Uruguay teacher returns to Mt. Lebanon

Published Apr 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm (Updated Apr 11, 2013 at 2:13 pm)

Students in the Mt. Lebanon School District made such an impact on teacher Claudia Lopez Zapata of Uruguay, that she decided to make a return trip to Pittsburgh to visit with them again.

Lopez Zapata first visited elementary schools in Mt. Lebanon back in October 2011 with two students from the school where she teaches. Although the students, Valentina “Vale” Fontora and Valentina “Naomi” Mezquida did not make the most recent trip, Lopez Zapata did bring her husband, Enrique Martin Posse Vivas, along with her.

Now-retired Mt. Lebanon elementary Spanish teacher Elaine Palmer first brought Zapata to the region with a grant from the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs through the U.S. State Department. This time, Lopez Zapata and her husband came to the United States on their own. Before coming to Pittsburgh, the couple took in some sites in other cities like Nashville and Niagara Falls, N.Y.

On April 4, Lopez Zapata reunited with the two students who hosted her and the Uruguayan students back in 2011. Now sixth-graders, Madison Maselko and Courtney Walsh both attend Mellon Middle School, where Zapata had the opportunity to teach two 20-minute Spanish classes.

Back in Uruguay, Lopez Zapata teaches at a school called No. 65 Eduardo Victor Haedo in Mercedes, Soriano, Uruguay. The public school has about 110 students ranging from age 4 to sixth grade.

Lopez Zapata taught the class in Spanish with Mellon Middle School Spanish teacher Lynda Battista translating only a few times. Lopez Zapata started off by asking the students their names and what kind of sports or activities they like to play. The students all had to answer the questions in Spanish.

Then Lopez Zapata, pointing to a map of Uruguay, talked about the long flight she and her husband had to take to get to Pittsburgh, first flying from Uruguay to Miami and then from Miami to Pittsburgh. She also told students that Uruguay has a population of about 3 million people.

Lopez Zapata also explained why she and her husband don’t have the same last name – in Uruguay, married women don’t take their husband’s last name. Her last name is a combination of her mother’s last name and her father’s last name. For instance, her father’s last name was Lopez and her mother’s last name was Zapata. Zapata said in the instance of her husband’s last name, Posse was his father’s last name and Vivas was his mother’s. Lopez Zapata said she and Martin’s children’s last name is Posse Lopez.

After Lopez Zapata taught the class, Courtney Walsh handed her cards made by the class that Zapata could take back to Uruguay with her. Walsh said she liked having Lopez Zapata teach the class and she liked learning about how they do the names differently there. “I liked learning about what’s important to them and us,” Walsh said.

“It was interesting because there’s a lot more I didn’t know about, because I take German now,” Madison Maselko said. She agreed that it was also neat learning about their names.

“I’m impressed with their Spanish and pronunciation,” said Lopez Zapata as translated by Lynda Battista. Lopez Zapata added that her favorite part about visiting Pittsburgh is “the people.” She said she will definitely try to come back again in the future.

“They are like my Uruguayan family,” Elaine Palmer said. She added that the two girls, Vale and Naomi, who came with Lopez Zapata before, are now taking private English lessons in Uruguay. “That’s directly related to coming here,” she said.

Battista said she would like to continue the relationship with Lopez Zapata and her school via Skype and email.

Palmer added that due to lack of funds, the program that first brought Lopez Zapata and the students to Pittsburgh in 2011 is on hold now. She said if folks would like to make a donation to keep the exchange program going, they can contact the Mt. Lebanon School District.

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