Santa Ynez High School World Language department recently presented the school board with an overview of its department and new offerings they are providing to both students and their parents.

Students can choose to enroll in Latin, Spanish and/or French classes. Non-English speaking parents can enroll in special computer classes designed to improve communications between the school and families.

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The parent classes cover computer basics, starting with how to find the school’s website and navigate it, and later creating an email account so that parents and teachers can touch base. Eventually, parents will learn how to use the Naviance program. The first class filled up so quickly, another was added. The classes are held in the high school’s computer lab and taught on an all-volunteer basis. Often the parents’ children get involved with the teaching, making the classes a success on many different levels, the faculty said.

Parent Rosa Guerrero is credited for getting the ball rolling, but the classes would not have come to fruition had it not been for Ricky Hernandez from People Helping People, said Agustin Vizcaino. The classes are held at the same time many of the parents are at the school, while their kids are receiving tutoring.

“These classes give parents the opportunity to become academically informed on how their kids are doing.” All of the World Language teachers chip in, keeping the student/teacher ratio low.

Vizcaino explained the parent classes are just a small part of the efforts the department is making to close the gap between Spanish and English learners. Once non-English speaking parents learn how to access school information, they are empowered to participate in their children’s progress. “We are helping them to understand that it is OK – even expected—that they be in contact with their students’ teachers.”

Native Spanish speaking students are enrolled in the same higher division foreign language courses as their English speaking peers. “Spanish language speakers don’t get the same exposure to critical thinking that their English-speaking counterparts have, but they provide a fluency in grammatical speaking and accent which would otherwise go missing. It’s a perfect sort of blend,” said Linda Wall, who teaches Spanish 3, both regular and honors, as well as French 1.

But that is not all the joint classes do. “To me, it’s a perfect world when social barriers get broken down. We have good kids here and I don’t really want the barriers,” said Wall, who is able to rearrange desks so students work in groups of four, all facing one another.

“Culturally, it’s wonderful to see them working side by side, helping each other,” said Joanna Lara.

Wall pointed out there isn’t a downside to having Spanish speakers in joint classes. “It carriers over – as they start building literacy in their own language it spills over into literacy in English.” She noted also that the school is having a greater success rate now than when the students were separated by language of origin. “I think it is because of classes like these. It validates the legitimacy of their own language.”

“Most speak Spanish, but don’t really know how to read and write. For them, it is language class more than a foreign language,” said Lara.

Although foreign language classes are electives, many college-bound students are required to take them to get accepted into universities. The faculty work hard to provide students with an international focus and opportunities to expand critical-thinking skills. In every class, at every level, students receive lessons that focus on listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. They begin with formulaic expressions and progress to more complex constructions. At the AP level, those skills are refined and built upon.

The aim to make sure students learn about other cultures while they obtain communication skills, and just as importantly the school hopes to ensure “students understand the connection between culture and language and how they enrich American culture,” the department told the school board.

“The quality of our instruction in World Language is second to none,” said superintendent Paul Turnbull.

Chris Mullin teasingly told the board he was only given 105 seconds to speak, and managed to stick to that. He teaches three sections of Latin, with a total of 55 students. His Latin 3 and 4 classes are combined. He flip-flops the curriculum each year, so combining the two sections works well.

Mullin has a real love of ancient history, and weaves that into his program to make it fun and dynamic for students, he said. He has moved away from the old IB format, but does not expect his students to do well on AP exams. “It’s really a big challenge to do AP, and I’m a competitive person. The IB curriculum only covers 30 % of what AP does. I’m trying to figure it out,” he said.

The AP test is really geared to students coming out of catholic schools where they get many more years of Latin behind them before the test, he added while folding his hands together and tipping his head: “Mea culpa. That means ‘my fault.’”

Wall did not have the AP test scores with her at the meeting, but noted they were above average. Because the school recently switched from IB to AP systems, students had an extra year of world languages before taking the AP exams last year. How much impact that had on scores won’t be known for at least another year.

Lara says that “the AP Spanish exam is very rigorous, even for Spanish speakers. They do well on the listening component, but have trouble when it comes to the essay.”

Vizcaino told the board that the AP Spanish language exam was recently made more rigorous because there are so many Spanish speakers taking it. The change makes it even harder for English speakers to pass. Just the same, for the second year in a row now there are about 30 students in AP Spanish, with half being English speakers.

Rosa Estarellas explained the interactive notebooks they have students create. “At the end of the year students are to take the notebooks home, review them at the end of the summer break and bring them to class in the fall,” she said.

The 21st-Century student will find many new tools on the Internet via the text books’ online curriculum. The new included software contains such things as interactive games, music and videos. But there are numerous other sources as well. The French classes have particularly enjoyed watching Foux du Fafa, which are more or less music videos, with catchy tunes and lots of vocabulary. Spanish classes have also used web resources in their curriculum. “It’s a work in progress,” says Vizcaino. “Some students are using animation to create stories for use in class to increase interest.” However, difficulties have arisen in that the server they have access to is too slow, so many of the programs don’t work.

In the end, says Wall, “the structure of the situation is that the four core areas really keep students busy. They do their best to keep up with their foreign language, but the testing for core is so important to the school community, that there isn’t that much time left for students to study language.”

After concluding the presentation, and before the meeting ended, principal Mark Swanitz was able to look up the AP test results on his iPad and provide them to the board. The 2010 passage rate for Spanish was 88%, 44% with a 5, 23% with a 4, and 21% with a 3. The district purchased six iPads for various personnel who did not have them at a total cost of $5,734 (including ancillary items, such as protection plans, cases and so forth).

The District estimates a savings just for board meetings of more than $10,000 annually in paper and copier costs (this does not include personnel time or machine wear). “The process of going paperless was researched with the City of Buellton, which implemented a similar program,” said Nicole Evenson, the school’s business manager. The iPads are engraved with district inventory tag numbers, will follow the position and were funded with a one-time, unrestricted funding source called MAA (Medi-Cal Administrative Act). MAA funds can be used at the district’s discretion.

Parents interested in discussing these or other issues are invited to enjoy coffee with the principal at 8:30 a.m. on Friday, April 8, in the board meeting room.

Hay unas pocas vacantes en nuestra segunda clase de computadoras en español para los padres que tengan hijos en Santa Ynez High School. La clase empieza a las 6:30 de la tarde todos los miércoles y termina a las 7:30 p.m. Si está interesada(o) por favor hágale saber al Señor Vizcaíno o llámele al 688-6487 x2354. Muchas gracias.