11/14/04 — Spanish classes are no easy 'A' for Spanish speaking students

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Spanish classes are no easy 'A' for Spanish speaking students

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 14, 2004 2:09 AM

Ruben Ponce was born in the United States and speaks both English and Spanish. He thought taking high school Spanish would be an "easy A," but that has not been the case.

Despite being able to speak the language, the Southern Wayne High School freshman has found that the class involved more than learning a few catch phrases.

The same holds true for sophomore Jennifer Vera, who came to this country from Mexico when she was a year old.

"It's helpful," she said. "It helps me understand Spanish more and know how to speak it better."

She said the class has also improved her language and writing skills.

In the past, because of the foreign language requirement, Spanish-speaking students would have had to sit through the same Spanish classes as those who had no knowledge of the language. School systems across the state are adapting to the cultural changes, with Wayne County being among those implementing programs to accommodate that.

Hope Meyerhoeffer, director of the English as a Second Language program, said representatives from three county high schools received special training offered by the state last year. In the fall, Charles B. Aycock, Southern Wayne and Spring Creek high schools each introduced one class geared to native Spanish speakers.

But the classes go beyond teaching the language.

"These classes give them instructions in grammar that they can apply to their English classes," she said. "Before, they were never exposed to a lot of grammar."

She said students in the class spend a lot of time writing, studying novels and learning other skills. The three teachers of the program in Wayne County are Edith Aizpura at Spring Creek, Maria Corredor at Aycock, and Rosa Baltodano at Southern Wayne.

Ms. Baltodano has been an educator for 23 years, teaching Spanish at Southern Wayne for the last three. She said this class is different, because it is designed to develop reading comprehension and study habits and enhance students' learning abilities.

"It's going to help them get ready in order to have an educated level of Spanish," she said. "It also prepares them in case they want to study further outside the United States."

She said one misperception is that everyone who speaks Spanish here is from Mexico. Spanish-speaking students might also come from such countries as Guatemala, El Salvador or Cuba. Another thing many don't realize, she said, is that students from other countries have not necessarily had access to a regular school routine.

Some, she has found, had to help with family responsibilities or other things that made it difficult to attend school regularly.

"My experience," she said, "has been very different from other teachers'. Some of the students didn't have the same opportunities as others, so it takes longer."

Even so, she said she has found students are more than willing to learn.

"They're thirsty," she said. "They just have to have the confidence that they can do it."

Victor Gamez, one of her ninth grade students, had attended school in Mexico through middle school. He says that when it comes to speaking in English, he gets nervous about mispronouncing words or making mistakes.

The education in Mexico is different because of the teachers' attitudes there, Mrs. Baltodano translated.

"He thinks it's better here because of the attitudes of teachers," she said.

Maria Gonzalez's family came to America two years ago. She said she has also had problems with the English language. She said she has had to study hard because she wants to learn.

"One of the hardest experiences she's had is to read in front of the students, because pronunciation is hard and students laugh at her," Mrs. Baltodano said.

The Spanish class, though, has proved helpful.

"When she came from Mexico, she thought she knew a lot of Spanish," translated Mrs. Baltodano. "She said she's learned a lot about the Spanish language."

Arbelia Guerra, also from Mexico, said through her teacher-interpreter that she also suffered embarrassment early on when she would attempt to read or speak English. Since taking the class, she says, she has learned a lot more about vocabulary, as well as about other cultures that share the Spanish language.

Mrs. Baltodano has worked at the National University of Mexico, which gives her credibility with her students who hail from that country. "So I can break down so many walls," she said, "which is a blessing."

Mrs. Baltodano said she has tried to use all her own experiences to challenge her students and get them to learn.

"I really want them to be successful and ambitious," she said.