New private school in The Woodlands doubles down on Spanish classes
Sofia Swenson, a friendly six-year-old, said she lived in Spain once. She may have learned some Spanish there, but now she can recite a list of Spanish words that she knows on the spot.
That ability is a result of her Spanish dual immersion class at All Nations Community School, and comes despite that she is surrounded by the English language on a daily basis now.
Nicole Puig, the language coordinator at All Nations Community School, said parents wanting their children to learn different languages is an idea that is on the rise as people see its value.
“More and more people in the United States are recognizing that language is so important,” Puig said. “Parents with younger kids don’t automatically accept that English only is going to be OK for their child.”
With students in grades kindergarten through seventh grade, the private international school is focused on families who are interested in exposing their children to a variety of cultures and languages. The school opened last August with 14 students and rent their school building from Congregation Beth Shalom of The Woodlands along Shadowbend Place.
“All students at all grade levels have Spanish every day as a class, just like they have math or science,” Puig said.
The school started out with songs, games and role-playing activities to introduce the language to the younger children, many of whom are beginners, and have incorporated more reading and spelling lessons as the year has gone on. The older group of children, which includes more advanced speakers, are taught Spanish in the context of other subject areas like language arts or social studies.
“The idea with immersion is that you’re not just talking at (the students). There has to be structured support. I’m not slowing down my speech or babying anything I’m saying, but at the beginning of the year they had more visuals,” Puig said. “It’s all about that ‘scaffolding’ to understand vocabulary and context.”
Puig has a lengthy background in language arts, having taught four different languages at both private and public institutions and she holds a doctorate degree in romance studies from Cornell University.
The Villager visited one class at the school on a day when younger students were working on coloring the Cuban flag. For the vast majority of the class, Puig speaks to the students only in Spanish, asking them things such as what color the star on the flag should be.
“There’s a fairly strong cultural component. You’re learning about the places that use the language. We’ve talked about different places, geography, culture and food. Those things are memorable,” Puig said. “I don’t give a lecture about salsa music and the history, we get up and dance…they have a connection with it.”
Through these classes, Puig said she’s seen students grow to take pride in their language abilities. Kids such as Sofia may not have wanted to speak Spanish at the beginning of the year, but now boast about the phrases they can say.
Next year, the school plans to expand their dual immersion Spanish curriculum. Students in kindergarten through fifth grade will have blocks of language arts, science and social studies classes taught in Spanish some days and English other days, while students in sixth and seventh grades will continue the daily immersion classes.
The school’s director, Christina Callaway, said one of the school’s goals is to have their students be proficient in another language by the time they graduate.
“That’s part of what we believe as a school. It takes some time to get there, but we want to do as much as possible with the resources we have,” Callaway said.