Spanish now Midland’s foreign language for IB

       The International Baccalaureate (IB) program requires children ages 7 and older to study one of the Romance languages, in addition to English.

Midland Elementary Spanish teacher Patty Cade gets her kindergarteners moving to learn the Spanish words for up, down, left and right. Three District 11 elementaries in all teach a foreign language.
Westside Pioneer photo

       But which one?
       At Midland Elementary, District 11's only K-5 IB school, that language has been French since the program started in 2002.
       This school year, however, Principal Jeremy Cramer and IB Coordinator Wanda Sutton decided to switch it to Spanish.
       From “Bonjour!” to “Buenas dias!”
       “It shows respect to a number of families in our community,” said Sutton, referring to the school's roughly 30 percent Hispanic population. “The odds of hearing French in this area are almost nil.”
       At the same time, added Cramer, “You're going to hear Spanish pretty regularly.”
       Before this year, Midland was the only District 11 elementary offering French. Even now, it's among only three with any foreign language instruction, according to a District 11 spokesperson. The other two are Steele and Freedom (both Spanish).
       When French was Midland's foreign language, it was provided for all grades - not just the IB-required ages 7 and up - because, as Cramer pointed out, younger brains are particularly receptive to learning langages.
       The same strategy is being used with Spanish. Students leave their regular classrooms for 35 to 40 minutes with Spanish teacher Patty Cade. The frequency depends on school schedules. This semester, kindergarten and fifth grade have her weekly, and the other grade levels twice-weekly.
       The language change has been well received. “We've had no negative feedback,” Cramer said.
       A challenge for Cade - who's new at Midland this year - is adjusting to different age levels as well as varied levels of Spanish understanding. As might be imagined, most of the children come in knowing only English. But at the same time, a child for whom Spanish is a first language may not have a keen grasp of its grammar or vocabulary (much the same as English-speaking grade-schoolers with their main language). And then there are those who speak “Spanglish,” Cade said - a result of homes where English and Spanish are mixed together in conversation.
       Also in the mix are kids from unusual backgrounds, such as the boy from Lebanon, for whom Spanish is becoming his third lanaguage. “Sometimes he'll raise his hand and tell me that a word in Spanish is the same as in Lebanese,” Cade said.
       Her intent is to teach “textbook Spanish,” so that students learn the language properly. At the same time, “there's a lot of cultural awareness that I inject into the lessons,” she said, which means less bookwork and translating and more singing, dancing and chant-ing. She even confessed to “being silly” at times, such as changing her voice, then “having them mimic me,” as a method to emphasize words or phrases.
       The end result, Cramer elaborated, is creating an “immersion experience, as when kids are learning their own first language, because that's how the brain is set up to learn.”
       Other plusses from the class, as described by Cramer, Sutton and Cade, include preparing students who will need a foreign language in upper grades, giving a comfort level to Hispanic students who are still learning English and, on the other side of the coin, exposing American-born youngsters to a language and way of life that may be unfamiliar to them.

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