Last week, TNCS Head of School Alicia Danyali invited senior Spanish conversation students from the Gilman School to speak with two TNCS Spanish teachers for a class project. Accompanied by instructor Erin Butler, the Gilman students were primarily there to complete their interview assignment, but during their time on campus, they also put their language skills to use by interacting with TNCS students, which was to everyone’s mutual benefit. “It is important that our students make connections with older students who are competent language learners as role models and to find opportunities to be ‘risk-takers’ with others willing to explore communication together without feeling judged,” said Mrs. Danyali.
The results were increíble. The Gilman students had time to let off a little steam and get acclimated during an impromptu playground soccer match with TNCS elementary students, who were positively starstruck by the attention from the high school seniors. Said Mrs. Danyali, “I actually couldn’t tell who was having more ‘fun’! The elementary students were very comfortable connecting with the older kids and vice versa.” Ms. Butler agreed: “I know my students had a great time playing with the kids on the playground, and it was wonderful that they had the opportunity to meet two different native speakers. I know they enjoyed the visit and I hope it was a positive experience for the teachers as well. I really appreciate their willingness to participate and Mrs. Danyali’s help in setting it up.”
The idea for this very fruitful exchange came from Ms. Butler, who has taught Spanish at Gilman since 2012 (with a hiatus in 2013 to complete a Fulbright grant in Peru, where she taught and completed a research project). For the last quarter of her senior conversation class, students complete a series of interviews with native Spanish speakers who now live in the Baltimore area in order to to both practice their language skills as well as to gain a better understanding of the community. She explains, “The students are paired in teams of two, and each group is responsible for conducting an interview and writing a reflection paper. Our interviews have taken place across the city, and we have met people from various countries and cultures. Students ask questions about the person’s life, family, job, transition to the United States, what he/she likes and dislikes about living here, etc. We have done interviews with nurses, teachers, business owners, scientists, and more.” For their visit to TNCS, the seniors interviewed Spanish Language Program Director Jennifer Hodapp first, followed by a chat with Pre-Primary Spanish Immersion Lead Teacher Johanna Ramos.