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Spanish immersion finding its footing at WHS

Woodbury High School is in its first year of offering Spanish immersion. The courses being offered are Spanish language, literature and human geography, taught entirely in Spanish. (Staff photo by Amber Kispert-Smith)

More than a month into the school year, classes at Woodbury High School are in full stride and a new program at the building is beginning to get its legs beneath it.

The two new classes in the school’s new Spanish immersion program are finding their bearings in their inaugural year at the high school.

“It’s a little bit difficult being the first,” said Nancy Schrank, one of the Spanish immersion teachers, “but, I can see it going better with every week. Things are already getting better all the time.”

Spanish immersion is a program that serves non-Spanish speaking families that live within District 833 boundaries.

The elementary program is offered at Nuevas Fronteras, which is housed within Crestview Elementary.

The middle school Spanish immersion program, a partial immersion program, is housed at Cottage Grove Middle School.

At WHS – also a partial immersion program – students are taking human geography, taught in Spanish, and Spanish language and literature.

“I’m really excited to do something that really hasn’t been done before in the Twin Cities – having an immersion high school,” said Andrew Burfeind, who is teaching the human geography course. “We can really take the Spanish to the level that it can be taken.”

 Spanish language and literature

 A new course being offered at WHS this year, which was specifically developed for the Spanish immersion program, is Spanish language and literature.

Schrank, who is teaching the class, said the curriculum for the new language course will focus a lot on Spanish literature and how it relates to the culture.

“The idea is to begin work on some of the classics, or great masterpieces, of the Spanish language,” she said.

The countries that students will be exposed to during the course are Mexico, Spain, Central American countries and South American countries.

Some of the units that students will study throughout the year include short story, narrative, novels, drama and cinema, research and persuasive.

Students will show their understanding of the material through a variety of ways, Schrank said, including using technology.

“We’re trying to get students to use their language in a different way,” Schrank said, “and to put their focus to the Spanish-speaking world.”

In addition to exposing students to Spanish language and culture, Schrank said the course also aims to teach students some of the key lessons taught in freshman English, such as speaking, reading, writing and grammar.

“For ninth grade students, it can be a challenge to bring them from the very concrete thinking to the more abstract,” Schrank said, “and doing that in a different language can be a challenge.”

Human geography

The other Spanish-immersion offering at WHS is human geography.

The course, taught entirely in Spanish, uses the same curriculum as the school’s advanced placement human geography course, Burfeind said. 

Topics covered in the class include nature, population, cultural patterns, political organization of space and industrial and economic development.

“Inevitably there’s going to be more focus on the Spanish speaking countries,” Burfeind said.

Many of the classroom activities include reading, map work, papers and projects.

Burfeind said he has already seen students’ enjoying his class.

“Students enjoy it tremendously,” he said. “I see that every day.”

Students’ perspective

Currently there are 20 students in the Spanish immersion program at WHS.

Freshman Mackenzie Schurhamer, who has been in Spanish immersion since kindergarten, said it was primarily her mother who encouraged her to enroll.

“My mom loved traveling and spoke Spanish,” she said. “She thought it would benefit me if I did Spanish and that it would help me out in the future. It’s really been a great experience.”

Schurlamer and fellow freshman Ashley Mickschl both said they have enjoyed Spanish immersion because it has opened up their world perspectives.

“I’ve enjoyed hearing all these different native speakers,” Mickschl said.

“I’ve loved getting to know different cultures,” Schurhamer said.

Both Mickschl and Schurhamer said they are excited to see where Spanish immersion will take them after high school.

“Knowing a different language will open up a lot more academic opportunities,” Mickschl said.

“I think knowing Spanish is really going to help me out,” Schurhamer said. “I want to get better in Spanish so I can travel around the world. There’s always more Spanish to learn.”

What lies ahead?

When this year’s freshmen become sophomores next year, they will then take a Spanish language and grammar course in addition to a world history class.

As juniors, students will take United States history and Spanish literature and analysis.

As seniors, students will take a Spanish humanities course.

Additionally, students will go out into the community and use their language skills with some sort of community service component.

“When you think in two languages versus one, you’re able to express nuances in one language that you can’t express in another and there are things that just can’t be translated,” Schrank said. “You see the world in a more nuanced way, your perspective is deeper and you automatically have a more flexible way of thinking by being bilingual.

“I hope students are not scared away by the challenges.”

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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