Get Schooled: Camp Offers Lessons in Spanish

June 29th, 2012 by Amber Lester


Learning a second language has traditionally been relegated to late middle school and high school, but parents and teachers are increasingly focusing on second language acquisition for much younger children.

Williamsburg resident Lisa Hatcher wanted her own children to learn Spanish at a young age, but didn’t have much luck finding an immersion program for kids. As a fluent Spanish speaker, Hatcher decided to fill the niche herself.

This summer, she’s offering Pura Vida Academy summer camp, with sessions in July and August. Spanish Immersion camp will offer play-based activities and projects for ages 4 to 12, measuring progress against the level of fluency each student had at the start of camp. Learning through immersion, Hatcher says, is less formal than the verb tense lessons of ninth grade, but more likely to stick in the minds of younger students.

“They learn through fun activities that are very simple,” Hatcher says. “I use a lot of pantomime, so that they understand what’s going on. They do catch on right away by what you’re asking them to do … if you keep with the same pattern of what you’re saying, they’ll then recognize the words when you say them again the next time.”

The half-day camp will run from 9 a.m. to noon at the Windsor Forest clubhouse in Williamsburg. Depending on enrollment, Hatcher will be assisted by two to three volunteers, but she will be the main teacher.

Hatcher spent her childhood in South America, where she learned both English and Spanish in school. She earned a degree in International Relations in Latin America, then lived in Costa Rica after college. She taught Spanish at the high school level and decided to become a tutor. Now, she’s extending her Spanish education to preschoolers and elementary school students.

In previous years, Williamsburg-James City County Schools has offered language camps, but Coordinator for World Languages Valerie DiPaola said the school division won’t be offering a program this summer. They aim to eventually offer a Chinese summer camp in cooperation with the Confucius Institute at The College of William & Mary, and will offer Latin Summer camp next year.

If I could do it over again, I would love to have tried learning a new language when I was much younger, when I was still learning my first language. Linguists debate whether an ideal window exists for language acquisition, but most agree a language can be acquired through immersion better than through classroom grammar and vocabulary lessons. I would love to see language moved into more elementary curriculums, but for now, parents can opt for private lessons or summer camps.

“It’s a lot easier to learn the younger you are,” Hatcher says. “You just soak it up, and it’s so easy for them.”

At this age, her students might not be using Spanish in their day-to-day lives, but they can maintain friendships with pen pals, or show off their skills on vacation. “They really feel a sense of achievement if they can order their own dinner,” she says. “It really boosts their self-esteem.”

Pura Vida Academy’s summer camps will be held from July 9-13 and Aug. 13-17. The cost is $199 per student per session. Learn more about Pura Vida Academy summer immersion camps.

Bacon Street Offers Social Skills Class

Bacon Street, a youth substance abuse and mental health services agency, has openings for “The Social Network,” a series of 10-week social skills groups for adolescents ages 12-17 with high-functioning autism.

The next group series begins July 19 and will be held every Thursday at the Bacon Street Center on McLaws Circle in the Busch Corporate Center.

Parental/guardian participation is expected in order to promote generalization of new skills outside of the group. Group sessions will include such topics as bullying, choosing good friends and joining conversations.

If interested in group participation, please contact Meredith Roberson at 253-0111 to schedule a short phone conversation to assess appropriateness for the group.

Grafton Senior Chosen for NASA Camp

Rising Grafton High senior Katrina Asher will participate in the Women in STEM High School Aerospace Scholars (WISH) project this summer.

Asher will join 83 other female high school students at NASA in Houston this summer.

WISH sponsors two six-day summer camps for rising seniors. The young women work in teams with female NASA mentors to develop mission plans for launching to Mars, living and working there and integrating the many components necessary for a successful planetary mission. They work within the confines of a fictitious budget and build several mockups of vehicles to demonstrate a successful launch and landing on Mars.

Participants were selected based on completion of interactive, online lessons focused on space exploration and on their academic merits and geographic diversity. The program, in its second year, began as a NASA accompaniment to the White House Council on Women and Girls. Learn more about WISH.

Tabb Alumnus Wins Engineering Scholarship

Julie Trumpoldt, a 2009 graduate of Tabb High School and a rising senior at Virginia Tech, won a $2,000 scholarship from the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Trumpoldt has a 3.63 GPA and participates in the Marching Virginians, Gamma Beta Phi Honor Society and more. She plans to pursue a career in transporation engineering, and has had two internships in the field.

“I would love to pursue transportation engineering after graduating and have a role in the design of highways and roadways. It fascinates me that I can create work in the office and then see them being built physically. Transportation is vitally important to our society and I think I can offer a lot to the profession,” Trumpoldt said.

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