Lilley Fellows Caroline Sewell '23 & Rohith Tsundupalli '24 Present Findings

Why do American students lag behind their international peers when it comes to studying a foreign language?

That is the question Caroline Sewell '23 examined as part of her Lilley Fellowship research.

During her Lilley Fellowship presentation on Friday, Oct. 14, Caroline began by asking Upper School students to raise their hand if they are currently taking a language course. Nearly everyone in The Carrafiell Family Theater responded as 97 percent of students are enrolled in EA's vast language offerings.

"If we were at an average American K-12 school, this number would shrink to 20 percent. Statistically, America is an outlier," explained Caroline. "In countries like Norway, France and Romania, every student learns a foreign language, and the overall average for Europe is 92 percent."

Caroline discovered the discrepancy is two-fold. "Many Americans don’t believe that a language is useful for their job, so why take it?"

And only 10 states mandate the study of language as a graduation requirement. "While this might explain the gap, it doesn’t mean that learning a foreign language is useless. Even ignoring the fact that not all Americans speak English, languages are useful for more than just communication skills," said Caroline. "In the process of learning a language, you discover the culture and history of the language and its speakers. In a time where division can be great, having a sense of empathy and global awareness is important."

Studies have also shown that there are academic and cognitive benefits of being bilingual. 

"Bilinguals are strengthening neural pathways and 're-wiring' their brain to make processing more efficient. This results in greater gray matter density and white matter integrity, which are both important for brain connectivity and function," said Caroline. "The language control region of the brain has high overlap with executive control, and thus bilinguals have been observed to have  higher error detection, attention, ability to switch between tasks, and conflict resolution than monolinguals."

Caroline worked with her Lilley advisor, Classics Department Chair Dr. Melanie Subacus, to learn about the different ways to teach Latin. With a modified "reading method," Caroline spent six weeks teaching Latin to 6th graders in EA's Horizons summer program. At the end of the program, most of the students said they would like to continue studying Latin. One of the Horizons teachers is now using Caroline's curriculum at her own school. 

Rohith Tsundupalli '24 next took the stage to share his research on Dreamers and how Dreamer status impacts one's life and education. Rohith first became interested in the topic while volunteering with EA community service partner ACLAMO.

"As I volunteered at ACLAMO, I learned that some of the students may be Dreamer immigrants. I had heard of the phrase but had very little knowledge of who or what a 'Dreamer' immigrant actually was," shared Rohith. "But, over the course of my study, I developed better knowledge on how the status of being a Dreamer immigrant may affect one’s life and education."

As Rohith worked with young students, many expressed their hope of attending college. "However, after some initial research, I learned that Dreamer immigrants have numerous laws that limit their educational opportunities; this was when it dawned on me that I had to delve deeper into this topic," said Rohith.

Some ACLAMO students work with ADELANTE- a program that provides guidance for students interested in pursuing high education. Rohith interviewed several of the participating students to better understand their aspirations. "The interviews I conducted presented me with the challenges that they were facing, in terms of their goals versus the resources at their disposal," explained Rohith. "The part I was the most astounded by was the limited counseling they received at school. Every student mentioned that ethnicity stood in the way of their college acceptance and that they did not have the right resources to combat that. One student claimed, 'I am hoping to attend college, and especially for me, being Hispanic, it is going to be a tricky path.' "

Standardized testing, college application fees, and how to pay for college were among the top concerns. And while scholarship opportunities are plentiful, few of the students have any guidance on how to apply.

After gathering information from students, Rohith interviewed Silvana D. Alvarez-Lopez, a Dreamer who became a U.S. citizen in May. "The process that Silvana had to endure to attain a college education was extremely complex and arduous, but she is hopeful for today’s generation as she believes that more scholarships have come about and students are more aware of their educational opportunities," said Rohith.

Rohith then connected with United We Dream, the largest youth-led organization for Hispanic immigrants. Working with ACLAMO and United We Dream, Rohith created a guide to help Dreamer students and their families navigate the college process.

"I chose to compile a guide because it allows ACLAMO students to work at their own pace while remaining knowledgeable on the opportunities available to them," explained Rohith. "Along with this guide, I have been developing a virtual service opportunity or 'adopting' program where Episcopal students, in addition to using the guide, can help provide guidance to students from the ADELANTE program at ACLAMO. This way, students from ACLAMO can learn and have a resource to lean on."

Rohith worked closely during his fellowship research with World Languages teacher Amy Brostchul and EA Community Service Coordinator Becky Brinks.

Watch Caroline and Rohith's presentations.