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Spanish Immersion Students Engage Literature with Mexican Author

Students from Rockford traversed time, space and cultures in a fruitful partnership with Grand Valley State University students and a Mexican author.

A yearlong collaboration between North Rockford Middle School Spanish Immersion students and GVSU Spanish students culminated in a visit from author Maria Garcia Esperón, who read from her historical novel “Copo de Algodon” set in the Aztec Empire.

Esperón read and spoke entirely in Spanish, and the Rockford students understood thanks to their immersion program beginning in kindergarten. After giving her animated reading and answering students’ questions posed in Spanish, she marveled at the many educational levels and modes coming together in the GVSU classroom.

“I have been to many middle schools, but what happened here is incredible,” said Esperón, a prize-winning author of fiction and poetry for young people in Mexico.

Her visit was arranged by Dr. Natalia Gomez, a GVSU professor of Spanish, as part of a yearlong program with NRMS Spanish Immersion teacher Clare Adamus. The program paired Adamus’ students with Gomez’s Spanish American literature students, who met with the Rockford pupils last fall and devised blog activities for them.Esperón answered students’ questions about her book and her life as a writer

“I think it is important for students at a university to really get their feet dirty — to get out of their comfort zone and engage in the process of teaching,” said Gomez, who funded Esperón’s visit with a Pew Scholars grant. “I wanted them to put their minds into the teacher (mode) and how they could create questions using the book, and have fun with it.”

Immersion Produces Bilingual Students

Adamus’ sixth-graders participated in the partnership with GVSU and were joined by seventh- and eighth-graders for the visit from Esperón. The novel’s depiction ofthe Spanish conquistador Cortes, his confrontation with the Aztec emperor Moctezuma II and the emperor’s heroine daughter of the book’s title prompted great student discussions about different perspectives on Cortes and his conquest of the Aztecs, Adamus said.

“I’ve never seen them so engaged with a book,” Adamus said. “It really shows them the dimensions of cultural diffusion.”

The NRMS program extends the Spanish Immersion program based at Roguewood Elementary, where more than 300 students were enrolled in the program this year. By the time they reach sixth grade the students are bilingual, said NRMS Principal Lisa Weidenfeller.

Seventh-grader Jake Wisneski said he had no problem following Esperón’s reading, thanks to the program.

“The Spanish Immersion class has taught me so much about not just Spanish, but something completely new I’d never had any experience with,” Jake said. “With this experience, it really helps me understand the culture because we’re not exposed to a lot of that.”

Alejandro Ramos, who is from Mexico, said the class helped him communicate with his Spanish-speaking grandparents.

“Because I have a lot of Hispanic relatives, it allows me to speak with them in their native language,” Alejandro said. “My dad tells a lot of stories about when he was a kid in Mexico.”


Rockford Spanish Immersion program

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio


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