By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Students get taste of Hispanic culture
Pre-K center teaches English, Spanish rhymes
Students color pictures that correspond to a class English/Spanish lesson. - photo by Photo by Seraine Page
Sixteen squirming pre-K students sat in a semi-circle waiting for the surprise their teacher Kim Durrence had promised them.
Durrence, dressed in pink, brown and white floral-print scrubs, walked to the front of the room and sat in a wooden rocking chair next to a chart filled with pictures and words.
The children were used to the routine: sit in a circle, sing songs, and learn a nursery rhyme or two.
But on Monday, they knew something was different because Durrence told them so.
“We’re going to be learning a nursery rhyme today, but it is going to sound a little different, “she told her class.
“I’m going to read it to you in English, and then one of our parents is going to come in and teach it to us in Spanish.”
Last week, Durrence’s class at the Liberty County Pre-K Center began learning nursery rhymes, but few students had ever even heard the word Spanish.
Using a pointer, the teacher tapped each word on the chart as she started to read “The Elephants” rhyme aloud. Some students mumbled the words under their breath, trying to follow along.
“One brave elephant swung on a silver thread. A web in a breeze is a lovely trapeze, more elephants, please, he said,” Durrence started slowly. “Two brave elephants swung on a silver thread.”
Just a few minutes in, however, students began to chatter excitedly when a visitor, Iris Santory, entered the room holding copies of coloring sheets.
Keyraliz Santory-Diaz, 4, smiled as she watched her mother weave her way through the toddlers to take over reading from the teacher.
On Durrence’s cue, Santory opened the book and began to read the Spanish version of “The Elephants.”
“Un elefante valiente se columpiaban sobre una tela de araña bien fino,” she sang.
“Una tela de araña con una brisa hase un trapecio muy hermosa, más elefantes, por favor, dijo. Dos elefantes se columpiaban sobre una tela de araña bien fino.”
Santory, a native of Puerto Rico, said she chose an activity that she thought would help her improve her English as she taught the students Spanish. After the reading, she sat quietly, listening to the children talk while they colored elephants and glued confetti paper onto their sheets.
“It makes it easier for me to learn,” Santory said. “I listen.”
With Spanish as her first language, she said she felt it was a gift she wanted to share with her daughter and with others.
She brought the idea to Durrence who decided with her paraprofessional, Ashley Gibbs, to incorporate Spanish language exercises into a few everyday class activities.
“They’re just like sponges, soaking it all in,” Durrence said.
Because the school’s curriculum does not allow for worksheets, parent volunteers are allowed to bring in their own activities to teach in the students. Durrence knows a few Spanish words, but is learning the language at the same time as her class, she said. Gibbs knows a bit more, but isn’t quite fluent.
“They’re just very interested in Spanish,” she said as she kept a watchful eye on students coloring. “We’re starting to lay the foundation for reading and literacy.”
The next day, Nicholas Perry, 4,  told his teacher that The Elephants was his new favorite nursery rhyme.
When she asked what his mom thought of his artwork, he bashfully shrugged his shoulders.
“She said it was beautiful.”  
Lessons will continue for the next few weeks as the students practice the nursery rhyme every morning in both languages, but a little broken without Santory’s help.
Even though she has taught for five years, this is the first time Durrence had a Spanish-speaking student in her classroom whose parent is fluent in the language.
Next week the students will join again in a circle to learn colors and shapes in both English and Spanish.
“We’re learning together, the students and I,” she said. “It’s a fun experience.”
Sign up for our e-newsletters