JaVorah Davis ’16: The Perfect Mix

a young African American woman standing near some trees on campus
JaVorah Davis ’16

Hometown: Memphis, TN
Majors: Mathematics and Spanish

Bonner Scholar JaVorah Davis ’16 was looking for a way to use both her Spanish and mathematics majors when the perfect opportunity arrived: Professor Clara Pasqual-Argente of the Spanish department told her about Treadwell Elementary School’s Dual Language Immersion Program. 

Nestled in a culturally diverse neighborhood, Treadwell is the first school in Memphis to offer students an optional 90/10 dual-language educational model. Beginning in kindergarten, 90 percent of the participating students’ daily activities are taught in Spanish, and the other 10 percent (roughly 30 minutes per day) are taught in English.  Each year the ratio of Spanish to English levels out, until it reaches 50/50 in the fourth and fifth grades.

Treadwell is a natural fit for Davis, who has worked there since September 2015 as one of two bilingual interns at the school.  Davis learned Spanish during her four years at Central High School in Memphis, and experienced full immersion in the language in the summer 2015 Rhodes Maymester program in Ecuador. In addition, she has always been passionate about education: “At first, I had been denying that I wanted to be a teacher, but, of course, I only didn’t want to do it because everybody else was saying it. But, as I started doing it myself and for myself, I started falling in love with teaching.”

The teachers on staff in the dual language program at Treadwell are all bilingual, native Spanish speakers from Honduras, Mexico, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.  “You get that element of culture, so the kids are not only learning the language, but also the different cultures present,” notes Davis. The students  are an almost even mix of native and non-native Spanish speakers, and, with a mix of Asian, African American, Caucasian, and Hispanic students, inclusivity and support is encouraged by the curriculum itself. “There’s not one table full of one demographic,” she explains. “So at a table, you have two native speakers with two non-native speakers helping each other.”

Studies have shown that students fluent in two languages have stronger critical thinking skills, and this idea is literally put to the test for Treadwell students, as exams administered by the state of Tennessee are given in English. The ability to translate and critically evaluate languages also helps in day-to-day interactions, and this knowledge is passed on: “Even though some of the parents don’t speak Spanish, the kids teach them some things so they can talk to the other parents.”

Davis has been accepted into the Memphis Teachers Residency, a four-year program that allows students to work towards their master’s degree while getting real on-the-job experience. She hopes to continue working with Treadwell and eventually work within their Dual Language program full-time as a fourth grade teacher. “Having a second language under your belt opens a lot of doors for you in the future, no matter what it is. I’m from Memphis. This is my home, and I want to stay here and give back.”

By Kenneth Piper ’17