Colorado AcademyUpper School students taking Meg Hill’s Advanced Spanish Seminar are putting their language skills to real-world use and, at the same time, making a positive impact in the community.
The CA students took books, songs, and good spirits to the Kindergarten and Grade 1 ELA (English Language Acquisition) classes at nearby College View Elementary School, to work with the heritage Spanish-speaking children who are in the process of learning English. Working in small groups, the CA students read books, chatted in Spanish, and quizzed the younger students on their English.
The students also taught each other songs. The CA crew shared three—El elefante del circo, Un elefante se balanceaba, and Los politicos—complete with hand motions.
College View Kindergarten and ELA teacher Paula Ospina said her students were excited to see the older kids speaking their language.
“Often, these children are embarrassed to speak Spanish,” she said, “because they think in America they’re supposed to speak English. The opportunity to see the CA kids wanting to speak Spanish gives them a sense of pride.”
Hill appreciates the way the interactions allow the CA students to apply their Spanish in a real and relevant context. “When they see that the kids understand them, react to what they are saying, and make them laugh, it validates their study and boosts their confidence.”
Next up, Hill’s class will visit two other Denver Public Schools in the area—Doull and Gust Elementary Schools—to perform plays inspired by Mexican legends. Working in groups, the students are building their stories and embellishing the themes to create an original 10-minute script. Incorporating all the necessary elements of a play—dialogue, casting, props, and costumes—each team is also tasked to include interactive and audience-participation elements to make the experience more engaging for the children. The plays will be performed 90 percent in Spanish and 10 percent English to honor the linguistic abilities of their audiences.
“Some of my students have never really acted before, and now they are being asked to create a full theater production—in Spanish,” Hill said. Coupled with the fact that the plays will be performed at all-school assemblies in front of hundreds of kids on a real stage, there are a few nerves at play. Yet, her students welcome the opportunity to practice their second language skills for an enthusiastic and empathetic audience.
Students in the year-long Advanced Spanish Seminar move between teachers and themes each trimester. In addition to Hill’s focus on children’s and young adult literature, this year’s students will study film and fiction with David Colodny, and real-world life skills with Lisa Todd. Todd’s class covers essential knowledge all young adults should have—taught in Spanish—including domestic chores and maintenance, health and nutrition, personal finance, and more. Other themes in the course have included culinary diversity in the Spanish-speaking world, Latin American protest music, and underground theater.