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Hola, hallo, bonjour: Say hello to Talawanda’s after-school elementary foreign language program

Talawanda School District elementary students can get a jump on learning new languages through the after-school foreign language program. Registration for this spring is closed, but applications are sent out each fall.

Students in third, fourth and fifth grade from all three elementary schools in the district – Bogan, Kramer and Marshall – can participate in the program. Each building has a teacher that is in charge, while Kate Bowers, a fourth grade teacher at Bogan Elementary and district coordinator for the program, oversees everything.

Bowers said the program was held virtually last spring due to the pandemic, and it was open to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, which proved to be a challenge.

“I liked it because I like exposing more kids to that kind of experience,” Bowers said. “But there were just too many technical difficulties. You know, getting everything going, and kids not knowing how to get on Zoom. It was just too much.”

This spring, vaccinated program volunteers will be allowed into the school buildings. They will go back to teaching third through fifth grade. 

Volunteers are made up of Miami University education students studying to become language teachers or other non-education language majors, and they create lesson plans for the students. 

Martha Castañeda, a foreign language education professor at Miami, helps coordinate volunteers. In an email to The Miami Student, Castañeda wrote that there has been a wide variety in the types of lessons involved.

“I have seen lessons in Latin comparing houses in [ancient] Rome to modern houses today, in Spanish about Costa Rica's environmental efforts, in Chinese cooking food for the Chinese New Year celebration, in French using puppets and in German singing songs,” Castañeda wrote. 

Castañeda wrote the program provides Miami students with lesson planning experience while allowing elementary students to be exposed to another language.

“We know that learning a language has many benefits including greater academic achievement, greater cognitive development, as well as a more positive attitude towards other languages and cultures,” Castañeda wrote. “The earlier students are exposed to the various languages spoken around the world, the more benefits the student gains.”

Benjamin Drake, a 2019 Miami graduate, was first involved with the program when he was an elementary student at Talawanda and then again as a teacher in his senior year at Miami. 

As one of the teachers, he focused on a holiday in Valencia, Spain and used that to teach related vocabulary and grammar. Drake’s participation in the program led to his career path of becoming a Spanish teacher.

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“I had been really affected when I did it [as an elementary student],” Drake said. “I just liked that whole cultural aspect of learning about someone totally across the world. It was just really interesting to me.”

Hunter Bishop, a junior double majoring in Spanish education and Spanish, began teaching with the program during his freshman year in sprint 2020. It was canceled, however, because of the pandemic. This year, Bishop will get to participate again.

Bishop said he enjoys the program because of the professional experience it gives him.

“My favorite part, I think, is just getting the opportunity as an education major to be in the classroom by myself and to run my own class,” Bishop said. “It’s a little different when you’re observing or student teaching because you’re just there to watch, or you’re there when the classroom settings have already been established.”

Bishop said he is excited to be participating once more.

“It’s probably just the best experience I’ve had in my life,” Bishop said. “So I’m happy I got to do it again.”