Ross School prides itself on taking a global approach to education, even with young students who are just becoming aware of the diversity of experiences the world has to offer. One aspect of this globally conscious curriculum is a focus on world languages from the very early grades.
Lower School Spanish teacher Barbara Gaias works with students in grades K–6 twice weekly, using immersive, project-based lessons to help them connect with the cultures of Spanish-speaking countries. “I strive to create an experience where they feel they are actually in Spain, Costa Rica, or another of the 21 official Spanish-speaking countries,” she said. “The Spanish-speaking world is my classroom.” Students might listen to the sounds of Puerto Rico’s coquí frogs, Afro-Cuban music, or traditional Colombian Carnival chants. They also engage in simulated cultural and lingual experiences, as when the sixth grade class planned a healthy meal, created menus, and arranged place settings to reenact an authentic restaurant scene, all while communicating in Spanish.
Other lessons are tied to the calendar or to Ross’s Cultural History curriculum. For Martin Luther King Jr. Day, students learned words related to peace and activism. Second graders studying seasons learned about seasonal activities in Spanish-speaking countries both north and south of the equator. Fourth graders learning about human settlements incorporate into their Spanish studies culturally important concepts of community planning. And a wall that students constructed with chicken wire and “eco bricks” made from plastic bottles, commonly used in Guatemala, provided the opportunity to learn vocabulary related to reusing and recycling as well as about building practices in Central America, ultimately tying into the curricular theme of Sustainability.
Barbara works hard to engage students with hands-on activities and relevant lessons that meet them where they are, developmentally. The classes also spend as much time outside as possible. “The farm and natural environment provide wonderful teaching moments,” she explains, “and you’ll often see students engaged in such activities as participating in a color or number scavenger hunt, making birdseed cascarones, or arranging our own Mexican market and cemetery to celebrate El Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead).”
Listen for the enthusiastic display of our Lower School students’ Spanish learning at the upcoming spring concerts, when the older group will sing traditional songs with lyrics based on the verses of Cuban poet José Martí, and the younger ones will perform a more contemporary bilingual song.