Strolling by the door of Teri Brooks’ kindergarten/first-grade classroom at Davidson Elementary, you can hear the sweet strains of little voices chorusing a familiar song: “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes. But as you move closer, you realize that, yes, that’s definitely the tune, but the lyrics are in Spanish.
This year, through a partnership with Davidson College, students in K/1, first, second and third grades are being taught Spanish for 45 minutes each week. In addition, a Chinese Club is being offered after school to provide children with instruction in Mandarin.
The Foreign Language in Elementary Schools program started when Kyra Kietrys, professor of Hispanic Studies at Davidson College, and the mother of a kindergartener and second-grader at Davidson Elementary, approached Principal Dana Jarrett about offering a Spanish class as a pilot program.
Kietrys felt that Davidson Elementary was the perfect place for the program. “I’ve … seen some top-notch teachers and a strong administration who are committed to the full educational experience of their students and who willingly embrace new undertakings that meet their goals of discovery and exploration,” Kietrys said.
Kietrys enlisted the help of 23 Davidson College student volunteers with extensive backgrounds in Spanish to teach the classes, which are taught solely in the language.
“The main goal of our program is exposure to possibilities,” Kietrys said. “Learning a language can be an important step to learning how to work across cultures. Like DES itself, the FLES program aims to educate the whole student, not just teach skills.” Kietrys hopes to see the program expand to kindergarten, fourth and fifth grades as the number of college volunteers grows.
But the elementary students are not the only ones learning – their college-age instructors are, as well. Senior Christine Bell spent last semester in Granada, Spain, where she tutored two young boys in English and realized how much she enjoyed teaching. She jumped at the opportunity to help out at Davidson Elementary. “I love seeing (the students) excitement to try new things and it amazes me how fast they absorb and retain information. It makes my day to see shy students step out of their comfort zones and volunteer to answer questions,” Bell said.
Spanish is not the only language filling the hallways at Davidson Elementary. Davidson College senior and Chinese language and literature major Courtney Gabrielson has piloted an after-school Chinese Club, providing instruction in Mandarin. It was a success before it even began, with more than 40 students signing up.
After seven semesters studying the language, as well as a year spent in China, Gabrielson was eager to share the culture with the younger set. She was joined by Emma Boraks, a Davidson Elementary alumnus and current sophomore at North Mecklenburg High School who spent time living in Taipei and Shanghai in recent years.
Goals for the program include teaching basic reading, writing and speaking skills, as well as exposure and appreciation of the culture. “Emma, Davidson Elementary and I are all incredibly excited about this opportunity to strengthen the ties between Davidson but also share our passion with kids,” Gabrielson said.