They’ve only attended four short classes and already the students can greet their friends, ask directions to the airport and order from a menu – in Spanish.
Every week in April at 5:30 p.m. sharp, a group of 20-some adults converge at Westwood Intermediate School to either brush up on or learn beginning conversational Spanish. They meet in the Spanish Immersion Program wing of Westwood, where either their children or, in one case, a grandchild, are enrolled in the program.
This is the first time Spring Lake Park District 16’s Community Schools has piloted such a program and the response has been, well, muy bueno. About 95 percent of the 90-minute class is spoken in Spanish.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since I came to Spring Lake Park,” said Richie Kucinski, Spanish Immersion coordinator. “We did it at Forest Lake. It was always popular.”
Most of the adult students joined the class, titled Parent Spanish Classes for Spanish Immersion Families, to have a better understanding of the language their child is learning. They want to be able to communicate with them.
“My dream was to speak Spanish,” said Ophelia Kynnersley, mother of third-grader Amelia, a student in the district’s SI program. “Now, my dream is eight years old and she speaks Spanish.”
Kynnersley, herself, attended a Spanish Immersion program in Minneapolis for three years when she was in primary school.
Chuckles erupt from time to time amid attempts at Spanish phrases as the adult students try out their new skills.
“Remember, we laugh at ourselves. We are learning,” says teacher Daniela Perez, who co-teaches the class with Jessica Rojas.
A variety of classroom activities ensue. They watch an old “I Love Lucy” video of Desi Arnaz as Ricky Ricardo over-emoting in telling his son, little Ricky, a bedtime story – “Little Red Riding Hood” in Spanish, sprinkled with a few English phrases. The class is to figure out the title of the story.
In another exercise, using iPads, the students in treasure-hunt style roam the room, seeking the name of a person dressed in pink (rosado), for example. Or a person who wants to go to New York City (La Ciudad de Nueva York). All inquiries and communication must be en Español.
Near the end of class, a makeshift restaurant is set up by pushing two desks together. After a brief wait, two brave souls volunteer to step forward to try out their food ordering skills in Spanish.
They ask for a menu. Something to drink? Perez asks, posing as a server.
“Agua, por favor (water, please),” they say.
Pramod Khakural orders for fellow student Kynnersley. His pleasure is chicken and rice, soup and salad with lots of cheese and cake for dessert. With the help of a prompt sheet, he manages to communicate in his newly found language. He punctuates the end of the activity with relief and a quick comment.
“This restaurante es fabuloso!” he yells out in a cross between English and Spanish. Laughter again fills the room.
Khakural joined the class because his wife is from Panama and he has a first-grader in the SI program. He wishes he would have taken the class before venturing to Panama, he said.
“This helps a lot,” he said. “Just being around people, hearing it and practicing it. It’s wonderful.”
It’s been 20 years since Teresa Goerish of Blaine took Spanish, but it’s starting to come back to her in bits and pieces, she said.
Her daughter, Breanna, is in grade two of the SI program. In Goerish’s case, the roles are reversed. Breanna helps her mom learn Spanish.
“She likes being in the role of teacher,” Goerish said about her eight-year-old daughter.
So the adult students can practice further, the assignments are online.
The class takes people out of their comfort zone, “but it allows them to learn in a safe environment,” said Perez. The idea is to help parents understand the process of learning a foreign language.
Perez, who has been teaching second grade in District 16’s SI program for one year, ventured to America from Chile when she was 19 years old. She came to attend college in West Virginia. She didn’t know English, so she immersed herself in the language while attending classes. Fifteen years later, she finds herself bilingual and not only teaching kids in the SI program, but teaching Spanish classes to adults.
“I love it,” she said. “I really like this group because most of them are parents. They’re just doing it because they want to help their kids.”
The purpose of the class was to invite family members of SI students to learn basic Spanish and to have an idea of what their children are saying, said Colleen Pederson, director of community education.
“I have heard only wonderful things about the program and have no doubt that we will run several sessions next year.”
Cost for the five-session course was $25.
The recently held class ends on a high note, some walking away with more confidence in their Spanish-speaking skills, a bonus piece of chocolate (pronounced cho-ko-lah-teh) and new Spanish phrases and vocabulary words.
“Now, I can talk to my son and ask him how his day was,” Khakural said.
Elyse Kaner is at firstname.lastname@example.org