HCS adds Spanish to curriculum for its K, first grade students

Ana Velazquez (left) helps Gavin Sink with his math in Rachel Nelson’s first grade classroom at Huntington Catholic School on Monday, Aug. 28. Velazquez is also teaching Spanish to the students in kindergarten and first grade.
Ana Velazquez (left) helps Gavin Sink with his math in Rachel Nelson’s first grade classroom at Huntington Catholic School on Monday, Aug. 28. Velazquez is also teaching Spanish to the students in kindergarten and first grade. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally published Aug. 31, 2017.

By the end of the year, Ana Velazquez hopes, her small charges at Huntington Catholic School will be able to follow along as she speaks to them in Spanish.

“My goal is at least to have them say five complete sentences,” she says. “If I carry on a conversation, they can pick up on it.”

Velazquez is teaching Spanish to the school’s kindergartners and first-graders, and Huntington Catholic Principal Derek Boone says plans are to eventually expand the classes to take in more grades.

“If we can add a grade per year, I think that would be a huge benefit,” Boone says.

In the meantime, older students at Huntington Catholic are using a computer app to learn Spanish.

Boone started looking for a Spanish teacher for HCS shortly after being named principal at the local school. He’d previously served as principal at St. John the Baptist Catholic School in South Bend, where a Spanish language program was already in place, and he wanted to do something similar at his new school.

He was afraid, though, that finding someone who wanted to teach Spanish on a part-time basis would be “like finding a four-leaf clover.”

That’s where Velazquez came in. She and Boone connected through Rev. Drew Curry, pastor of St. Robert Bellarmine Catholic Church, the church Velazquez attends in her hometown of North Manchester.

Velazquez agreed to take the part-time teaching position, while also serving as a classroom aide and driving the bus that brings eight North Manchester students to Huntington Catholic.

She’ll be spending about a half-hour each Wednesday teaching Spanish to the kindergartners, and another half hour with the first-graders.

“This is my first year, so I just wanted to start out small in the beginning,” she says.

“We’ll piece it out little by little,” Boone says. “A lot of it is what she’s comfortable taking on.”

Velazquez plans to start out with greetings — “how you come to a person and greet them in Spanish” — and move on to basic words for colors, shapes and household items.

“I’m learning as I go,” she says.

The students’ music books include some songs in Spanish, which Velazquez has translated for the youngsters.

“They get so amused and happy,” she says. “They’re eager to learn something new.”

Velazquez is a native Spanish speaker, and is very familiar with the speed at which young children can pick up another language. She was born in Mexico and moved to the United States when she was 3 years old, growing up in Warsaw.

“At home, we only spoke Spanish,” she says. “Once we started school, that’s when I became bilingual.”

One of the teachers in the Head Start program she attended — “Sara Espinoza; her name I still remember” — was instrumental in helping Velazquez make the transition.

Espinoza even visited her home, giving her parents, who still did not speak English, feedback on the classes. Since then, her parents have learned to speak English.

“I was in first grade before I was actually comfortable carrying on conversations,” Velazquez says. “It wasn’t too hard. At that age, we pick up so much. We just absorb. And some words in Spanish and in English kind of sound alike.”

Two of Velazquez’s three children attend Huntington Catholic — Marisol in kindergarten, and Joel in preschool. She says she and her husband, even though both are fluent in English, made the decision to speak only Spanish at home when the children were young.

Other Hispanic parents were speaking only English to their children, but Velazquez and her husband wanted their the kids to learn the language of their heritage.

Marisol started learning English two years ago in her Head Start classes in North Manchester.

“She does understand if I carry on now in English,” Velazquez says.

Fluency in both languages will benefit her daughter, Velazquez believes. She’ll also be in a position to help others, she adds.

“If anybody needs help, she knows what they’re saying and will be able to help,” Verlazquez says.

Boone believes dual languages will also benefit his students.

“With the world changing and evolving, having a second language will benefit them for years to come,” he says.

Velazquez will be spending Monday through Thursday at Huntington Catholic, continuing to work at Madre’s Restaurant, the restaurant she and her husband opened in North Manchester with help from her parents, on Fridays and Sundays.

It was the restaurant, she says, that prompted her family’s move from Warsaw to North Manchester.

“I finally stopped driving back and forth,” she says.