Jeff Mix grew up south of Spokane, WA, in Spangle, a farm town of about 300, known for its Turkey Carnival. Although education was the family business, Jeff didn’t plan on being a teacher originally; as a student-athlete in college, he majored in sports medicine and came to education later, after traveling the world. Jeff moved with his wife to Hawai‘i Island and worked as a history and ELL teacher at the Village Campus; after a brief hiatus on the mainland, where Jeff completed his M.F.A. in creative writing, they returned to stay. He’s been leading the ELL (English Language Learner) program for the past five years.
You’ve spent many years as a traveler. Where have you lived? What other countries have you visited? What languages do you speak?
I first moved to Florence, Italy, a place and a language that almost immediately felt like home to me. Even now, my Italian is fairly fluent, as I try to return frequently. After living in Florence for three years, I moved to Scotland, then to Guatemala, where I worked in an orphanage in a remote area. I also spent a couple of months in Laos doing research for the novel I wrote for my M.F.A.
Do you have a favorite work of literature in any of the other languages you speak, and if so, what do you admire/enjoy about it?
Jhumpa Lahiri wrote a book in Italian about her experience learning Italian and moving to Rome called In Other Words. I love this book as her experience of finding a home in Italy was so familiar to me.
From your perspective as a teacher of language and culture, what do international boarding students gain from their HPA experience?
Our international students are so much more prepared for our rapidly-changing, globalized world. Their exposure is so great here, opening their eyes to all kinds of possibilities or ways of thinking. They might not appreciate it until they leave, but because they’re so receptive and inquisitive at this age, they are ready to be part of the global future in ways we can only begin to imagine.
What specific experiences help to integrate international students in ELL classes into the HPA community?
International Day is a type of capstone experience for ELL students, and we spend a semester preparing for it. Students choose something from their culture that they’re passionate about and want to share with their HPA classmates. They dive into research, interview family members, then learn how to create a lesson. After International Day, they’re always so proud of their performance and often share stories of connections they’ve made with other students.
Do you have a favorite language activity that the kids love and works well?
I love teaching tone in writing using music. I start by having them work on “five senses” writing, creating tone with word choice. Then I’ll choose five very different styles of music and ask students to listen and imagine themselves in the song: where are they, who are they, and what they’re doing. They write, using their five senses to describe this scene, and repeat for the other songs. They love this exercise! Even students who are struggling to write clear sentences in English are amazed at the poetic quality of their own writing.