By Lisa Capobianco
The Southington Board of Education recently voted unanimously to endorse the concept of a phase-in Spanish program that would be a piloted as a theme-based opportunity at South End School.
Suggested by a world language teacher from the district, the program would begin for students entering kindergarten and first grade. During a recent Board of Education meeting, Tina Riccio, a World Language teacher at Southington High School, highlighted the goals of the Foreign Language Elementary School (FLES) Program, describing the kinds of lessons students would be learning in both kindergarten and first grade. The program would be based on a lottery system open to all kindergarten and first grade students in the district. Once the curriculum is written, Riccio said she hopes to have the program start in the fall.
“A globally educated person understands that the decisions that they make on a local level affects people thousands of miles away,” said Riccio during her presentation before the school board. “They see perspectives of issues from a variety of ways.”
Riccio said the FLES Program aligns with the goals of school district’s Vision 20-20 Plan, which emphasizes individualized learning, and also aligns with the Common Core State Standards. Under the goals of the FLES Program, students will develop critical thinking skills as well as listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, which will allow them to not only communicate in a different language but also understand other cultures. Riccio said students will also expand their educational experience by connecting the study of language with other subjects, including geography, history, literature, art and music.
“Those are the benefits of being bilingual,” said Riccio, who also volunteers teaching Italian to young students on Sundays at the YMCA. “When they do brain research on children who are bilingual… they find that children that are bilingual are better problem-solvers, they’re better critical thinkers, and when they engage in a problem, more of their brain is engaged.”
During Spanish lessons, a wide range of materials will be used, including audio and visuals. Each lesson will begin and end the same way with a song, poem or story. Although the program will include a tremendous amount of “teacher talk,” Riccio said once students make progress, more “student talk” will take place with “role plays” and group work. She said Spanish lessons will take place once a week for 20 to 30 minutes incorporated into other content areas, such as social studies.
“That content lends itself to language learning—talking about yourself, describing your family, describing where you live, your neighborhood,” said Riccio, adding that assessments of students in the program will be worked out with classroom teachers. “It’s better to have it connected to another content area.”
Under the FLES program, kindergarten students will learn conversational Spanish, focusing on counting numbers one through 20, using greetings and farewells, stating days of the week and months of the year and using expression of politeness. First graders will review lessons from kindergarten, expanding their vocabulary in those areas. They will also use location words and ordinal numbers, express personal needs and feelings, as well as identify Spanish-speaking countries on a map, and compare/contrast communities throughout the nation and other Spanish-speaking countries. First graders will also learn about how culture affects family life.
“Those are topics that are in the social studies curriculum already that we can kind of branch off of,” said Riccio, adding that looking ahead, she hopes the FLES Program will expand the current curricula across disciplines as well as give students an opportunity to build a relationship with a sister school from a Spanish-speaking country through Skype and e-mail correspondence.
“I’m thrilled with the idea—I can’t tell you how excited I am about the opportunity to have this at South End School,” said Principal Jim Quinn of South End School, during the Board of Education meeting. “We are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to move this forward.”
Assistant Superintendent of Schools Karen Smith said the implementation of a foreign language program in the elementary schools has served as a long-term desire for the Southington school district.
“When a child is younger, that’s the time to learn a new concept,” said Smith, adding that the FLES Program reflects the district’s Vision 2020 Plan, offering students the opportunity to develop 21st century skills for global citizenship. “It’s the next step for our youngsters.”
During the school board meeting, Southington Supt. of Schools Dr. Joseph Erardi said South End was chosen to host the pilot program for various reasons, including the amount of space it provides. He also said the number of students accepted into the program will depend on upcoming enrollment.
“This comes as a very strong endorsement from administration,” said Dr. Erardi, adding that an informational meeting for parents will take place before the lottery system begins. “We are finishing up K-registration right now…depending on the number of respondents, we’d go to a lottery system.