“Boca, dientes, la seda floja! It’s hard for the kids at first, but they learn quickly and they love it,” says kindergarten teacher Daniela Matus.
Ms. Matus, a teacher at Oakley Elementary, is helping students learn about their teeth and how to care for them. But, this class isn’t a usual kindergarten class- these native English-speakers are learning all of this vocabulary in Spanish.
“I learned about dientes... teeth! I learned you shouldn’t eat anything bad for your teeth like candy and sweets,” says kindergartner Sam Pass.
Oakley Elementary began their Spanish Immersion program 4 years ago. Beginning in kindergarten, students in the program learn a curriculum in 90% Spanish and 10% English.
“Some of them don’t know a word of Spanish, so I have to put myself at their level and make it entertaining so they have fun and don’t get frustrated,” says Ms. Matus.
Matus has been a part of the Spanish Immersion program at Oakley since it began. Her first class of kindergarteners is now in 3rd grade.
She says, “My former students are all fluent in Spanish now. They can speak, they can understand, they can write, they can read it! When I see them in the hallway, I can have a conversation with them in Spanish, and they speak to me like they have known Spanish all their lives!”
Matus, who is from Costa Rica, says her students learn Spanish, but it’s about more than becoming bilingual. The Spanish Immersion program includes lessons about cultures and customs from all over the globe.
“That gives them an open mind and teaches them respect and teaches that we, as humans, may not always agree, but we must learn to understand each other,” explains Matus.
Oakley’s principal Danny Fusco has been amazed at how quickly his students are becoming bilingual. He says Ms. Matus has the perfect personality to teach a dual language class.
“She’s kind, energetic, student-centered, and nurturing. She loves her children and you can easily see how much they love her,” says Mr. Fusco.
Ms. Matus is excited for the opportunities that her students will have as they continue to improve their Spanish skills, and maybe even pick up a 3rd language.
“Knowing another language will be a plus on their resume,” she says. “That will open doors to all kinds of businesses. In this world that is so diverse, we have to be able to communicate with others and understand different cultures and people. We have different customs and cultures, and dual language immersion helps us understand one another better.”