Westridge Middle School creates Spanish for Native Speakers program

By Michael P Garrett

Westridge Middle School in Overland Park, Kan. is the only school in the Shawnee Mission School District to offer the course Spanish for Native Speakers. The objective of this course is to provide fluent, native Spanish speakers the grammar, reading and writing skills they need to take high school Spanish courses.

Editor’s note: Video transcript at the bottom of the article.

Luis Mortera left his home in Veracruz, Mexico when he was only eight years old. His family moved to Kansas and Mortera immediately began going to American schools.

He didn’t know any English. He didn’t know how to speak it, he didn’t know how to write it and he didn’t know how to read it.

Mortera was thrown into a completely different world. The previous eight years of his life had been devoted to learning Spanish, and at such a young age, he was forced to make an immediate switch.

Eventually, Mortera got the hang of English. Although learning a second language is difficult, he picked up on. He is now a freshman at Shawnee Mission West high school.

Even though Mortera still speaks Spanish in his home with his family, he decided it was time to revisit his Spanish roots and take a Spanish course. Mortera enrolled in the Spanish 3 class at his high school, thinking it would be a piece of cake since he could fluently speak Spanish.

He was wrong. Having not taken a Spanish grammar course since going to school in Mexico, Mortera felt behind the other students in class, many of whom graduated the Spanish for Native Speakers course.

“Last year I didn’t take that class (Spanish for Native Speakers). So it made it difficult because the teacher was explaining stuff that I didn’t know,” Mortera said.

At first, he struggled with grammar, writing and reading, but after working hard in Spanish 3, Mortera thinks his Spanish is improving.

“At first it was kind of hard, but now I like it,” Mortera said. “It’s useful because I’m trying to learn more. I’m trying to go into another upper level class in Spanish.”

Mortera plans to continue improving his Spanish skills by taking Spanish 4 at Shawnee Mission West next year.

Hispanic Students

Video Transcript

MICHAEL GARRETT: Westridge Middle School in Overland Park is the only Shawnee Mission School that offers the course Spanish for Native Speakers. The point of this course is to teach native speakers things such as grammar and speaking that they might not have learned in previous schooling.

GARRETT: Carolyn Debiak is the Spanish for Native Speakers teacher at Westridge. She says the reasoning behind the program was to create a class that would engage native speakers and prepare them for high school Spanish.

CAROLYN DEBIAK: These kids will come and they’ll sit in Spanish 1 or 2 and be bored, they’re literally bored to death, because they’re fluent, although their vocabulary is not quite advanced, and also they don’t know any grammar.

GARRETT:  In order to make the class more fun and engaging, teachers have incorporated assignments like making a cultural recipe book or writing fairy tales for elementary school kids, to make it more hands on, as a more means performance based, rather than standardized testing.

GARRETT: Sara Hundertmark is the Spanish 3 teacher at Shawnee Mission West High School, the school that Westridge Middle School feeds into. She says she has already seen a big difference from kids who have completed the Spanish for Native Speakers course.

SARA HUNDERTMARK: There’s a big difference. The students who have had the Spanish for Native Speaker class, they know how to take a Spanish class, because believe it or not, whether you speak the language, there’s still a trick to learning how to learn another language and learning how to get along in a Spanish classroom.

GARRETT: Luiz Martinez, a freshman at Shawnee Mission West, says taking Spanish for Native Speakers in middle school has helped him succeed in his High School Spanish classes.

LUIZ MARTINEZ: I think that these classes actually help a lot. But if I wouldn’t have taken that class I think it would have been more challenging this year because then I wouldn’t have had help.

GARRETT: For Temas Hispanos, this has been Michael Garrett.

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