Camp immerses students in foreign language
After two weeks of immersion in the Spanish language, 7-year-old Kaylee Schneider said she can read books, count and identify colors and foods in Spanish for the first time.
"I learned how to read in Spanish because all the books are in Spanish," Kaylee said, holding up a book in the "biblioteca," or library, section of the classroom.
More than 100 students participated in Bilingual Beginnings, a total immersion language camp for first- and second-graders put on by UW-Eau Claire for the first time this summer. Students could choose between Spanish, German or French and participate in the camps led by university students studying language and education.
"We try to only speak Spanish to the kids, so that's how they're learning," said Charlie Mabie, a UW-Eau Claire student and one of the Spanish camp teachers.
Each camp, hosted at the university's Children's Nature Academy at The Priory, southwest of Eau Claire, lasts for two weeks and focuses on different areas of interest related to nature. The theme of Kaylee's camp was the market, or "el mercado."
Katrina Schmudlach, a UW-Eau Claire student and one of the camp teachers, said camp workers use songs, actions and descriptions to help kids catch on to the vocabulary quickly.
"You don't need to know everything we say. Just listen, and we do a lot of actions," she said.
To help students learn, Schmudlach and Mabie also use plenty of cognates, words that sound the same in another language as they do in English, such as lemon and limón.
The progress children made during the course of the camp was remarkable, Mabie said.
"The third day was really the turning point, where the kids stopped being frustrated about not understanding us, and we started to get better at getting them to understand us," he said.
Carter Smith, chairman of the Department of Languages at UW-Eau Claire, said the department wanted to do a language immersion program for a long time. The opportunity presented itself in 2012, when the university called for bids for programs at The Priory.
"This seemed like an ideal opportunity, and we proposed the idea, and it was accepted by the university," Smith said, noting grant money paid for writing the program curriculum, training and materials.
The willingness of the Eau Claire school district to pay the $200 cost of admission for district students involved in the program is a big help, Smith said.
"Even though $200 isn't a lot for what students are getting, we wanted it to be something that's open for all," he said.
Kaylee's mother, Heather Schneider, said Spanish isn't offered at Sam Davey Elementary School, where Kaylee will be a second-grader in fall. So she was happy her daughter got exposure to another language and culture this summer.
"She never got to do that," Schneider said. "They don't teach you that in our school."
The final Bilingual Beginnings camps this summer wrap up Aug. 22, but the program will continue next summer with talks of expansion. The camp may be open to third- and fourth-graders next summer, Smith said, and may involve other school districts.
"A lot of time that cultural emergence doesn't happen in little Eau Claire, so this is a great way to open up that door," Mabie said.