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HHS graduate returns as new Spanish teacher

Maddy O’Brien is the new Spanish teacher at Hastings High School. She recently returned from a trip to Peru and is pictured holding the Peruvian flag. (Star Gazette photo by Michelle Wirth)

It may be Maddy O’Brien’s first year teaching at Hastings High School, but she is already very familiar with the school and the community. She is a Hastings High School graduate from 2010, and now she will be teaching Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 in the foreign language department.

O’Brien went to the College of St. Benedict where she studied hispanic studies and english and minored in education. During that time she also studied abroad in Chile for a semester.

“That’s when I really decided I wanted to teach Spanish,” she said.

Since that experience, she has traveled more and she said the ability to talk to people in Spanish was really fulfilling for her. She recently returned from a trip to Peru over the summer where she worked for Visions Service Adventures. She set up service work for two teen groups that came to Peru. She set up a home for the students and helped build walls with concrete, but she was also able to visit Machu Picchu.

Leslie Burgess, O’Brien’s former teacher and now her colleague in the foreign language department said O’Brien’s experiences abroad will be a major benefit in the classroom. One of the units in the Spanish curriculum is all about community service.

“That’s exactly what she did in Peru,” Burgess said, “she worked in rural villages helping to build infrastructure and do things. You don’t get much more grassroots development than that, so she’ll be able to at the very least share those experiences.”

O’Brien said she hopes to be able to bring those travel experiences into the classroom as well. She said teaching Spanish isn’t just about the language but about the culture too. She hopes her students will not only learn “how to conjugate verbs, but be able to apply it in a different cultural aspect.”

O’Brien’s experience at Hastings High School as a student was a very positive one, she said. She hopes to help her students have the same level of positive experience she had.

“I want students in my classroom to be able to be themselves and find their own interest and identity in what we’re learning,” she said.

Another way she plans to create a positive atmosphere for her students is by supporting them. Whether her student is involved in sports, fine arts or something outside of school, she wants to be supportive of those interests inside and outside of the classroom.

In order to prepare for the year, O’Brien said she has been doing the typical work of rearranging the classroom and organizing papers. However, she can’t wait for the school year to be in full swing.

“I feel really energized by this community,” she said. “I’m in love with my job...every day I go home and I’m just so happy and excited.”

The community is one that she is familiar with and she said she is humbled and honored to work in the school she once attended as a student.

“It means a lot to me to be in’s a very meaningful place,” she said.

Michelle Wirth

Michelle Wirth graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 2013 with a degree in journalism and web design. She worked as a web content editor for a trade association before coming to the Hastings Star Gazette in 2016.

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