Four dozen area middle and high school students put their conversational Spanish and French skills to the test during the first BIEN (Bilingual Immersion Education Network) event at SUNY Oneonta on Saturday.
A partnership between SUNY Oneonta and the Catskill Area School Study Council, the program joined students from Morris and Laurens central schools with foreign language education majors from the college in five hours of activities designed to immerse the students in the language and cultures they are studying.
“There’s no better way to learn a language than to be immersed,” said Morris Central School Spanish teacher Joanne Telfer. “I just think it’s an incredible experience for my students. I wish we could do this every weekend.”
Seven foreign language-secondary education majors from SUNY Oneonta—including three students enrolled in the college’s post master's degree program—led activities for French and Spanish students in Grades 7-12 from the two schools. The pilot program was funded by a SUNY Oneonta Strategic Allocation of Resources (StAR) grant with support from the participating school districts and a small fee paid by each student.
Activities included an art workshop, where Spanish students perused art by Pablo Picasso and Pablo Jurado Ruiz and then made their own projects in the styles of cubism and pointillism, while French students explored the artwork of Henri Matisse. In between cutting, gluing and drawing, students had their pictures taken in front of a green screen to create “postcards” from the Eiffel Tower and the Running of the Bulls.
Throughout the day, students were rewarded for speaking Spanish and French with tickets they could use later to buy authentic items from the “duty-free shop.” Over a buffet lunch of Spanish and French foods, including rice and tortillas with chorizo sausage, beans, vegetables and chicken, and crepes with a variety of fillings, they watched Spanish and French music videos and practiced their conversational skills.
“Esto es muy divertido” (translation: “This is so much fun!”), said 16-year-old Ansley Koster of Morris, an aspiring teacher/social worker or wildlife biologist who hopes to travel to the Galapagos Islands someday.
“Estoy de acuerdo,” agreed Kate Morgan, a SUNY Oneonta senior majoring in Spanish education.
After lunch, students learned mambo and salsa dance steps and tested their knowledge in a trivia game.
SUNY Oneonta Assistant Professor of Secondary Education Carol Dean said the event was a natural extension of the close partnerships the college has with area school districts.
Madison Morency, a senior French education major who studied in Paris last spring, said she got to know Laurens Central School French teacher Naomi Graham during field work in her classroom. “She’s fantastic with students. Seeing them take the wonderful skills that they’ve learned in the classroom and put them to use throughout the day was so great.”
Charlene Melindo, a graduate student from Saratoga Springs who earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish at SUNY Oneonta last May, said the day provided valuable practical experience – and a lot of fun. “The dancing was definitely my favorite part, but also lunchtime, when the students were telling us what they like to do, the importance of learning another language and how that will benefit them in the future,” she said. “That was really great to hear.”
Jo Boring, executive coordinator of the Catskill Area School Study Council, said she hopes to expand the event to include more school districts next year and perhaps even make it an overnight experience.
“It was really cool and really fun,” said Morris Central School junior Fred Schwarzhans at the end of the day. “I definitely got better at conversing with people.”