Egg Harbor Township High School program hones native language skills of Spanish-speaking students

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Laura Stetser/From left in bottom row are seniors Luis Sibaja, Alondra Gamarra, Wendy Moya. In top row from left are teacher Yamilei Socorro, senior Nicole Melo, junior Alondra Martínez, junior Nathaly Grisales and teacher Obed J. Pérez. Laura Stetser/From left in bottom row are seniors Luis Sibaja, Alondra Gamarra, Wendy Moya. In top row from left are teacher Yamilei Socorro, senior Nicole Melo, junior Alondra Martínez, junior Nathaly Grisales and teacher Obed J. Pérez.

Could become a state model for similar programs

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – When Michelle Schreiner realized in 1998 that the Spanish-speaking students in Egg Harbor Township High School weren’t having their educational needs met, she decided to initiate a change of course.

“I had students who already spoke Spanish in my Spanish classes,” said Schreiner, who at the time was a foreign language teacher. “We were not meeting the needs of these students, and they were not learning anything new.” 

As part of the graduation requirement, students are obligated to take five credits of a foreign language, so these students were selecting Spanish. But they were bored learning the basics that they had already mastered, she said.

Laura Stetser/Yamelei Socorro teaches the level 1 college preparatory and advanced placement course at Egg Harbor Township High School Laura Stetser/Yamelei Socorro teaches the level 1 college preparatory and advanced placement course at Egg Harbor Township High School

Schreiner created two native and heritage speaker classes, called Hispanohablantes, for about 30 students were born in a Spanish-speaking country or whose families speak Spanish at home, and began working with them on writing coherent essays, learning advanced vocabulary and increasing their reading comprehension. Between 2004 and 2009, seven more classes were added with a focus on Spanish literature.

Now, 16 years after its inception, the program is a thriving course of study that spans three of the district’s schools and serves more than 200 students.

It is being considered as a state model for other districts.

The Department of Education opens its state model application process every two years. Schools fill out a lengthy application and then wait to hear if they have been selected to receive a field visit.

The Hispanohablates program was accepted through the first stage and received a visit from the state Feb. 10. Officials interviewed the students, observed the classes and spoke with the program’s three teachers.

Francesco Granieri teaches the courses at Fernwood and Alder Avenue Middle Schools. Yamelei Socorro teaches the level 1 college preparatory and advanced placement course at Egg Harbor Township High School, and Obed Perez instructs the level 2 college preparatory class and honors class.

Socorro said the coursework is challenging and similar to the work that goes on in English language classes, which the students also have to take.

“We read a lot of novels, talk about the historical significance and analyze the work,” she said. “But it’s all in Spanish. No one is allowed to speak English. I love getting to teach this class. They kids enjoy it too. It’s like they are finally free to speak Spanish from all day speaking English in their other classes. We laugh a lot in here.”

Perez said the students will emerge from the program more marketable as college applicants and employees, adding that they also tackle financial literacy topics in Spanish.

“The students enjoy themselves, but we get to have a level of discussion that is similar to college,” he said. “They leave here being very proficient in Spanish.”

In addition to the reading and speaking skills, he said the students get to practice social skills in class through peer conversations in Spanish. The basic Spanish classes cannot offer as much conversation.

“They see the work but don’t interact as much,” Perez said.

 Schreiner, who now serves as the district supervisor of world languages, said the students see immediate and tangible results from their work in the program.

“Our seniors have the opportunity to graduate from the Hispanohablantes program with six college credits,” she said.

“Students in the AP Spanish literature course take two different AP tests. They take both the AP Spanish Language test as well as the AP Spanish literature test. If they score a 3 or higher on both, they will graduate with six credits. This will save them thousands of dollars in tuition when they get to college.”

Schreiner said the state will announce its decision on whether the program is selected as a state model for native or heritage language programs sometime in April.

Laura Stetser/Hispanohablates serves native or heritage Spanish speakers. Laura Stetser/Hispanohablates serves native or heritage Spanish speakers.

Laura Stetser/Hispanohablates serves native or heritage Spanish speakers. Laura Stetser/Hispanohablates serves native or heritage Spanish speakers.


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