Alumna Uses Experiences in Peace Corps to Make Spanish Education Come to Life
For Appomattox, Va., native Ashley Burke Walker M.S. ’12, volunteering has always been a part of life. From being a high-school candy striper for a local hospital to working at teen runaway shelters as an undergraduate, Walker knew that after college she would continue her service.
"My parents instilled in me a sense of gratitude for everything we had in life," she said. "Not just material things but the intangibles like love, support, a comfortable home and realizing that not everyone was as fortunate."
After earning her bachelor’s degree from George Mason University, the Peace Corps felt like a natural fit.
Walker spent two years in Nicaragua with the Corps, working at a local center that offered reinforcement activities to children who work on the streets. There she saw 4- and 5-year-olds have to choose between getting an education or working on the streets in order to eat.
"The center gave them a refuge, a safe place," she said. "They could have a hot lunch, take a nap, play games, learn the alphabet and forget about the hustle and bustle of the market streets that impatiently awaited them beyond our doors."
Walker’s experience in Nicaragua was "life altering." After her service, she returned to the United States with a new perspective, a deep love for the Central American culture and people, and a passion for the new language she spoke every day during her service.
"I had a strong desire to do something with the Spanish language, and, as luck would have it, I didn’t have to wait long," Walker said.
A longtime mentor who worked for the Charlotte County, Va., school system contacted Walker the summer she returned to ask if she was interested in interviewing for a Spanish teaching position at Randolph-Henry High School.
"I honestly had never dreamed of standing in front of a classroom before, but later that same afternoon I interviewed and walked away with my first teaching position," Walker said.
In order to teach, Walker took classes at Longwood University to earn her teaching license. After teaching for several years and researching graduate programs both in and out of state, she decided to return to Longwood to earn a master’s degree with a concentration in Spanish curriculum and instruction.
Walker now teaches Spanish at Appomattox County High School and is an adjunct faculty member at Lynchburg College in Lynchburg, Va.
"I teach from my heart, and I share real stories to make the language something that doesn’t just reside in a book," Walker said. "I want my students to know that Spanish is not just a class, it’s a way of life. My life experiences have opened my eyes so that I can open theirs."