A month into the new school year, The New Century School is adapting and adjusting to the vagaries inherent in having school during a pandemic. As always, TNCS tries to make the most of the opportunity such adjustments may offer. One such change came when TNCS K–8th-grade Spanish teacher Fabiola Sanzana temporarily returned to her native Chile over the summer. And, since we’re smack in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month, now seems like the ideal moment to feature Laura Noletto, who took the helm in Sra. Sanzana’s absence.
A Cool New Role
“Sra Lala,” as she is lovingly known throughout campus, has been with TNCS for several years, until now as a Lead Teacher in one of the Spanish Immersion preprimary classrooms. After some reshuffling of classrooms, Sra. Lala found herself in a brand-new role. “For me it’s the perfect time to learn something new,” she explained, “because with the pandemic, anyone can change careers. Nobody knows exactly how the world is going to work, so it’s a good time to switch gears and to learn different things.”
Even so, in the face of such a big transition, some would be easily daunted. Sra. Lala, however, finds comfort in the challenge.
I think because we are all in this together, I have felt very supported. In a way, we are all learning platforms to teach online, we’re learning from the kids, we’re learning from one another, so I feel less intimidated. I feel somewhat nervous, but that’s good because it prompts me to make the best effort. I’m not in this alone, so I took the chance. I’m also not a new face to the kids, and that has helped. This is my 4th year in this community, and I feel very much embraced and taken care of, so that also helps with the challenge.
It’s also not her first big career transition. Back in Venezuela, where she’s from, she taught middle schoolers and even college students. At TNCS, she swung to the other end of the age spectrum and taught 2-year-olds.
Now that she’s teaching K–8, she is finding new kinds of challenges such as adapting the Spanish curriculum to be age appropriate and to meet the needs of every TNCS student without leaving anybody behind. Some students are bilingual and who can already read fluently; others are just beginners, and beginners in just about every division. “So the challenge for a Spanish teacher,” she says, “is don’t leave anybody behind but challenge those who are already advanced.”
Another laudable challenge she has taken on is to help “make Spanish look cool.”
I think that the more the pre-teens and teenagers hear Spanish daily, they’ll loosen up and lose some of their self-consciousness. I want to be the role model they get inspired by. They even reply to me in Spanish sometimes. So, at that age of coolness, I am trying to be as cool as possible to make Spanish look cool, which is one of my main goals. Another is to be a good example of the culture and get them to open up their hearts and minds to the language.
In order to “meet them at their level so they can feel challenged and keep learning,” she has been conducting ongoing individual assessment in an informal way. She might say a letter, for example, and ask her students to write Spanish words that start with it in the Zoom chat. Other assessment activities she uses include games, conversations, hearing a story in Spanish and then describing it, and spelling contests.”The sum is that the older kids are very much more advanced than I expected, and now I just have to adapt the curriculum to their needs. I’m very excited about this!”
The Art of Teaching Spanish
If you know anything about Sra. Lala, you know she loves art, and she incorporates it regularly into her teaching.
I’m working with a methodology designed by the director of education at MoMA called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) that you use works of art to develop critical thinking and observational and conversational skills. For example, to assess their color vocabulary, I asked them to do a colorful work of art and name them in Spanish.
I use art as a tool of teaching Spanish. If your hands are doing an oil pastel or a water color, or you’re doing print making or an art workshop, of it’s easier to learn Spanish art vocabulary. Visual images and art processes are important in the curriculum and also Latin American and Spanish culture, such as carefully chosen authors representative of each country. And, of course, geography and music. Music is so important for Latin Americans, for everybody, but music is very rich in the South American region, so I definitely try to follow in the footsteps of Sra. Sanzana in incorporating rhythm, salsa, meringue, etc.
You mentioned spanish heritage, will there be any kind of spanish heritage night?
Sra. Lala is enthusiastic about how the 2020–2021 school year is progressing so far.
Oh I love it. I love it. I feel more challenged as an educator. I love it because I love early childhood education, but that was like baby therapy for me. I was feeling all the love of the little ones, and I was feeling secure with my little classroom, but now I feel this is very much a step forward, and I’m excited. I have to prepare more because it’s my first year doing this with these students, so there’s this novelty of creating and creating.
She wants parents to feel free to contact her with any concerns or questions but is confident that the year will be a great one for her and her students. “We are all transitioning to a new era of education together, and I feel very proud and honored that TNCS trusts me as the Spanish teacher. Every day, I’m going to do the best I can to keep it up. Sra. Sanzana is a great teacher, so I’m talking to her a lot, and she is helping me.”
How cool is that?
Note: We don’t yet know what an Hispanic Heritage Night (Noche de la Herencia Hispana) will look like this year, but we can at least look back on previous years events and cantar y bailar con alegría!
You can also visit the TNCS YouTube channel and search for Spanish Heritage Night music videos from past events. Try the World Languages Playlist!