2017-06-15 / News

Melrose students introduced to Spanish


Jameson Brittain at Melrose School swings a stick at a pinata in search of candy and toys. The outdoor fiesta was the culmination of the school’s pilot Spanish program. 
PHOTO BY RYAN GIBBS Jameson Brittain at Melrose School swings a stick at a pinata in search of candy and toys. The outdoor fiesta was the culmination of the school’s pilot Spanish program. PHOTO BY RYAN GIBBS Adios, Espanol lecciones.

Kindergartners and first-graders said goodbye to their Spanish lessons following a six-week introduction to the nation’s second most common language. The program culminated with an outdoor fiesta, complete with a burro-like pinata last Thursday at Melrose School.

The course was introduced as a pilot program that will expand to school-wide implementation in the fall. For the test course, both grades received 15-minute lessons semi-weekly, which were taught by a volunteer with two children in the district.

Hannah Branciforte, a native of the Dominican Republic, previously taught Spanish at the elementary level in town for an after-school enrichment program.

This course, however, was more formal. When the lessons commenced, Branciforte began by teaching students basic greetings, such as “hola” and “adios,” then graduated to numbers, days and months. So, June 5 became “Junio” and “cinco.”

“We started in May, so I told them how to say the month of May in Spanish,” she said. “As the days went by, we counted to that day.”

Branciforte then taught the Spanish names for colors and animals through pictures, songs and videos. Aside from learning the language, the children were introduced to the Latin American culture. Musical instruments, like congas and maracas, were played while the children sang along.

“It was very kinesthetic and hands on,” principal Carrie Petersen said. “Hannah was great.”

Petersen dropped into a few sessions looking for feedback. During the fiesta, several of the first-graders told their principal learning music was their favorite part. Dylan Gladding said he enjoyed the Spanish version of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” which taught him the names of different body parts.

“It’s different words and I like to learn things,” he said.

“It was fun when we learned them,” classmate Nora Donaldson agreed. “I liked the elephant song the most because we made a little train and we had to walk around the room.”

The pinata reflected the hands-on nature of the lessons. Before the students had their chance to destroy the papiermâché, they had to name the pinata’s colors in Spanish. Branciforte also explained the importance of the Latin tradition. After their crash-course in pinata history, the students each swung the stick at it, ultimately being rewarded with the small toys and trinkets that fell onto the grass.

The children, Branciforte said, were enthusiastic about learning the language. When she strode by her students in the hallways, they would repeat what she taught them. Branciforte was pleasantly surprised when they would ask her questions about the language that were not covered in class.

“They’re very positive,” she said. “In six weeks, they have absorbed a lot.”

The implementation of the Spanish program has been in the elementary school’s strategic plan for the past two years. The school department convened a world language committee last year, which greenlit the six-week pilot program. The curriculum was developed by Branciforte and Petersen in collaboration with Michaela Onosko, the Spanish teacher at Lawn School.

Teachers whose classes participated in Branciforte’s lessons have reacted positively to the program. Kindergarten teacher Colleen MacIntyre believes the younger, the better, for learning languages.

“They’re like little sponges right now,” she said. “Whatever you talk to them about, they’re excited to learn. They’re actually getting it quicker than I am.”

Branciforte also noted the importance of children to learn Spanish because of the growing Latino population in the United States.

“It’s going to put them on high standards when they get older and move on into the school system,” she said. “Being bilingual is very advantageous to their curriculum.”

According to Petersen, the Spanish lessons will be launched across all grades at Melrose in the fall on a semiweekly basis. Because it will be the inaugural year, the content will be mostly identical for each grade. This will be a temporary measure, she said, and different topics will be explored across grades levels in the future. For instance, she hopes that some of the older students will be taught terms in Spanish that will apply to their science lessons.

“We’ll hopefully tie some of the language with what they’re learning,” she said. “That’s the ultimate goal: Immersion.”

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