New Spanish heritage class coming to FHS next year

Farmington High School continues a push for inclusivity in fall 2017

Aracely Thomas, Spanish teacher at Farmington High School, pictured in her classroom. She is excited to bring a new Spanish heritage class to the school fall 2017. (Photo by Maren Bauer)
Aracely Thomas, Spanish teacher at Farmington High School, pictured in her classroom. She is excited to bring a new Spanish heritage class to the school fall 2017. (Photo by Maren Bauer)

Aracely Thomas recognized the importance of all students feeling like they have a voice. Next fall, she will share more students’ voices with a new Spanish heritage class at Farmington High School.

As a native Spanish speaker, Thomas understands the plight Spanish-speaking students face on a daily basis. Thomas grew up in New York where she heard different variations of the language throughout the neighborhoods – Mexican, Puerto Rican, Dominican, and others. All had their own unique flavor of Spanish language, and a unique culture and history connected to the language. She also studied abroad in Spain where she got to experience a much different sounding Spanish along with a new culture.

In a regular Spanish class, with non-native speakers, Thomas has noticed that native speakers will be insecure, not speak up, or speak with an accent so as not to draw attention to themselves. Thomas hopes to give these students “an environment to feel comfortable to speak their native language.” She said they already know the vocabulary, and when non-native speaking students work on vocabulary development, native speakers can easily become bored.

“I want to give these students a place to feel comfortable so that they can continue to feel challenged,” she said. What the students need is direct grammar instruction, coupled with deeper knowledge in the culture and history of the language.

In order to better support these students, Thomas turned to Jennifer Elk and Jenna Cushing-Leubner at Roosevelt High School in Minneapolis.

Elk and Cushing have developed a Spanish heritage program at Roosevelt and already this demographic of students has started seeing more success. In the past year, Hispanic students’ graduation rate has increased 15 percentage points. In an interview with MinnPost, Principal Michael Bradley attributed this success in large part to the Spanish heritage program.

Students will not only be learning about the different grammar tenses in Spanish, they will learn about the culture and history of Mexico, Spain, and other Spanish-speaking countries, all in Spanish. She always encourages parents of students whose first language is not English to continue speaking that first language at home.

“Students learn more, it’s good for the brain, and they don’t lose their culture,” she said.

The benefits of bilingualism, according to an August BBC report, include social, psychological and lifestyle advantages. America lags behind the world in this department: most people in the world (around 60 to 75 percent) speak at least two languages. Studies have also shown that those who are bilingual possess greater empathy because they are able to block out “their own feelings and beliefs in order to concentrate on the other person’s.”

“Moreover, researchers are finding a swathe of health benefits from speaking more than one language, including faster stroke recovery and delayed onset of dementia. As for the financial benefits, one estimate puts the value of knowing a second language at up to $128,000 over 40 years.” The story is at http://tinyurl.com/jjtlp6k.

Currently, 16-20 students have expressed interest in taking the class. Thomas said these students are both “excited and intrigued about being able to speak their native language freely in the classroom.” She hopes to expand to a Heritage 2 class, depending on how this pilot class goes.

In the last decade or so, the percentage of persons of Hispanic or Latino origin has increased 236 percent, going from under 2 percent to almost 4 percent in Farmington.

At the high school, about 6 percent of the student population identifies as having Hispanic or Latino origin, and this number is only expected to continue increasing.

As students feel a sense of community in this new class, she wants to spread that feeling in broader community outreach: she plans on visiting other heritage programs as well as looking at social justice issues and seeing what the class can do for the community.

Email Maren Bauer at
[email protected]