Vinland Elementary students pick up Spanish

It’s “Como se dice” song time in Kara Swanson’s biliteracy kindergarten class. Swanson spends a lot of time making Spanish word and picture laminates for the song and other Spanish activities she incorporates throughout the day.  - Tara Lemm/Staff Photo
It’s “Como se dice” song time in Kara Swanson’s biliteracy kindergarten class. Swanson spends a lot of time making Spanish word and picture laminates for the song and other Spanish activities she incorporates throughout the day.
— image credit: Tara Lemm/Staff Photo

POULSBO —  In unison 22 wee voices rise and ask in a sing-song melody, “Como se dice drinking fountain?”

Three times they sing this line, and every time huge smiles adorn their faces and a round of giggles compliments the chorus.

Next they sing the answer to the question, “Drinking fountain se dice el bebedro.” After this is repeated three times one lucky student tapes a laminated cutout of “El bebedro,” – drinking fountain — to the side of the class drinking fountain.

The giggles and laughter really pick up as the next word selected for “Como se dice” song time is “el bano” — the bathroom.

The 22 singing students are in Kara Swanson’s full-day English/Spanish kindergarten class at Vinland Elementary. “Como se dice” is enjoyed in transition times during the day, and throughout the course of the year the students will learn Spanish vocabulary.

“I like ‘Como se dice,’ because I like to sing,” said kindergartner in Swanson’s class, Jayden Jones, who thinks by the end of the year she’ll be able to speak in Spanish. “My favorite word I’ve learned is elephante, because I like elephants.”

Across the hall in the B pod a gigantic “Bienvenidos” banner hangs in Ruth Rarick’s first grade classroom, and the students are busy reciting, “azul,” and “rojo” as they color the first two pages of their “libro de los colores” with blue and red. Every other day is Spanish day in Rarick’s class and Thursday was just such a day.

On Spanish day Rarick starts each class with about 15 minutes of Spanish storytelling, calendar work or songs. For an hour and 45 minute block she’ll integrate Spanish activities into the lesson, perhaps a worksheet here or a poem and chant there. During the month of September Rarick’s first-graders learned colors, animals, Simon Says and how to follow directions in Spanish.

“It’s a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” Rarick said of Spanish day. “Spanish is included on alternate days, but as we go throughout the year it will be daily. Right now this is a very preliminary experience and to protect them and have them bond with me I’m not immersing them in Spanish.”

It’s common knowledge, the younger the mind the easier it is to learn a second language, but the North Kitsap School District provides its second language offerings at the high school or middle school level. However, NKSD’s been toying with biliteracy elementary classroom offerings for a few years, and dual-language classes have recently been discussed by state legislators as a viable second language option for elementary students. With all this in mind, Vinland Principal Charley McCabe said staff decided to offer biliteracy classes so students might learn a second language.

“Our primary goal is to provide a second language to English speakers and we’re also able to provide a really good service to Spanish speakers because it’s a great way for them to learn English,” he said. “There’s really high interest, we still have a waiting list for the first grade class.”

The program is a work in progress, starting this year with 23 students enrolled in a half-day kindergarten class, 22 in Swanson’s class and 25 in Rarick’s class. As the program builds in the coming years, biliteracy classes will be offered through the fifth grade. Right now the kindergarten and first grade classes are being taught the groundwork with the hopes of becoming fluent Spanish speakers by the time they advance to sixth grade.

This year the overall program goal is to teach science and social studies in Spanish and math and literacy will be taught in English or the students native language. Rarick envisions writing and reading in Spanish to take place in second- or third-grade.

However, for the preliminary steps Swanson and Rarick — who’re both bilingual, have Spanish endorsements and have years of experience teaching in Spanish — are taking it slow, and that aligns with the students needs.

“In kindergarten we can’t possibly start out with every other day as Spanish day,” Swanson said. “Every time we do Spanish I’m increasing my time in that language.”

Slow or not the students are quickly picking up the second language, just like planned.

Swanson’s students are doing great and are “batting around” their new vocabulary. She said they’re all eager and it’s like a game for them to figure out.

Rarick’s had similar experiences.

“They knocked the socks off the parents on open house night, they read seven sentences in Spanish and their pronunciation was perfect,” Rarick beamed. “They’re picking it up so quickly and it’s really fun to see.”

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