We’re excited about the next step in this HC Spanish Immersion adventure—using our Spanish skills to build bridges out into other communities.

Maybe you know this already, like the Rose Park Spanish Immersion kindergartners do, but if you go into any Mexican panaderia in Holland— or Mexico, for that matter—and try the puerquitos, or small pig-shaped breads, they taste more like gingerbread than sweet. If you try the conchas, or shell-shaped breads, they’re sweeter on the outside and cinnamony on the inside. And the galletas, or pastel colored cookies? They’re kind of crumbly, but melt-in your mouth yummy.

It’s just our second school year with elementary Spanish Immersion classes, and we’re thrilled at all the transformations, both in the kids themselves and in our school community. The 1st graders were amazingly fluent in Spanish by the end of kindergarten last year, yet able to test at national averages in English. We’ve got teachers who are talented, vibrant, engaging—and even other non Spanish Immersion Rose Park students gape in the halls, impressed. Plus we’ve got greater diversity growing in our student body at Rose Park. So now we’re excited about the next step in this Holland Christian Spanish Immersion adventure—using our Spanish skills to build bridges out into other communities.

“We want our kids to feel empowered to lead their parents into the Spanish speaking community, and to enable that community cultural connection,” explained Dinah Perera, Rose Park’s Spanish Immersion coordinator, and parent of a Spanish Immersion 1st grader.

To make that happen, Rose Park Spanish Immersion kindergartners are engaging in regular cultural connections, like visiting local Hispanic shops, learning the vocabulary for the context, and discovering how to engage local business people in conversational Spanish. Like Ramirez’ Bakery, for example, where this fall Rose Park’s SI kindergartners watched, baked, and then purchased their own cookies—all in Spanish. Their teacher, Hillary Klipp Lopez, prepped them beforehand with any bakery vocab they would need, and the kinds of questions and phrases suitable for a Mexican pastry bakery, as well as the varieties of pastries they would see and maybe taste.

Then, a week or so later, all the kindergarteners took their parents back to Ramirez Bakery on their own time. They were supposed to say hello, look at the different kinds of pastries, choose one to try, and then pay for it in Spanish, translating for their parents if necessary. “So they won’t feel as foreign or as odd to walk into a panaderia to get sweet bread,” explained Dinah. “So they could explain what is the difference between this type of bakery and deBoers, vs. Family Fare donuts.”

“It was great! The kids liked the conchas the best!” said Jeannette Smith️, parent of both a SI kindergartner and 1st grader. “We went back as a family and Asher (and Corben) got to use their Spanish to order a concha and talk with the woman who was working there that day. [She was] very friendly and hospitable, and had delicious treats. We’ll visit again for sure.”

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We want our kids to feel empowered to lead their parents into the Spanish speaking community, and enable that community cultural connection

Meanwhile, Rose Park’s Spanish Immersion 1st graders, in order to make their own cultural connections, will start trading videos with new “video pals,” introducing themselves through video exchanges with international native Spanish speaking “pen pals.” They hope to trade video clips once a month with a friend in a Spanish speaking country “so they can show where they live, what their lunches look like, snacks look like, recesses, schools,” Dinah said. And they’d love to see them continue to exchange correspondence with their new pals in later years as just friends, “not necessarily as a formal thing anymore.”

These community connections are more than just language practice—they’re also implementing our elementary social studies curriculum. We’re teaching kids required curriculum, but in a real life, culturally relevant way—what we firmly believe is a better approach to learning.

“Anytime a student, whether adult or child, is able to learn for an authentic purpose and engage with a real audience, the motivation and inspiration are moved to a much higher level,” added Miska Rynsburger ’92, principal at Rose Park. “This energy and excitement spurs on a joy and desire to continue growing and deepening their learning.”

We’re teaching kids required curriculum, but in a real life, culturally relevant way–what we firmly believe is a better approach to learning.