Montana State University

MSU students teach Spanish in Bozeman schools

December 14, 2004 -- by Jean Arthur, MSU News Service


MSU senior Abby Guilbert teaches Spanish to first graders including Erin Cook in Susan Stephens' Morning Star classroom. (Photo by Erin Raley, MSU News Service.)   High-Res Available

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Bozeman--"!Lotería!" shouts first grader Erin Cook. She won a round of Spanish Bingo during her afternoon Spanish language and culture session at Bozeman's Morning Star School.

"!Ole!" replies Montana State University student Abby Guilbert, a senior majoring in modern languages and literatures from Deadwood, S.D., and one of 15 MSU Spanish students who spend weekly sessions teaching the romance language to Bozeman school children.

The typically wiggly six-year-olds in Susan Stephens' classroom sit at rapt attention as Guilbert asks if the youngsters are prepared for the next Bingo game. Do they have their "cinco," their five colored markers ready, she asks.

"Aamarillo, azul, negro, blanco, rojo?" she lists the colors. "Uno, dos, tres...."

Twenty petite voices make music out of the foreign words--Guilbert as conductor orchestrates their enthusiasm into improvised jazz.

"The purpose of the MSU Spanish students in local grade schools is twofold," says Bridget Kevane, modern languages professor. "First, they help the community by keeping alive foreign language in the public schools, and second they receive invaluable experience on what it is like to teach a foreign language in the public schools. From what students have told me, it is one of the best, if not the best, experience they have had at MSU because it combines their major with a hands-on experience that they can showcase on their resume."

Kevane began coordinating her students into local classrooms in 2000. Now, four of Kevane's students teach at Longfellow and 11 at Morning Star. They receive three college credits and hundreds of laughs. Senorita Abby directs a song of "Head, shoulders, knees and toes," in Spanish. As the familiar tune picks up speed, the first graders' staccato movements keep pace until the youngsters collapse in giggles.

"We are proud of the Spanish program, and it is happening because the Morning Star parents encouraged their PAC (Parent Advisory Council) to find a way to have a program after all the foreign language funding was cut," says Sally Backlin Sanchez, Morning Star's language coordinator and a 1978 graduate of MSU's modern language program.

Principal Nonnie Hughes says that the school has a strong commitment to expose children to foreign languages and cultures, and she sees success.

"I've walked into second-grade classrooms when the college-student instructor is speaking nothing but Spanish," says Hughes. "The kids get it. It's pretty amazing that they remember the language. Research on the developing brain suggests that the earlier kids are introduced to a foreign language, the better."

MSU seniors Danielle Smith and Jesse Engle, both accounting and Spanish majors, and Tina Poncin, a community health major, enjoyed the experience so much that they volunteered to continue teaching even though they no longer receive college credit.

"The kids are amazingly smart and appreciative," says Smith, a Bozeman High alumna who is volunteering for a third year at Morning Star. She graduates this month and heads to San Francisco for a job with a Big Four accounting firm. "I will probably not use much Spanish in San Francisco, but I would like to eventually transfer to the Costa Rica office."

Like all the instructors, Poncin uses pictures, food, maps, games and songs like "La Bamba" to enrich the children's experience, and of course includes the favorite, "!Loteria!"

Contact: Bridget Kevane 994-6443