May 10, 2006 | By: Terri McLean

Students in the English as a Second Language program at Atherton High School journeyed to Louisville from Somalia, Croatia, Iraq, Mexico, Korea and other distant countries. But many of them had never set foot downtown, in the heart of the place they now call home. 

Until last week, that is. 

With Yanay Mesa looking on, Anatiel Santiesteban reset a GPS receiver near the statue of York on the Belvedere in downtown Louisville. Thanks to teacher Scott Wade’s determination to help the students learn more about their adopted city – its history, its culture and its “personality” – 90 ESL students from 14 countries ventured to downtown Louisville for a scavenger hunt of city landmarks.

“A lot of these kids don’t get the opportunity to do things around town, so we figured we’d show them,” said fellow ESL teacher Kim Courtney, who accompanied a group of students on the scavenger hunt. “They don’t get exposed to this otherwise.”

Armed with Global Positioning System receivers supplied by the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, nine groups of 10 students each navigated their way around such downtown landmarks as the Aegon Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum, the Cathedral of the Assumption and, perhaps most appropriately, the statue of York, a slave who accompanied Lewis and Clark on their 19th century expedition across America.

“My first year as a teacher (2003) was the celebration of Lewis and Clark’s expedition,” said Wade. “I really began to think about the parallels between my students and Lewis and Clark … because those men and Sacajawea (their Native American guide) went into the unknown, having really no idea what to expect. I felt like my students could connect to that.”

Unlike Lewis and Clark, however, these modern-day adventurers had the benefit of GPS technology to make their journey a little easier. GPS is a satellite navigation system used worldwide to help people pinpoint locations on Earth. The students had only to enter a landmark’s latitude and longitude coordinates into their GPS receivers to find out which direction to go.

“One of the things the kids are going to constantly have to learn is technology,” Wade said. “So what I want them to be able to learn is that they can quickly and competently learn a new technology, work as a team to solve a problem and get the job done. From that they gain confidence that, gosh, ‘I can figure out anything.’”

The use of GPS technology also helped bridge the divide that, Wade said, often exists between people who hail from different countries and speak different languages.

“Technology is the international language,” he said. “When I first talked to them about GPS, military satellites, electromagnetic waves, latitude and longitude, it kind of blows them away. But within a very short timeframe they’ve got it.”

Doug McLaren, an Extension specialist at the UK College of Agriculture who gave the students a crash course in GPS technology beforehand, said the technology highlighted “commonality” between the many cultures and languages represented by the ESL students.

“It’s something that we as adults should be picking up from them (the ESL students), and that is that all people are unique in their own ways, but we’re all human beings and we’re all trying to accomplish the same things,” McLaren said. 

Those accomplishments turned out to be many when all groups met up at 4th Street Live to conclude the scavenger hunt. In addition to locating all seven city landmarks, honing their English language skills and practicing their abilities to work as a team, the students had a morning full of fun.

“I really like doing this,” said Cuban native Anatiel Santiesteban, who, with a GPS unit in hand, led her group in a fast-paced search. “It helps us, I guess, in our future because it’s something new that we learn … and to get to know different places here in downtown.”

“They probably make the most out of every day,” McLaren said as he watched the groups report back in. “They put into it and get out of it as much as they can.”

“Some of them like the technology. Some of them like the group work. Some of them like downtown. And all of them like getting out of school,” Wade added.

This is the fourth year Wade has taken ESL students on a scavenger hunt, as well as the fourth year he’s called on Extension and McLaren for their GPS expertise. The first year, they took students on a different downtown route; then they moved the hunt to the Louisville Zoo for two years. Next year, Wade said, he might switch course again.

“Who knows what’s possible,” he said. “Next year it could be in a state forest. The year after that it could be in Chicago. It may be in New York City.”


Doug McLaren, (859) 257-2703