It’s Time to Catch Up with TNCS Preprimary Teacher Elizabeth Salas-Viaux!

Immersed‘s “Catch Up With the Teacher” series continues with preprimary teacher Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Señora Salas”).

Getting to Know Elizabeth Salas-Viaux

tncs-preprimary-teacher-elizabeth-salas-viauxSra. Salas started at The New Century School in 2014 when she joined Maria Mosby‘s primary classroom as an assistant teacher. The following year, she took over as lead teacher of a preprimary classroom with six children. She says she enjoys seeing her former “wonderful, beautiful” students around the school. Now in her third year as lead teacher, her Spanish Immersion class has grown to 18 2- and 3-year-olds.

Sra. Salas’s story is one of perseverance, of setting goals and sticking to them. She is originally from Santiago, Chile and came alone, speaking no English, to the United States in 2012 at 23 years old. “I had this dream of learning English so I started as an au pair,” she related.

We had an exchange experience. I was taking care of a 7-month-old, a 2-year-old, and a 4-year-old. I would speak only Spanish to them and they would speak only English to me, so that’s the way I learned English. I learned a lot about being flexible, being independent, and other things about myself. I was always open and happy to teach them about my Chilean culture. It was a rich experience.

That experience has stayed with her: “Those 2 wonderful years taught me that if I could learn English, and I did, then I can teach a Spanish immersion program and the students would pick it up.” She has also stayed in contact with her Virginia family, even having her wedding reception at their home.

So where did her dream of learning English come from? Back in Chile, she studied administration in hospitality and went to work at a Ritz Carlton Hotel. “That opened my eyes,” she explained. “I realized that I needed to learn English, to explore new cultures. I needed to go to another country and get better at this if I want to continue with this career.” Obviously, some parts of her plans underwent some change. She says that she had not planned on remaining in the United States at all but was going to return to Chile and resume her work in the hospitality industry, being so ideally suited for that role. “I have a lot of energy, and I always liked customer service, to focus on the client. And that’s why I came here, so I could improve my English and get a 2-year experience, then go back home and be with my family. Chilean people are very family oriented,” she explained.

As will happen, though, Cupid intervened. She met her now husband in Virginia, and, when he got a job in Baltimore, they moved here, right after tying the knot. Completely new in the area but still eager to practice her English and continue learning, she attended Northern Virginia Community College. She realized that she wanted to continue working with children and decided to apply to TNCS, having seen a job posting. “I would like to work hard and see if there’s something available here for me,” she said. “I fell in  love with the school, and I also love the Montessori philosophy.”

As for her family? “My parents come here every year, and I go there for Christmas or whenever I have a chance.”

In (and Out of) the Classroom

Fortunately, she seems to have made the right adjustments to her original life plan, both in terms of geography and of career. She loves teaching, as it turns out, which does have a lot in common with hospitality. “This is an environment that every time you come here you have people excited for the new day, excited to learn. It’s not like an office job. Everyday you see happy faces, and everyday is like a fresh start. They are always happy, like it’s going to be a good day. I love working with those little souls,” she said.

And those little souls are doing beautifully in the language immersion classroom, she reports. “Everything is just sort of natural’ it happens organically. [Sra. Lala and I] are very consistent with our routine and the way we express ourselves with the Spanish language, and it’s amazing to see how much the students have absorbed so far. We are super happy to see them already speaking the language and trying to communicate with us.”

She admires this unique aspect of TNCS as well as the other features that set it apart:

This is something I’ve never seen before, neither in Chile nor the United States. I really like the fact that the students have the chance to think for themselves and to reflect on their own actions is. Also, we take advantage of the city, the community. It’s nice to go for a walk, pass by the coffee shop and say hi to people. At TNCS, they can be children, experience lots of things through activities and getting out and seeing things. I like that we teachers can learn so much from each other. We have Chinese, we have English, we have Spanish. We have different food, and we have different cultures. We have different people. We all look different, I like that; I like that a lot.

Sra. Salas is happy teaching at TNCS and has thrown herself into it. Every day, we teachers try our best. We try to give the best of us every single day—to have good energy and a positive attitude and lots of patience. We are always there for the children.” She also says that she actively enjoys going to work every day. “I love what I do, and I’ve never had a moment where I wish I could stay home. Once you find your true passion, you never feel like you have to go to work everyday. I think that’s my motto, I truly believe in that. I’m very happy here.”

And TNCS is happy you’re here!

TNCS Preprimary Workshop, Fall 2018

If you were unable to join the Fall Preprimary Workshop or if you are interested in learning more about the preprimary language immersion program at The New Century School, this blog post is for you!

Head of Lower School/Dean of Students Alicia Danyali describes the program in this overview:

Our youngest students at TNCS are immersed in Mandarin or Spanish all day by native-speaking educators who are passionate about sharing their language and culture. In the preprimary program, the child is the curriculum. The classroom offers an environment that includes a balance of structure, play, and social development.  Students are given daily opportunities to use their imaginations to create with age-appropriate materials as well as to strengthen their fine and gross motor skills.  Milestones, such as “toileting readiness” are supported throughout the school year.  Partnership with families is critical at this stage in development.

Preprimary Focus

The key point here is that language is the program focus and is hands down what sets the TNCS preprimary program apart from other preschools. But let’s back up a step—why is learning a second language important at an age when most children are still learning a first, in the first place? Language acquisition actually remodels the brain in ways that ultimately improve cognitive function. This article describes how language-learning supports brain function: Why Multilingual People Have Healthier, More Engaged Brains. You’ll see how this flows naturally in to the primary curriculum and how intentional is the interplay between the two divisions.

And now, on to the business at hand. “The workshop went really well,” said Ms. Danyali, ” and we had about 30 families in attendance.” She led the presentation and discussion with support from the three preprimary teachers: Donghui Song (“Song Laoshi”), Laura Noletto (“Sra. Lala”), and Elizabeth Salas-Viaux (“Sra. Salas”). Each teacher additionally has two or three assistants and one floating assistant. She first explained what TNCS does have in common with other preschools: “Your child will still get circle time, nap, playtime, snacks . . . but the format will be in the target language.” She also explained the importance of parents sharing enthusiasm for the program and for the child’s experience in it. “If you’re enthusiastic; they’ll be enthusiastic,” she said.

Another important message she wanted parents to come away with is to not expect your child to be speaking fluently on a timetable. They will develop at their own rate, as appropriate, and quantifying their language-learning is not the point at this stage—it’s brain development. “If they are responding appropriately to instructions, they are demonstrating comprehension, and, not only is the first step in learning, but this also transfers beautifully into the primary Montessori program, which focuses on ‘the absorbent mind’ and the taking of the next step—how you apply what you’ve learned.” (The focus of the primary program is on gaining independence: how teachers can encourage independence and what it looks like at school and at home.) Teachers know when a child is ready to transition to the primary program when he or she can demonstrate the ability to focus for brief periods. Back to that notion of interplay between the two curricula mentioned above, one of the ways that multilingualism reshapes the brain is to equip it resist distraction (read more on how in the article linked above).

Making the Transition to Primary

The Spring Preprimary Workshop will delve into this topic as well, but the moment your child enters the preprimary classroom, teachers begin the process of readying them for their next steps. They learn about structure and the rhythm of the day, for one thing. They learn how to participate in a community, even if they are still nonverbal. “Creating those boundaries throughout the day provides young children a sense of security and a sense of what comes next,” said Ms. Danyali. Once they feel secure, their confidence grows; from there, the desire to branch out and take (healthy) risks is possible, and that’s how true learning happens.

There are different milestones that students should have attained, such as toileting, but there are other aspects as well. Importantly, they will learn so much from making and subsequently correcting mistakes. (The “self-correcting” nature of the Montessori method will be covered in an upcoming post on the Fall Primary Workshop.) Thus, they have to demonstrate a willingness to take some risks, meaning to show the beginnings of what will blossom into independence.

The primary classroom is partial immersion in addition to following the Montessori method. Language-learning is still very much in evidence, but the goals for the primary program are on developing the ability to sustain focus. The ratio of teacher to student grows a bit wider, too, from 1:6 in preprimary to 1:10 in primary.

How Can You Support the Language Experience?

Whether you speak more than one language or not, you can readily incorporate language and model your support: Express your “likes” about the language environment they are experiencing, and avoid having expectations that student will speak immediately in the target language. “Know that the environment will support your child, and the learning will happen organically,” said Ms. Danyali. To facilitate your ability to engage in some of the activities below, use the resources (see bulleted list) to reinforce vocabulary your student is learning in class. Also, says Ms. Danyali, “The preprimary teachers make it really easy to extend learning at home by outlining what books they have been reading in class and what songs they have been singing as well as tips and suggestions in their weekly communications.” Here are some activities you can try:

  1. Play music in the language at home or in the car; combine with dancing.
  2. Experience the culture by exploring its holidays, food, and traditions.
  3. Watch short (2–3 minutes), age-appropriate videos in the language.
  4. Read story/picture books, especially about relevant topics for the age group (e.g., identifying feelings, understanding social settings).
  5. Play games and role-play with puppets in the language.

Books, Websites, and Resources for Your Family’s Language Journey

Finally, Ms. Danyali feels it extremely important to help dispel the pervasive myths about bi- and multilingualism. These “fast facts” are taken from The Bilingual Edge.

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Closing out the preprimary workshop, Ms. Danyali said, “On behalf of TNCS’s preprimary team, we look forward to continuing the immersion discussion and your continued partnership.” A preprimary Observation Day will be scheduled for spring 2019 to give you the chance to see all of this beautiful learning taking place in your 2- and 3-year-olds!