Students’ families hone Spanish skills in summer program

Max Westphal, 5, looks at a box of priority mail during an all Spanish tour of the San Juan Bautista Post Office by Rural Carrier Associate Arjelia Nu–ez. Westphal is part of his Spanish summer playgroup and is part of a mix of students from San Juan Scho

On Fridays this summer, a group of families have been gathering at the San Benito County Free Library and other locations in Hollister or San Juan so that children enrolled at the Hollister Dual Language Academy or the San Juan School dual immersion program have a chance to practice their Spanish skills while school is not in session.

Sara Frieberg said she first thought of starting a group with other parents last summer when her oldest daughter finished kindergarten at San Juan School. This year as her oldest prepares to enter second grade and her youngest will start kindergarten, she arranged with a few other families to hold field trips and gatherings for the kids to practice what they had learned.

“When the kids were in kindergarten, this is something we wanted to continue because we don’t speak Spanish at home,” Frieberg said. “With the tours and field trips it brings in more opportunities.”

Frieberg arranged the schedule for the summer play groups, alternating between field trips in Hollister and San Juan, as well as times at the library where students could do worksheets in Spanish or read books.

She got others interested in participating through an email to some parents she knew who had children enrolled at HDLA or in the San Juan program.

Most of the parents at a gathering on July 13 at the library agreed on the reasons for putting their children in the Spanish-language program.

“Just having them able to learn a second language earlier on, they can be fluent with ease,” Frieberg said. “The pronunciation, the ability to pick something up.”

In the San Juan program, Frieberg said the instruction is 90 percent in Spanish so that the students are learning the language without the translation from English to Spanish that comes in older grades. The program goes up to fifth grade at San Juan School and this year the HDLA will have its first year of sixth-graders. The school has been adding one grade a year since it opened.

Lindsey Luker brought her daughter Kayleigh McCall to the play groups on July 13 to give her a head start in the fall. Unlike the other students, McCall has not been in an immersion program before and will start fresh in second grade. McCall did attend a dual language program in preschool and pre-kindergarten but, Luker said, “It wasn’t presented in a way that it seemed like it would be English and Spanish students at San Juan School.”

She said she thought the immersion language was for Spanish-speaking children to learn English.

On July 6, the families took a trip to Hollister Fire Station No. 2, where Capt. Leo Alvarez agreed to give the children a tour – speaking in Spanish as he showed them around. On July 20, the kids gathered at the San Juan Post Office, where staff members rearranged schedules so an employee who is fluent in Spanish would be available for the tour.

“I am amazed at the abilities the kids have to learn a second language,” Frieberg said.

Jen Westphal, whose son Max will be entering first grade at HDLA in the fall, said he had minimal exposure to Spanish before starting kindergarten.

“He’s excelling,” she said. “I’ve been very happy. We went to the first play group at the fire station. Capt. Alvarez did a great job asking questions and getting them to speak.”

Ronni Johnson’s two sons are also enrolled at HDLA. Alexander is going into sixth grade, and Robinson is entering first grade with Max.

“I think it’s really great to do the play groups,” she said, adding that they hoped to have an adult more fluent in Spanish involved. “I do speak it but not well. It’s nice when we get an environment where the whole group is speaking it. They love it.”

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