Soaking up Spanish

  • Windsor librarian Ana Vercoutere uses a game of 20 questions in spanish during a week-long spanish immersion program at the Sonoma County Office of Education in Santa Rosa.

Singing in Spanish and bouncing around her classroom in an animated style, Socorro Nelson belted out a simple verse to teach some new words: “Soy una pizza con mucho queso.”

The reply in Spanish from 11 students came in a mix of motley accents: I am a pizza with lots of cheese.

Nelson is a kindergarten teacher at the bilingual Cali Calmécac Language Academy in Windsor. But these weren’t her usual pupils. They were local teachers, librarians and other professionals taking part in the weeklong Spanish Language Immersion Institute at the Sonoma County Office of Education.

With the Latino population on the rise in the county and schools, local government employees, nurses and educators are looking for ways to learn the language to reach out to the Spanish-speaking community.

“A lot of the teachers have told me that many of the students that they are getting in their classrooms speak very little English,” Nelson said. “That’s why they are trying to acquire the basic Spanish, so they can help the students — (and) feed the needs of the growing Hispanic community that we have in Sonoma County.”

The program is among several that are trying to boost Spanish literacy in the county. They include the Petaluma-based language school Colors of Spanish and classes at Santa Rosa Junior College that frequently draw educators.

Guadalupe Tausch, founder of Colors of Spanish, said those who learn a new tongue are more receptive to new ideas and cultures. “People also earn more money,” she added.

She offers 10-week Spanish classes for adults at her school. Many of her students are doctors, nurses and technicians in the medical field who often get patients who don’t speak English, Tausch said.

“Learning a second language is a privilege,” Tausch said. “But it’s something you have to work hard at every day.”

In Nelson’s Spanish class for beginners, Dianne Ellingson said she doesn’t have problems communicating with the students in her class at La Tercera Elementary School in Petaluma; it’s the parents who are the challenge. A teacher for more than two decades, Ellingson now sees far more students from Spanish-speaking homes come through her classroom door. Learning the language would allow her to discuss student performance with the parents, she said.

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