Professor giving a lecture to students in old main

Kindergarteners learn Spanish, Chinese from Wofford students

Spanish Academy

Wofford students create academies at E.P. Todd Elementary

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In the fall of 2007, Peggy Trageser-Kay, media specialist at E.P. Todd Elementary School in Spartanburg County School District No. 7, decided she wanted to offer students at the school more exposure to foreign languages – beyond the French language classes available to fourth-graders. She especially wanted her kindergarten students to have the chance to learn Spanish.

Wofford College professor of Spanish Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden and three students answered the call, and came with a bonus – an offer by professor of Chinese Dr. Li Qing Kinnison to offer that language to E.P. Todd students as well.

In the fall of 2007, Barbas Rhoden, along with Wofford sophomores Jasmine Davis, Keshia Boyd and Alyse Line created the Spanish Academy at E.P. Todd. The students, volunteering their time, opened the academy on Feb. 12 with 15 kindergarten students. They meet every Tuesday after school and work on lessons designed around the South Carolina education standards for science.

“We chose science because it gives the students concrete examples,” says Boyd, who is responsible for creating each week’s lesson. “It is much easier for them to understand the Spanish word for dog means dog if we can show them a picture of a dog.” Following the science curriculum also works well because many of the kindergarten standards deal with everyday objects that the students will encounter. The standards include animals, body parts, seasons and weather.

Barbas Rhoden says, “In addition to giving the students very concrete notions for good vocabulary, it also reinforces what they are leaning in class.”

The curriculum in science changes every year, so as the students progress through the academy they will continue to learn new ideas. It also stretches the Wofford students who are teaching, because they have to be exact with what they teach. “Teaching these kids has been great for me, too, because it forces me to focus on the little things, making sure that endings are just right or that articles agree with the words,” Boyd declares.

Once the Spanish Academy became established in its own right, the school began exploring more options in terms of foreign languages. Out of this exploration came the Chinese Academy, again in partnership with Wofford College.

Like the Spanish Academy, the Chinese Academy meets at E.P. Todd after school on Tuesdays. Two students who are in the Wofford Chinese studies and language program, Chris Heinz and Lamont Latigue, have taken leading roles in the program.

The Wofford students work with seven kindergarten students every week, teaching them basic greetings, how to count, animals and colors. They also have given the children Chinese names and taught them how to recognize the character of the Chinese name and how to say it.

“Because the Chinese language is so different from English in both reading and writing, it is necessary to do a lot of repetition with the students so that they form a solid base,” says Kinnison.

Ultimately the goal of both programs is to introduce students to foreign languages at an early age. Barbas Rhoden notes, “This program gives Wofford Spanish (and Chinese) majors a chance to share their excitement about language and culture with children. If children see the joy of learning about other cultures at an early age, our hope is that they will be motivated to continue learning for the rest of their lives.”

(This article was written by Craig Sudduth, Wofford College Class of 2009.)

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