Crystal Apple: Urban shares love of Latin American culture

       Brent Urban, one of three Westside teachers to receive the Crystal Apple award this year, has found that the subject he instructs can itself help him reach students.

Brent Urban in his classroom.
Westside Pioneer photo

       That subject is Spanish. Originally from Modesto, Calif., Urban is in his 11th year teaching at Coronado High School, where he is the foreign language chair. Before coming to Coronado, he had studied Spanish and Latin American culture for seven years - in the process gaining a bachelor's degree in Spanish and religious studies - then continued his research while living in different countries in Central America. Since joining the school's faculty, he has continued what he calls his “continual study” of the subject, including making periodic “service-oriented” trips to border areas of Mexico and working with Catholic Charities on families needing interpretive help.
       “I love the Latin American culture and language, but it's also an avenue to work with teenagers,” he said. “I can pass on a passion and open up a new world for students who usually come here monolingual.”
       He can also point to immediate opportunities for use of a second language. “There are tons of Spanish-speakers on the Westside,” Urban said. “You don't have to go far. It's a reality for us.”
       He tries to “hold a high bar,” academically. “It's a language, and you don't just fall into it,” he observed. “For me, it was seven years before I felt I could go live in Central America.”
       Relationships are a big part of Latin American culture, so he tries to make them part of what he teaches. “My goal in the classroom is to communicate with every student on a personal level,” he said. “I try to figure out the one thing that I can talk to each one about.”
       Urban has also taken the intitiative in an area that's not necessarily related to Spanish-speaking matters. Four years ago, he started Cougars Care, a fundraising/charity effort for needy Coronado students which he guides through a student committee. Requests come from school staff members, who are asked only to give the students' names and what their needs are. The most common request is to help pay student fees in classes that have them. Cougars Care also provides assistance with school supplies and even food and clothing. Families are asked to pay at least 10 percent themselves “so there will be a buy-in on their part,” Urban noted. The total amount of aid this year will be about $10,000, he said.
       As a Crystal Apple winner, Urban receives $500 for his classroom through the PTA-supported program. He is grateful for the honor. “Every year I have the opportunity to be a significant part of students' lives,” he said. “It's a big privilege and a challenge.”

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