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Fifth Graders Give FLES Program High Marks


Over the last three years, fifth graders throughout the district have received approximately 4,600 minutes of Spanish instruction. The Foreign Language in the Elementary Schools program launched in September 2016 in the third grade, and each year expanded by a grade.

This year’s fifth grade class became the first to have three years of Spanish language instruction in advance of selecting a language at Berner Middle School where they can continue on with Spanish, or take French, German or Mandarin Chinese.

“It’s exciting because we were the first ones to experience something new,” said Fairfield Elementary School fifth grader James B. “I like how we started at a young age, so we get to know it our whole lives.”

James will take German when he begins sixth grade while his classmate, Elena W., has signed up for Mandarin Chinese.

“Although I like Spanish, I want to try something new,” Elena said.

Elena added that she liked how each year of the FLES program focused on different topics, so students were able to master the vocabulary and gain a solid understanding of the language. The third-grade curriculum focuses on basic language skills such as greetings, personal identification, colors, numbers and directions. In fourth grade, students learn days of the week and months, seasons, weather, clothing and activities. Fifth grade includes lessons on body parts, buildings, family and professions, along with descriptive words.

“I have noted so much positive growth over the course of three years,” said Luisa Marino, one of the original FLES teachers, who this year works with students at Fairfield and Unqua schools. “Besides expanding their love and enthusiasm for Spanish both inside and outside of the classroom, the students have become very confident in expressing themselves and performing tasks in Spanish.”

Ms. Marino said that having the basic foundation of a second language will lead to higher risk-taking and higher-order thinking skills as students continue with their studies.

Berner language teachers say they are excited about welcoming the first group of students with experience at the elementary level. Deena Christophorou and Pedro Medina, who both teach sixth and seventh grade Spanish, have been in close communication with the FLES teachers so they can redesign their curriculum as students will now come in with a basic understanding of the language.

“We’re excited to see what they’re going to come here knowing,” Ms. Christophorou said. “Coming in with prior knowledge will make the transition to middle school so much easier for them.”

This year’s seventh graders were the first to begin language instruction in sixth grade, and the teachers noted the positive difference that earlier start made. Now, they will be welcoming students who started learning a language in third grade.

At the middle school level, language skills are developed through storytelling exercises. This practice helps students become fully immersed in language and culture and brings the experience to the next level.

“We want to make sure that students can reach their full potential,” Mr. Medina said. “We can’t wait to see what the FLES program has done for our language learners.”

Birch Lane Elementary School fifth graders Kaitlyn K. and Michael M. will be continuing with Spanish in middle school and appreciate the head start they received in elementary school. Michael already has been having conversations in Spanish with his sister, a seventh grader, to practice his language skills.

“It’s cool to be able to communicate with people in another language,” he said. “Once you learn one language, it’s a lot easier to learn more languages.”

Kaitlyn and her classmate Lauren B. said they both like the interactive structure of FLES classes, which are 20 minutes twice a week. There are lots of games and activities which require them to move around and interact with each other in Spanish.

Stacy Incardona, in her second year teaching FLES, has watched students greatly expand their vocabulary and ability to have full conversations. She noted that the fifth graders are working on their year-end projects, which are illustrated books about their families, and can’t wait to see the finished products.