Texas Tech University

Sigma Delta Pi Honors Hispanic Heritage, Teaches Spanish Without Classroom Pressures

Emily Gardner

September 29, 2015

The honor society has been part of Texas Tech University for more than 70 years.

Sigma Delta Pi

Sigma Delta Pi, the National Collegiate Hispanic Honor Society, has had a chapter on the Texas Tech University campus since Feb. 14, 1944. For more than 70 years, the chapter has honored Hispanic heritage among members and through involvement in the Lubbock and Texas Tech communities.

“Hispanic Heritage Month is important because that is when we recognize and celebrate the historical, cultural, linguistic and literary heritage and presence of people of Hispanic descent as well as the contributions they have made in North America,” said Sigma Delta Pi adviser Comfort Pratt.

Comfort Pratt

In 2013, the organization worked with all Hispanic organizations on campus and in Lubbock and the Cross-Cultural Academic Advancement Center to establish a citywide Spanish Day, said Pratt, who also is an associate professor in bilingual education. The date chosen was Sept. 15, which also kicks off National Hispanic Heritage Month.

In the two years following the establishment of Spanish Day, Sigma Delta Pi has continued to use this as its kick-off event for Hispanic Heritage Month. This year, Pratt said they had the Spanish Day celebration and hosted the “Diverse Perspectives of Spanish: A Panel of Non-Native Speakers” at the Teaching, Learning and Professional Development Center. The panel consisted of six speakers, including graduate and undergraduate students, high school students and a high school teacher.

“Specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month, we focus on the academic aspects of Hispanic heritage to bring more knowledge to the community,” Pratt said. “Our forums and other events are therefore very academic.”

Sigma Delta Pi Photo Gallery

Throughout the month Sigma Delta Pi plans to host a poetry recital, film festival and school visits. The poetry recital was hosted Sept. 25, and the film festival is broken up into two parts each occurring from 4-6 p.m. in Room 152 of the College of Education building: part one on Oct. 9 and part two on Oct. 16.

Three schools are selected each year to participate in Viaje fantástico or fantastic journey, which was established 11 years ago in honor of Columbus Day, Pratt said. This year, those schools are Roscoe Wilson Elementary, Ramirez Charter School and Hutchinson Middle School. A group of Sigma Delta Pi members will visit each school to talk about the importance of attending college and learning Spanish, share personal stories about college and how Spanish has helped them, and ask students what they want to do before explaining how college and learning Spanish can help them achieve their goals. The group will be at Roscoe Wilson at 10 a.m. Thursday (Oct. 1), Ramirez Charter School at 10 a.m. Oct. 8, and Hutchinson Middle School at 10 a.m. Oct. 15.

“We call it Viaje fantástico because, as we explain to the children, learning Spanish is like going on a fantastic journey that will take you to many amazing places, like how Columbus and his crew embarked on a journey that took them to discover the New World,” Pratt said.

Although the organization hosts events specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month, the honor society really honors Hispanic heritage throughout the year, especially in the Lubbock community. Sigma Delta Pi hosts an annual Spanish spelling bee for schools in Lubbock, Lubbock-Cooper and Frenship Independent School districts.

Each school hosts an internal competition to select their top five students. These students then advance to the championship, which is hosted in the Office of International Affairs auditorium. The top-three finishers receive a plaque and a cash prize and the winning school also receives a plaque. The competition is open to third through eighth graders. Approximately 300 students participate each year and 65 of those advance to the championship.

“We established the spelling bee competition in order to help students learn how to spell in Spanish,” Pratt said. “A lot of our college students struggle to write in Spanish. Since we started the competition, the children have learned to spell very well, and it gets more and more difficult to eliminate them as the years go by.”

Annual poetry competitions, art exhibits, a Spanish discussion table and bilingual readings in schools and libraries also are hosted, and the organization creates content monthly for Spanish Corner in “Latino Lubbock Magazine.”

The honor society is comprised of 55 members who were selected based on the nomination procedure, which focuses on students with a desire to promote the Spanish language and cultures of the Hispanic world. These students also must have 18 Spanish credit hours, including at least three hours of Hispanic literature or culture and civilization at the junior level and have a cumulative GPA of at least 3.2. Graduate students must have the same GPA, but must have completed at least six Spanish credit hours.

Gayle Jeffers, a doctoral student in bilingual education from St. Christopher and Nevis, has been a member of the organization for five years and has held the position of president and secretary. She said Sigma Delta Pi has had a substantial impact on all aspects of her life, including academically, professionally and socially.

“As a bilingual, I see the world through more than one lens,” she said. “Through membership in Sigma Delta Pi, I've gained knowledge of the Hispanic culture much more than I would have in a classroom environment. Through immersion in the art, literature and history of this dynamic population using bilingual reading programs, Spanish Day, Ciclo de Cine, tertulias and Spanish tutoring services along with a full spectrum of other volunteer services and programs, Sigma Delta Pi is designed to provide students of all Spanish speaking levels with an opportunity to learn, practice and use their Spanish. Our organization allows students to practice and maintain their Spanish without the pressures of a classroom.”

Sigma Delta Pi is a national honor society and a member of the Association of College Honor Societies. For more information, visit http://ttusigmadeltapi.wix.com/texastechuniversity.