Eight-year-old in Spanish program wins first place in writing contest

Thanks to a third-grade Spanish Immersion student at Westwood Intermediate School, students in the program will have access to more books to hone their multilingual skills.

Erika Johnson, 8, a third-grader in SLP District 16’s Spanish Immersion program, recently won first place in Minnesota in a Spanish literature contest. She is pictured with her teacher Brita Larson and Spanish Immersion coordinator Richie Kucinski. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Erika Johnson, 8, a third-grader in SLP District 16’s Spanish Immersion program, recently won first place in Minnesota in a Spanish literature contest. She is pictured with her teacher Brita Larson and Spanish Immersion coordinator Richie Kucinski. Photo by Elyse Kaner

Erika Johnson, 8, has been named first-place state winner in a Spanish literature contest sponsored by Santillana USA. She won in the grades three to five category.

The win came with $1,500 in prizes, including $500 of Spanish books for the SI program’s library. Erika also scored a Kindle Fire for herself.

“I was very excited about getting books for the school,” said Erika, who enrolled in the SI program as a kindergartner at Northpoint Elementary and has been speaking Spanish for four years.

For the contest, Erika wrote a book report on an e-book she read via computer, “Celebra el Dia de Acción de Gracias con Beto y Gaby.” The title loosely translates to “Celebrate Thanksgiving Day with Beto and Gaby.”

Contest rules required a three- to five-paragraph essay written in Spanish.

In her book report, Erika detailed the story line about how a family prepares a surprise Thanksgiving dinner for a grandmother unable to get to her family’s home because of inclement weather.

She also touched on the book’s theme of Thanksgiving traditions around the world.

Accessing books at home

In addition to the books, Erika’s essay won for Westwood’s SI program a year-long e-book subscription featuring Spanish reading materials.

Students will be able to access the books at home via electronic devices, said Richie Kucinski, SI coordinator.

Kucinski, who has worked with Erika for three years, is not surprised she won the contest determined by computer votes.

“She’s definitely one of the kids who jumps right in and is thrilled to use her Spanish and is proud,” Kucinski said.

Brita Larson, Erika’s third-grade teacher, shared in the thrill of Erika’s win.

“The whole class is very excited,” she said. “It’s great to see them use their Spanish at a high enough level to compete with other students.”

Larson has ordered the classroom book prizes, about 45 of them, keeping her students’ interest in mind. Themes run the gamut of animals, to poetry, to history and social studies.

“Its a good opportunity for them to use their Spanish and to realize the power of the language,” Larson said about the contest.

“And motivating, too,” Kucinski said.

As for Erika, she enjoys speaking two languages, English and Spanish.

“You can have more opportunities for jobs,” she said, pondering her future.

Earlier this spring, students in Daniela Perez’s SI second-grade class won second place in a national literacy contest also sponsored by Santillana USA, a Miami-based educational publisher of Spanish-speaking materials. The SI program received $1,500 in books as a prize. For the contest, students created a video in Spanish, explaining why they needed books for their SI program.

Started with kindergarten classes in 2009 at Northpoint and Woodcrest Elementary schools with an enrollment of about 80 students, the SI program now serves about 270 students. The program comprises four kindergartens (three full-day and one half-day), three first grades and two second grades. District 16 plans to add a grade level per year up to grade five to the program.

Elyse Kaner is at elyse.kaner@ecm-inc.com

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