(Virtual) juice boxes & canvases

Not only has this global pandemic improved our ability to be patient, adjust repeatedly, accommodate, appreciate the small things anew, and in general “wait on the Lord,” we’ve learned a thing or two about problem solving and creativity.

This goes also for our Spanish Immersion program. Now in its third year, our Spanish Immersion (SI) program was gaining ground especially through its focus on community involvement. Our kindergarteners were visiting local businesses like Ramirez Bakery, learning how to order Mexican baked goods, and bringing their families back to practice further.

But then a global pandemic interrupted our well-prepared plans. And we can no longer take full classes of kindergarteners to the bakery in person or to the grocery store or tamale restaurants.

But once we got used to our new norm and extra quarantine practices, our SI students are still able to make these field trips virtually—not quite the same, but certainly still great learning experiences. Our SI Coordinator, Dinah Pereira, is going on these local community trips herself, and livestreaming back to the classrooms so that students can still ask the head baker questions, still hear about “la Excelencia,” a Mexican grocery store, still meet the Spanish-speaking firemen, vets, and chefs. And although students aren’t necessarily able to go back on their own this year, they are still doing connected activities in class, and are still starting conversations with their families at home about what they learned is in their local community.

“We want to create relationships with community organizations that have Spanish speakers and can heighten the Spanish language in our classroom community,” Dinah said. Speaking Spanish “is not just about getting a really good job, but realizing that real people use this language every day and use it as a part of what they do, and I can do too.”

biophoto-si-winter21-connections-tamale

Spanish is not just about getting a really good job, but realizing that real people use this language every day and use it as a part of what they do, and I can do too.

And it all fits with our regular social studies units: “In kindergarten we talk about ‘How do I connect to my community?’ In first grade it’s ‘What is my place in my community?’ And how do I exemplify the Spanish language when I do that,” Dinah added.

First graders are focusing on the arts, taking virtual arts classes with experts from around the world, thanks to our ability to live stream. In November, they had their own first grade version of a “Wine and Canvas” party, with “Juice Boxes and Canvas” instead—learning how to paint a pumpkin from an artist friend livestreaming in from Texas.

We’ve had the opportunity to hear stories, ask questions about where they live and how their houses, communities and weather are different from ours…

biophoto-si-winter21-connections-painting

Second graders are learning how to connect to people who are different from themselves, how to speak with respect and honor for others unlike themselves…

In December, they learned a new folklorica, or traditional Mexican dance from an expert in Grand Rapids, and taught it to the rest of the SI classes at their Christmas party. And after Christmas break, they hope to learn from a Spanish speaking chef how to safely sanitize before baking, what is the typical kitchen terminology, as well as a no-cook cookie recipe that they can make themselves at home with family.

“A lot of these kids say ‘My grandma teaches me how to make this,’ so we want to connect to the memory of their grandparents who teach them how to cook,” Dinah said.

And, thanks to our new second grade SI teacher, Andrea Cantú, and her vast array of Spanish-speaking connections throughout the world, second graders have been able to Zoom almost weekly, interviewing a variety of professionals. They have spoken to a doctor in Mexico about what his job is like, and how he typically works six days a week there, a pastor in a small town in Mexico, a nurse in Ecuador.

“Originally my goal was for students to just hear Spanish from a native speaker and listen to differences in accents and vocabulary while the ‘guest’ read us a story,” Andrea said. However, “It has evolved, depending on the person, and we have had the opportunity to hear stories, ask questions about where they live and how their houses, communities and weather are different from ours, and learn about special celebrations in their countries.”

“Second graders are learning how to connect to people who are different from themselves, how to speak with respect and honor for others unlike themselves,” said Dinah, adding that they are learning to recognize different ways of speaking even virtually, and sensing different personality types through the virtual world. They noticed differences in speaking and mannerisms from the small-town pastor who spoke slowly “like my grandpa,” said one student, so that “I felt really peaceful,” as compared with the nurse in Ecuador who was much more animated when speaking to them.

Plus, like their English counterparts, SI teachers are taking advantage of opportunities to teach and learn outside because of COVID precautions, and are spending full days at places like Hemlock Crossing where they learn math and science, read and write, and explore throughout the park—all in Spanish!