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The Hartford Courant

Fourth-Graders Are Introduced To Spanish, With A Flair

Program Expands To Moody, Spencer

By PENELOPE OVERTON, Courant Staff Writer

October 10, 2003
Copyright ©2003 The Hartford Courant. All rights reserved.

MIDDLETOWN -- Azucena Corredera Gonzalez doesn't just walk into a classroom.

The new teacher, who arrived from Madrid just last month, glides into the room. She waves her hands around above her head. Spanish spills from her smile like cool water flowing from a fountain on a sticky summer day.

The fourth-grade class at Spencer Elementary School is stunned into silence. After just one week of class, most of the students don't understand a word she's saying, but she uses the exotic, musical sound of her native language to hook them.

``I love Spanish,'' said Ava DelMastro, 9. ``I love the way it sounds.''

She has just 22 minutes to fascinate, inspire and instruct them, and she chooses to do this without using a word of English. She relies on a few props, like a map and a hand puppet named Pepe, but mostly uses her hands to bridge the language gap.

``Oh, I get it, you flew here on an airplane,'' said Shay Peterson, watching Gonzalez stick her arms out to her sides and make a droning noise. ``It took you `siete' -- I mean seven -- hours to ride here from Spain in an airplane. I get it.''

Two students who speak Spanish at home talk freely with Gonzalez and appear to encourage their classmates to take risks. Although he likes to think of himself as good in all subjects, Kevin Hilversum likes being ``really good'' in Spanish.

``B.J. and I know how to speak Spanish from Puerto Rico,'' Kevin said of his friend and classmate Norberto ``B.J.'' Rivas. ``I can understand what she's saying even when she is talking to herself. It makes me feel good, knowing that.''

The fourth-grade Spanish language program began at Snow and Lawrence schools last spring, serving about 100 students, and expanded to include Moody and Spencer this week, now serving almost three times as many students.

Bielefield, Macdonough, Farm Hill and Wesley schools must wait at least one more year before the district can find the funds to offer the 22-minute, three-times-weekly classes. The pilot program was almost shelved during last year's budget talks.

Middletown recruited Gonzalez through a visiting teachers program established by the Spanish and U.S. governments. She is one of six teachers who traveled from Spain to Connecticut this year as a member of this exchange program.

Gonzalez, who has a master's degree from a Madrid university, started teaching English in the Spanish school system 20 years ago. She spent a few years in England and then returned to train other Spanish foreign-language teachers.

She had visited Connecticut twice before, including once this past summer, before she got the call in August that she had a job. That left her just two weeks to get a visa, plane tickets and a place for her and her son to live before school started.

``It was kind of crazy, but it was just wonderful,'' Gonzalez said. ``Everybody in the public school has welcomed us, been so nice to us, let us stay in their house as we looked for a place to live. I am a teacher, but I am learning much, too.''

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