CORTLAND – Jimmy Henry was a little nervous about displaying his Spanish-speaking skills to a tough audience – bilingual kindergarten students.
About 44 students from DeKalb High School's fourth-year Spanish class visited bilingual classes Friday at Cortland Elementary School, where they read books and traded tips about speaking Spanish and English.
“It's a little nerve-wracking, because they're at the same level I am at with Spanish,” Henry, a junior, said.
He might have a been a little less nervous had he known that his "teacher," 6-year-old kindergarten student Gissell Rodriguez, also found the experience daunting.
“I'm happy because we get to read to them,” Rodriguez said. “I feel like I'm teaching him. It makes me a little nervous.”
Spanish teacher Amanda McCabe Aviles said students in the high school class, in which students speak, read and write exclusively in Spanish, have been visiting bilingual elementary school classes annually for about eight years. The students will write letters to each other to follow up the experience in the coming weeks.
Cortland Elementary School gives high school Spanish learners ample opportunity to test their skills with native speakers. Of Cortland's 545 students, 200 are in the bilingual program. The school has two bilingual classes in each grade level.
Second-grade bilingual teacher Bobbi Stears watched 15 of her students partner with high school students. She said the experience is especially rewarding for the younger students.
“It shows them that people feel their language is important,” Stears said “They're told they need to learn English and here they see people who spend four years learning their language.”
Second-grader Brian Malaga, 8, speaks Spanish at home and learned English a few years ago. He said his reading partner, junior Riley Bauling, is “good enough” in Spanish. He saw it as his mission Friday to help her learn Spanish, providing an example of how knowing more than one language is beneficial.
“If I'm not bilingual, and I just speak Spanish, and someone asks me where the bathroom is, I won't be able to tell them,” Malaga said. “I have to help her.”
Bauling, who plans to take Spanish in her senior year and in college, understands Spanish when people speak to her, but answering in Spanish is not as easy. She knew her pronunciation was off a little bit on some words, but what she learned by working with Malaga amounted to much more than a vocabulary lesson.
“I wish I would have learned when I was younger,” Bauling said. “I think it shows them they have an advantage knowing both languages.”