By Lauren Goldberg, Curriculum Coordinator
The Foote School world language curriculum provides a solid, comprehensive sequence of essential linguistics components. Beginning in Lower School, children learn grammar, vocabulary, idiomatic expressions, poetry, literature and conversational skills. Our program also includes opportunities for students to practice their multilingual knowledge through studies of history, cultures, geography and people.
Most importantly, however, our teachers look for opportunities to expand their lessons beyond the classroom, making the material truly come alive.
Case in point: Katie Hackenburg and Sally Nunnally's ninth grade Spanish classes are in the midst of an exploration of Ecuador. The textbook chapter includes maps, descriptions of national landmarks, and historical information about the country. During a recent class, Katie used FaceTime to "bring" her friend Lisbeth Robles, an Ecuadorian medical student, to our campus. Lisbeth is currently living in Connecticut, where she is pursuing an advanced degree in biochemistry.
During a 45-minute video chat—conducted entirely in Spanish—Foote students asked Lisbeth to share details about her home country and her observations of life in the United States.
When and why did she come to the USA? She arrived in 2012 with only a limited knowledge of English. Our students were amazed that Lisbeth relied on Google Translate as an invaluable tool for navigating her new environment.
What are some of her favorite places in Ecuador? Lisbeth described a remote island that has no electricity, but recently installed solar panels to bring power to the community. This place is mentioned in the textbook, but Lisbeth's detailed explanation of the location made it much more interesting to our students. They were able to envision the scenes she described: people riding bicycles in a town that has no cars, llamas and other animals mixing with the residents of the community, and the tropical climate of the island.
What are some popular activities in Ecuador? Lisbeth talked about ecotourism—camping, hiking and exploring the lush environment in the country. She described beautiful beaches and coastal towns that she loves, as well as the traditional communities that still thrive in the mountains. In some parts of Ecuador, she commented, there are animals in the streets! Of course, she explained, these scenes are only in the rural areas. There are also large modern cities, which is where she and her family lived. Again, the textbook includes some of this information, but the personal and authentic manner in which Lisbeth described her country added invaluable depth to the students' understanding.
What are the biggest differences between the United States and Ecuador? At this point, the conversation became more philosophical and political. Lisbeth noted that there is much less corruption here, and that there is much more poverty in Ecuador. She spoke excitedly about the economic and educational opportunities here in the United States and about the stability of the currency. Katie offered a bit of clarification—in Spanish—to help the students make sense of the economic information. This material is not mentioned in the textbook, but it is a very real and important aspect of understanding the challenges facing the country.
Although the students had prepared and rehearsed many of their questions in a previous class meeting, they relied on their oral comprehension and background knowledge to follow Lisbeth's responses and comments. They were able to ask follow-up questions, clarify details and share their own ideas—all in Spanish and in real time—as Lisbeth eagerly engaged in the conversation. Their facility with the language in this authentic exchange are a testament to the years of instruction, practice and attention to our goal of preparing our students to participate in the global community.