, and mac and cheese.”
This summer, Whitney plans to host a summer camp for fourth, fifth, and sixth graders at the academy in June. After camp she then plans to return to Missouri in July and August to make up for lost time after being away from her family for a year and a half.
“My goal for summer 2022 would be to bring students back to Jefferson City,” she says. “I love traveling, and it’s a perfect way for me to share my love of travel and the English language and culture with my students while I also have an amazing time. I already have another round of students dying to come and visit. Parents with students as young as 5 years old have told me, ‘I hope my son has the opportunity to visit Missouri when he’s older!’”
During the academic school year, students exchange postcards to further expand in their conversational practice. If you would like to participate you can send your postcards to:
Whitney English Academy
C/ Gabriel y Galán, 4
10300 Navalmoral de la Mata