Jamie Thompson, left, honored Senora Michele Lash as her most influential teacher, citing Senora Lash’s efforts to incorporate Spanish into every day conversation and the extra efforts she made, including the trip to Costa Rica with the students pictured here.

As a teenager taking her first year of high school Spanish, Michele Lash decided that her career would be teaching that language.

Recently, Senora Lash, as she is known to her Vinton-Shellsburg students, received recognition from Iowa Governor Terry Branstad for her influence on students.

The person who chose Sra. Lash for this honor is 2017 VS Valedictorian Jamie Thompson. Among Thompson’s honors this year was being recognized at the Governor’s Scholar presentation. Each honoree there is asked to choose one teacher to honor for helping them succeed in high school. Thompson chose her Spanish teacher.

Mrs. Lash was not able to attend the ceremony with Thompson, but the student recently had the privilege of personally handing  her teacher the award from the Governor.

“I am planning on minoring in Spanish in college and Señora really helped foster my interest in Spanish language and Hispanic cultures,” explains Thompson. “She was always helping me with new vocabulary and grammar that I wanted to incorporate into conversation. I travelled with her to Costa Rica, and she even helped us form a Spanish Club this year. Vinton is lucky to have a dedicated and knowledgeable teacher like Señora Lash.”

Like Lash, Thompson plans on incorporating Spanish into her career, although she hasn’t made any final decisions on what that career will be.

“I am not exactly sure what I’ll end up doing,” she says. “Biochemistry-related research would be very interesting. Adding bilingual ability to any career is helpful in collaborating – especially in the sciences.”

In addition to the class work, Mrs. Lash has also helped create other opportunities for her students to learn the language and cultures of Spanish-speaking peoples. She has accompanied many students on trips to Spain and Costa Rica, and recently helped set up a Spanish Club at VSHS.

“Growing, up, I had always known I wanted to teach and when I discovered Spanish as a freshman in HS, I discovered that was it for me,” says Lash. “I love the sense of discovery I see as students master new things with the language. In this global society we now have, it’s exciting to think that I’m helping students improve our world.”

Lash recalls 2007, when she and Elaine Park and took a group to Spain.

“We only had 7 girls, but we explored both modern and ancient culture in 9 days. The students stayed with families for part of the time, which not only cut costs, but also gave them a very authentic experience and challenged their language use,” says Lash, who is planning to take more students there in the summer of 2018.

Thompson said one of the reasons she chose to honor Mrs. Lash was the great experience she had in Costa Rica.

“We were in Costa Rica for nine days. We stayed with host families who only spoke Spanish, zip lined, went to coffee and pineapple plantations, and traveled all around Costa Rica with some other students from another school from Wisconsin.

It was really an incredible experience.

Sra. Lash helped with the language there, says Thompson.

“It takes some adjustment to get used to listening and communicating in real time with native speakers, so she was able to step in and translate if needed, especially in those first few days,” says Thompson. “I also remember her helping me communicate with a pharmacist when I needed medicine at one of the stores.”

Also, says Thompson: “She had taught us earlier everything we used while there.”

Thompson says the Costa Rica experience with Mrs. Lash and her peers will also help her during her college years.

“I am planning to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country in college, and went with my family to Cuba in February, as well,” says Thompson, who chose to attend a Twin Cities college so she could be with students who bring a diversity of languages.

Spanish Club

And after pondering a Spanish Club for several years, Lash eagerly responded when Associate Principal Tony Islas approached her about starting one.

“I approached several of my upperclassmen to organize and plans things, so that the students know the club is their group,” said the teacher. “Jamie was among those students who was most vocal about helping.”

So far, the Spanish Club has had a few events, including a cooking night. Lash also used Google Goggles to offer the students a 3-D virtual field trip of a few of the places in the world where people speak Spanish.

Learning and Laughing in class

Thompson said Mrs. Lash also makes learning the language enjoyable.

“We have so much fun in Spanish, especially this year,” she says. “Conversation is a big part of learning, so we get to talk as a class for about an hour every day this year.”

The conversation helps students realize how much more there is to learn, says Thompson.

“The other day, Señora said she had eaten a hot dog and someone translated wrong and said, ‘mmm spicy chicken,’ and we laughed for a good five minutes. Also, some boys try to say ‘estoy embarazado’ because they think it means ‘I’m embarrassed’ which is a false cognate, but it actually means ‘I’m pregnant,’” says Thompson. “Some of my favorite memories are all the funny moments from class – especially when people make mistakes that translate into embarrassing things, and mostly just being able to speak in Spanish about our lives and what is going on for those conversation times during class.”