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Greenbrier students to soak up Spanish

August 05, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

Habla Espanol?

Greenbrier Elementary School students and teachers will learn to roll their tongues in true Spanish style beginning this year as the school starts a program aimed at making language conquistadors out of los estudiantes.

Children in kindergarten through fifth grade will speak the language, from chanting numbers to rehearsing months and days in both English and Spanish, throughout the course of each school day, said Elaine Semler, the school's principal.

The first-year program is tied to the school system's five-year Master Plan, which calls for world and classical language signature programs to be installed in two elementary schools, said Roger Giles, the school system's director of funded and special programs.

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Greenbrier was chosen to be first because it feeds into Boonsboro Middle School, which is one of five middle schools that will have a similar language program in the upcoming school year, he said.

At Boonsboro, the first middle school to express interest in the language program, and at the other participating schools, sixth-grade students will be introduced to a variety of languages, such as Spanish, French and German, before focusing on Spanish or French in seventh and eighth grades.

The newest schools to participate, Northern Middle School and Springfield Middle School, will have only a sampling of the languages in each grade in the first year, Giles said.

Teachers at Greenbrier will be required to give their students a sampling of just the Spanish language. That differs from the middle school program in that some of those schools have certified language instructors teaching their students.

Greenbrier's classroom teachers who are not proficient in the language will have the opportunity to take a conversational Spanish course through Hagerstown Community College, Semler said.

She said the cost of the courses will be paid by the school system's office of funded and special programs and will be supplemented with school improvement money.

About six teachers from different grade levels already have begun to train for the program with Gloria Grimsley, the school system's new supervisor of world and classical languages.

Those teachers, most of whom have some degree of Spanish fluency, have been working with the new elementary school Spanish curriculum "Sonrisas Spanish School" to develop lesson plans and create a presentation to be given to their colleagues before the start of the school year, Semler said.

She said that sampling of teachers then will train their colleagues to speak the language.

"We're all learning together so no one feels the stress of learning a new language," she said.

Teaching students Spanish won't seem so foreign to Greenbrier fourth-grade teacher Debbie Zayas. Her husband is Latin American and her children, although they do not consider themselves bilingual, speak some Spanish.

Zayas said she has been able to pick up Spanish just from being around her husband, an osmosis effect she thinks her students will acquire.

"They're like little sponges," she said.

She has noticed that her own children have benefited from their parents' marriage of cultures. They have a greater appreciation of cultural differences, an attitude she hopes her students will adopt once they start learning to speak Spanish.

Zayas said Spanish, since it has fewer grammar exceptions than English, may even be easier for students to learn.

Learning Spanish also will help students to make associations between the languages, such as noting the similarities between the Spanish "telfono" and "importante" and the English "telephone" and "important," she said.

"There's a real advantage to learning a second language," Grimsley said. "Thinking in a second language can raise your self confidence."

She said there are few students in the school system who speak Spanish as their first language, and most of those students attend city schools.

"It's going to broaden them, and our world is becoming smaller," Zayas said.

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