Avon Instructional Coach and Her Daughters Enjoy International Experiences
Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
It began with Abraham Lincoln and grew from there. Catherine Lewis, a self-described “Lincoln buff,” shared her passion for history and international travel with her two daughters.
“The joke was that any home that Abraham Lincoln lived in for any length of time, I took them to,” says Lewis, an instructional coach with Avon High School. But their travels weren’t limited to Lincoln’s heritage. The family, which includes her husband, Thomas, and daughters, Claire, 22, and Sophia, 20, adores international travel. Much of that passion was cultivated thanks to the Avon school system. Early on, one of Claire’s Spanish teachers encouraged her to check out the Indiana University Honors Program in Foreign Languages (IUHPFL).
“It was a game-changer for her,” Lewis says. “She came back fluent.”
In the IUHPFL, students live with a host family, but the experience encourages them to spread their wings. As a result, their confidence grows exponentially.
During college, Claire went on several goodwill trips to various Hispanic communities. She also studied abroad in Mérida, Mexico. In June of 2022 she graduated from DePaul University in Chicago, and because she received a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant award, she’ll teach at Universidad Camilo José Cela in Madrid, Spain, from September of 2022 until June of 2023.
When it came time for Sophia to select a foreign language at Avon, she purposefully chose something different than her older sibling.
“Teachers would say to her, ‘Oh, you’re Claire’s sister?’ and Sophia would respond, ‘No, I don’t know Claire,’” Lewis says. She wanted to carve out her own identity, so she studied French and Russian, choosing both a romance language and a critical language.
Sophia, a double French/Russian major at Indiana University, is in the Advanced Russian Language and Area Studies Program (RLASP), which is supported by American Councils Study Abroad. It’s designed to maximize linguistic and cultural immersion into Russian society. Sophia received two scholarships – the Gilman Scholarship Program, and Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship. These scholarships enable Sophia to study in Kazakhstan this summer. First she went to Paris, and lived in youth hostels before spending two months with a host family.
Lewis received the Lilly Endowment Teacher Creativity Fellowship, which enables her to spend four and a half weeks in France this summer. This likely never would have happened if not for COVID-19. During quarantine Lewis taught herself French via Duolingo, an American language-learning website and mobile application that enables users to practice vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation. She listened to podcasts on Duolingo and followed along with a transcript, which she recommends to anyone learning a foreign language.
“You’ll find yourself getting better,” she says. “It’s amazing when you hear a podcast and realize you’re understanding what they’re saying.”
After listening to a podcast called “Le Paris Noir,” she thought, “That’s what I want to do. I want to go see that side of Paris.”
Like her girls, once she sets her mind to something, Lewis is committed to doing it. It took her two years to get through Duolingo, but she made steady progress. In her grant, she explains how she could read fairly well, and that listening to podcasts had greatly improved her listening skills. Speaking the language, however, was a different story.
“You learn by being thrown into conversation,” she says.
When she got word that she was the recipient of the Lilly grant, it felt like a dream come true. “Learning French got me through the pandemic, so to study French culture in France offered a sort of closure to this two-year time period,” she says.
Thomas also loves to travel. He studies abroad through IUPUI in Greece every summer. This past May he went to Norway to visit his daughter Amalia, who graduated from a university in Trondheim.
Next on Lewis’s travel bucket list is Madagascar, where the official language is French. “Now it’s accessible to me because I speak French,” Lewis says.
She loves to learn, not only to expand her horizons, but also to better understand Avon’s students.
Lewis credits Avon schools for preparing young scholars to spread their wings in this way.
“You work hard in these programs, and with hard work comes self-efficacy,” Lewis says. “I think that’s what my girls got from Avon – a confidence where they felt, ‘I can do this. I can learn this language. I can travel.’”
According to Lewis, the most rewarding aspect of international travel is changing one’s worldview.
“Your world gets bigger, but ultimately the big world gets smaller,” she says.