Elementary students having field day with language

Pilot program has teacher teaching Spanish to youngsters

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— With an "¡Hola!" and a "¡Buenos d-as!" Spanish teacher Ann Coon glided into Cindy Gantick's fifth-grade Soda Creek Elementary School class at 10:15 a.m. Friday and began a quick foreign language lesson.

For a hurried 20 minutes, Gantick's class and half of John Belz's fifth-grade class reviewed homework and practiced Spanish numerals.

About half of Coon's lesson is done in Spanish, and the 30-plus students -- most of whom have no previous Spanish experience -- are able to keep with her pace.

"¿Cuál es su nðmero de telefono?" Coon asked the eager students.

She repeated the question numerous times, emphasizing each word.

One after another, students stood up and said their telephone numbers in Spanish.

"Ocho. Siete. Cero ..." fifth-grader Grant Murray began, reciting his number one digit at a time.

Then, almost as soon as it began, the class ended.

"Muy bien," Coon told the class. "Excelente. Adiós."

"Adiós," the students responded.

At 10:35 a.m., Coon is done for the day, and the second week of the foreign language program is complete.

The pilot program, which teaches beginning-level Spanish conversation and culture to third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at both Soda Creek and Strawberry Park elementary schools, began Feb. 10.

The program is the product of extensive fund-raising efforts by parent committees at both schools. The money raised was enough to pay for the program through the end of this school year. The cost of the program is about $25,000.

What becomes of the program next year and for school years to come is uncertain. The school district has wanted to implement an elementary school foreign language program for some time, but funding issues have stood in the way.

Regardless, the parent-funded program is an immediate success, Soda Creek Principal Judy Harris said.

"It's going terrific," Harris said. "We're working really hard on balancing different schedules to assure all the kids can be part of the Spanish program."

Scheduling is the biggest obstacle for the program.

Because of limited funds, the parent committees could only afford to pay Coon as a part-time teacher through the end of the school year.

As a result, Coon races between Strawberry Park and Soda Creek twice a week, visiting 11 combined classes for 20 minutes at a time. That means Coon often teaches more than 40 kids in each 20-minute session.

Still, the program is effective, Coon said.

"The kids absolutely embrace the Spanish," she said. "They really, truly, enthusiastically like it, and they're really picking it up."

Coon said parent and teacher participation has helped speed the amazing rate that students are picking up the language.

She has unlimited lesson plans for the future, but none of those plans will come to fruition if funding isn't available to continue the program.

"I'd love to see it go all the way down to the kindergarten level, but it's all based on funding," Coon said. "It would be a shame to start, establish this platform and not be able to build on it."

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