WOOD RIVER JCT. — Shawn Quinn has always loved learning foreign languages, so a few weeks ago, he made the decision to present his entire graduation portfolio in Spanish, a first for the Chariho School District.
“I actually got the idea from one of my friends when we were talking about it, because I really like the language and I always thought that with portfolios in the past, because I’ve seen so many with my siblings, the overall idea was just kind of boring and I wanted to make it a little bit more interesting,” he said.
Superintendent of Schools Barry Ricci said he was delighted to grant Quinn's request.
“Shawn is a highly proficient Spanish student, who wished to personalize his presentation," he said. "It's a great privilege to support those students who excel in any area to make the portfolio experience personally relevant.”
Seniors present their graduation portfolios to a panel of four teachers. Their families and friends are also usually present. John Pecoraro, who chairs Chariho’s world languages department and served as one of the Spanish-speaking teachers on the panel, said he was confident that Quinn would do well with his presentation.
“He’s already practiced it in front of me several times,” he said. “We’ve been meeting just about every day and I give him pointers on what can be pronounced a little differently and how his delivery is and things like that. I think he’ll do fairly well.”
Quinn ended up doing very well with his presentation, which took place on Dec. 12.
"Shawn received a perfect score," Pecoraro said. "The portfolio panelists made up of faculty agreed that the presentation was unique and insightful and made clear connections to his future career plans as an educator."
The presentation took about 10 minutes. The biggest challenge in presenting in a foreign language, Quinn said, was the ad-libbing.
“It's a little more difficult to be able to wing it,” he said. “If you go through your portfolio and you realize you made a conjugation wrong, you kind of have to go back. In English, I’ve been speaking that since I was born, but in Spanish, I really have to know what I’m going to say and where I want to go with the subject.”
Quinn is also taking courses in Italian and Chinese. He said that learning languages was "something that I really like, because I like to be able to communicate with other people and it’s a lot nicer when you can talking their native language.”
Pecoraro said Quinn had a particular aptitude. “Shawn just happens to be very, very, very, good at language acquisition," he said. "And I think there’s some sort of hard-wiring that goes along with it, too."
Quinn has been able to practice his Spanish with his cousins and a friend in Brazil.
“I have a couple of cousins that live in Madrid and then, I also have a friend from Brazil who speaks a lot of Spanish, and at work, I’ll speak to people in Spanish,” he said. “I work at Job Lot, but I also work at the Episcopal Conference Center up in Burrillville and I’ll be able to use my Spanish sometimes with a bunch of my friends who are also my colleagues.”
Chariho Principal Craig MacKenzie welcomed Quinn’s Spanish presentation: “As a former Spanish teacher and a principal invested in creating opportunities for students to immerse themselves in their passions and to apply learning in meaningful ways, I see his graduation portfolio presentation as an affirmation of our school’s mission and values.”
Pecoraro said he hoped Quinn’s presentation would prompt other seniors to present their portfolios in foreign languages.
“I’d be interested in talking with my school leaders to see if there can be a further recognition that students receive for giving the portfolio presentation in a language other than English,” he said. “Our language program has definitely grown over the past few years and it’s really making the senior students like Shawn grow as much as they can."
Quinn has also devised a plan to keep up with his Spanish after he graduates. He hasn’t decided where he wants to go to college, but wherever he goes, he’ll be speaking Spanish as often as possible.
“Going to college, I’m going to double major in secondary education and Spanish, because I want to become a high school Spanish teacher,” he said. “My dad did a lot of traveling and he lived in places all over the world and I definitely want to travel with friends and on my own, basically everywhere, when I get older.”