2017-02-16 / Schools

Spanish spelling bee puts students to the test

Activity exposes kids to other cultures
By Dawn Megli-Thuna


EN ESPAÑOL— Third- grader Ashlyn Antoniotti steps up to the mic during the Spanish spelling bee Feb. 3 at Hillcrest Christian school in Thousand Oaks. 
DIANNE AVERY/Acorn Newspapers EN ESPAÑOL— Third- grader Ashlyn Antoniotti steps up to the mic during the Spanish spelling bee Feb. 3 at Hillcrest Christian school in Thousand Oaks. DIANNE AVERY/Acorn Newspapers How do you spell 16 in Spanish? The first-graders at Hillcrest Christian School could tell you.

For the second year in a row, students at the Thousand Oaks private school competed in a Spanish-language spelling bee against kids from a private school in Santa Monica.

Students from Carlthorp School made the trek to Hillcrest’s Erbes Road campus for the daylong event on Feb. 3.

Competitors went head-tohead against spellers from their own grade level. First-graders were asked to spell words like amarillo (yellow); third-grade students spelled sentences like como te llamas (what’s your name), and sixth-grade students had to spell phrases like carpeta de argollas (three-ring binder).

Claudia Zurek, a Spanish teacher at Carlthorp School, said this spelling bee was especially fun for her students because it was the first time they’ve competed off-campus.

“It was incredible for us,” she said. “The kids were really nervous, but they enjoyed every second of it.”

The event was the culmination of a weeklong cultural exchange where 15 high school students from Panama visited Hillcrest. The Panamanian students participated in activities like making native crafts such as dolls with fabric dresses. They painted their national flag with the elementary students, then shadowed middle and high school students during Spanish class.

The students from Panama kicked off the spell ing bee with a demonstration of their local traditions, clothing, music and dance. The presentation ended with a schoolwide conga line around the auditorium.

Katherine Farah teaches Spanish at Hillcrest Christian and is the director of its international program. A Colombian native who’s taught at the private religious school for nine years, she said the Spanish spelling bee was an extension of their language program, which emphasizes real-world applications.

She said the visit from the Panamanian students was a great way to make language instruction more social.

“They love them,” she said. “Our students embrace them so much. Making friends is a great way to perfect a foreign language.”

At Hillcrest, Spanish is mandatory for students in grades K-6. It is also offered as an elective through high school up to and including the AP level.

Not only does Hillcrest emphasize foreign language development in its student body, it also offers an English language development program for international students, who have come from Korea, Switzerland, Poland, Vietnam, Japan and Russia.

Currently, its youngest international student is a kindergartner from China.

Paul Moomjean, director of marketing for the school, said his favorite part of having the exchange students on campus was watching them interact with the other children.

“Hosting the Panamanian students is a great way for our Hillcrest students to learn about other cultures, languages and perspectives,” he said. “Both sides learn more about different ways in which students learn and live out cultural traditions.”

As a private school, Moomjean said, Hillcrest can offer things public schools can’t. He pointed to their interactive language program as a point of distinction. Since Panamanian visitors spoke low- to intermediate level English, students at Hillcrest were challenged to communicate in Spanish with native speakers.

“It’s great exposure for them to be able to use their skills beyond the classroom,” he said.

This was the first year Hillcrest hosted cultural exchange students, and the program was so popular, Farah said, the school will host a group from Ecuador next year.

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