“I approach it at a conversational level,” Geary said. “There’s not a specific standard for elementary Spanish, so it’s been amazing that I’ve had the creativity to mold it. My goal right now for myself and the program is that by the end of fifth grade, they should be able to pass the high school Spanish I test.”
Geary admits students need more time to meet her high expectations for the relatively new elementary Spanish program. The class is treated as a “special,” similar to physical education or music, so students do not receive a grade for their performance. Geary recently introduced progress reports to let parents know their students’ strengths and weaknesses with Spanish.
General classroom teachers are promoting foreign language learning by labeling items around their rooms with Spanish words. They help students review days, months, numbers and other vocabulary words.
During class time, Geary runs through activities that have students speaking, reading, writing and translating Spanish. She incorporates some Spanish phrases into her directions, always repeating instructions in English so students can keep up.
First-grade teacher Dawn Harvey has seen her students become more interested in Spanish since the IB program started. She encourages her students to practice by using Spanish words to describe what color they are wearing, saying numbers in Spanish during a math lesson and using Spanish for common phrases like “thank you” or “excuse me.”
“The bilingual books in the classroom never received any attention that first year. Now, I have students wanting to look at the books, and actually trying to see if they can read it — especially ‘Bizcocho Va a la Escuela’ (Biscuit Goes to School) — in Spanish,” Harvey said. “Some students enjoy comparing our English version of ‘Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day’ to our Spanish version.