Grade school Spanish is on the way
Arizona Daily Star
July 19, 2007

Author: JAMAR YOUNGER, ARIZONA DAILY STAR Estimated printed pages: 2

After a one-year delay, the Catalina Foothills School District will introduce its new Spanish-language program to elementary school students when school resumes in August.

Elementary schools will devote 30 minutes of the school day to Spanish instruction, with students in first through fifth grades learning the language Mondays through Fridays and kindergarten students learning Spanish four days a week.

The foreign-language program is part of a larger initiative to bring 21st-century learning strategies into the classrooms, said Mary Jo Conery, assistant superintendent for 21st-century learning.

Those strategies include refining and prioritizing curriculum benchmarks, enhancing professional development for staff and teaching the character attributes necessary to exemplify responsible citizenship, Conery said.

"It was evident to us that world languages is a critical component for our students to be successful in their life," she said.

The program means students in the district have the opportunity to learn Spanish in every grade.

This year, the first day of school is Aug. 13.

The elementary curriculum will focus on conversational Spanish and the basic concepts of language, such as greetings. The program will make connections with other subjects, especially social studies, said Myriam Ortega, who will teach Spanish at Ventana Vista Elementary School.

"It provides more authentic and purposeful learning because they make a real-life connection to what they're learning in the classroom," said Ortega, who previously taught first grade at the school.

The program will allow students to compare cultures in the United States with cultures in Spanish-speaking countries. The children will learn how to tell time and say the Pledge of Allegiance in Spanish, Ortega said.

The students will benefit in other ways that are not outlined in the curriculum, she said.

"Learning a language makes you appreciate other cultures and makes you more accepting," she said. "If you appreciate other cultures, you appreciate your own."

Ortega is the only teacher from within the district who filled one of the eight positions that were added for Spanish teachers. The other teachers will be new to the district, she said.

The district has seven Spanish teachers who have either received a contract, a letter of intent or are going through the hiring process, Conery said.

The elementary Spanish program was supposed to start last year, but the state budget had not been approved before the district's budget deadline and the district did not know how much money it would have to pay the new Spanish teachers, Conery said.

The district will spend $344,000 from the 2007-08 budget for the teaching positions, and more than $10,600 from last year's capital budget for supplies and materials, Conery said.

Some parents hope the opportunity for their children to learn Spanish at a young age will help them when they get older.

"It will give them that much more of an edge," said Phyllis Capp, who has two sons at Ventana Vista. "I hope it will open up opportunities for them when they're in the work force."

And if children learn Spanish when they're young, they can possibly go on to learn another language while they're young, too, she said.

"We are fooling ourselves if we think we can get along by learning English only," she said. "We need to know extra languages besides English."

* Contact reporter Jamar Younger at 434-4076 or jyounger
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Copyright 2007 The Arizona Daily Star
Record Number: MERLIN_5279048