Language skills given workout in summer field trip | SierraSun.com

Language skills given workout in summer field trip

Julie Brown
Sierra Sun

Emma Garrard/Sierra SunFourth graders Xavier Laguna, 10, Laura Keller, 9, and Krista Conn, 10, work on an assignment during their dual immersion class at Kings Beach Elementary School Monday afternoon.

A handful of students from the Kings Beach Elementary dual-immersion language program traveled to Mexico last week to put their Spanish skills to the test during a week of grammar classes and cultural exposure.

The field trip forced the students to apply their language lessons over their summer vacation ” shifting back into Spanish-mode for a week of intensive studying at The Center of Languages, a Spanish-language school located on the Baja coastline in Ensenada.

“We can’t speak English the whole week,” said Madison Merchant, a soon-to-be eighth-grader who went on the field trip. “So, it definitely pushes me back into speaking Spanish all the time ” like how it was in elementary school for me.”

Yvonne Logan, a fourth-grade immersion teacher and field trip chaperone, said most kids in the immersion program don’t fall behind in their language abilities over the summer, but they don’t progress either. The Ensenada language school offers classes tailored to each student’s language ability.

The trip also exposed the students to another way of life.

“I think it’s really cool that kids from the United States can go into Mexico and learn their way of living,” Madison said. “We have so many cultures in the U.S. but we never get to experience them like we do in their own country.”

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After each day’s intensive grammar and conversation classes, the group of nine students and two teachers explored the Mexican culture ” eating local food, shopping or speaking with their host family.

“[The week] just refreshes everything,” said Tara House, a kindergarten teacher in the Kings Beach Elementary two-way immersion program. “I mean, you could just tell the second day there the kids were so much more comfortable with their Spanish.”

Though this was House’s first year chaperoning, it was the immersion program’s fourth year of summer field trips.

And it’s not exclusively immersion students who participate. Some students come to prepare themselves for their freshman Spanish classes.

“It gives them a leg up when they start taking ‘Spanish 1’ in high school,” Logan said. “They really feel like they have some knowledge.”

Students were between the ages of 10 and 15, most being in middle school. Since the immersion program has yet to reach the middle school level, the week is especially valuable for former immersion students now in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“They don’t really lose their language [in middle school], but they do forget some,” Logan said. “It takes some prodding to get it back.”

The dual-immersion program will be offered for the first time this fall at North Tahoe Middle School. The district is also expanding the program by one additional strand at Kings Beach Elementary and, according to the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, enrollment for the new strand is already full.

Phoebe House, a soon-to-be eighth-grader and former immersion student, said the field trip was a fun way to learn Spanish because it went beyond the classroom.

“Sometimes it’s hard because you forget what you want to say,” the 13-year-old said. “Especially, if you haven’t spoken Spanish in a long time.”

Only English-speaking students participated in the field trip this year, but Logan said that Spanish-speaking students have come in the past.

“It’s great for them to learn Spanish at a higher level,” said Logan, a native Spanish speaker herself who studied at the Center of Languages five years ago. She said she found it very helpful for polishing her own Spanish.

Offering Spanish-language programs for the summer is something that Logan and House have considered for awhile. They are currently drawing up plans for a potential Spanish summer camp in Tahoe that would attract students throughout the state and the nation.

“It would be like summer camp ” you go hiking, you do crafts,” Logan said. “But all of the counselors … will all only be Spanish-speaking.”

In past summers, immersion classes were offered during summer school. But summer school was not offered this year.

Logan says she encourages native Spanish speakers to participate in the Boys and Girls Club during the summer to help maintain their English.

“They go [to the club] and they are around English all day,” Logan said. “It is so helpful.”