By Tetsuo Nakahara, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsDecember 14, 2011
Camp Zama, Japan (Dec. 14, 2011) -- A student raised his hand and correctly answered "Amarillo" after Patty Duarte, the Spanish teacher at Arnn Elementary School, pointed to a piece of yellow stationary and asked what color it was during Spanish Night held Dec. 8 at the school.
For the last five years, Arnn has focused on meeting the goals set forth by the Department of Defense Education Activity in regard to the Foreign Language in Elementary Schools Spanish program. The program aims to provide students from kindergarten through third grade with 90 minutes of instruction per week, and 45 minutes per week for fourth - and fifth-graders.
The FLES program is based on five Cs - Communication, Cultures, Connections, Comparisons and Communities - to develop and improve second-language education.
"Tonight is an opportunity for community members to come out and see how our Spanish class is run, meet with the teacher and principal, and share information," said Duarte.
Seven members from the Latin-American Club at Camp Zama prepared food for attendees at the event, saying it was not only a school event, but also a community event. They provided traditional homemade dishes such as pernil (Spanish style pork), arroz con gandoles (rice with pigeon peas) and guacamole.
The children who attended the event participated in a craft workshop instructed by Duarte. They made a Mexican Christmas decoration craft, an "Ojo de Dios," by using colorful yarn and scissors.
"I want my daughter to see that learning Spanish is very important." said Marie-Frence Hensen, one of the parents at the event. "My mother's language is French, and the roots of French and Spanish are so similar, in that they come from Latin. I think it's a blessing that Arnn offers the FLES Spanish program. Like Ms. Duarte said, if they learn a second language at an earlier age, they don't have an accent and people can understand them better."
In 2006, initiatives came from the Pentagon giving Arnn funding to start teaching strategic languages in the school. The Spanish program was not available to every school in the military school due to funding, but Arnn was able to develop and offer the program in the same year.
"Education research shows that when young children are exposed to second languages, their brains develop differently - just like we know some children are naturally more talented in math, reading, or are more artistic," said Missy Gingrich, principal at Arnn. "Foreign language exposure increases their ability to comprehend it. The younger they are, the more differently their brain systems develop. So later in their lives if they come back to a language, they can learn it quicker than students who weren't exposed to it."