“Teaching language is not just about grammar, syntax, etc, but it’s about the culture. Culture is the most important aspect.”

At Bixby, Spanish is a part of the Kindergarten-5th curriculum. Incorporating a second language into the elementary years helps increase child development through critical thinking, problem-solving, and multitasking. A second language also creates curiosity for other cultures within the student’s educational journey. Bixby students have excelled in their learning of the Spanish language under the leadership of Fiorella Swanson. Fiorella started her teaching career in Peru, teaching English to low-income children. After her experience as an English teacher, she moved to Colorado to get her degree in Spanish and a minor in anthropology from CU Boulder. She founded the Escuela ELE in 2015 in Boulder to teach kids how to learn Spanish. After about five years of running Escuela ELE, she joined our Bixby community.

When I asked Fiorella what is the most important part of your teaching at Bixby her answer was simple. It is about the connections being made. She says, “We are different, but we are all the same. Learning from our differences is what is going to bring us together. I chose Bixby because they embrace the child’s center and let them be bright. You gain feedback, you learn from them, and they learn from you. It’s a powerful thing.” 

Fiorella has transformed the Spanish language curriculum in her classroom. True to Bixby’s values, she incorporates play-based learning and social-emotional learning to create a dynamic and engaging environment. In her words, “Teaching language is not just about grammar, syntax, etc, but it’s about the culture. Culture is the most important aspect.” Fiorella uses her Peruvian culture to teach Spanish in her classroom, including traditional games, like Rondas, songs, and asking questions like “How do we greet each other in different cultures?” “How do kids play in different cultures?” These questions challenge her students to become more aware of the value of different cultural norms. 

Puppets and dramatic play are a highlight of the Bixby Spanish program. For grades 1st and 2nd she has Tinta, the octopus stuffie, who converses with the students in every class. Tinta’s job in the classroom is to invite students to talk with her. Fiorella makes it a game by having the students and Tinta compete against her in creating entire conversations in Spanish. Tinta is used as a bridge between students and the Spanish language, making it less intimidating to try speaking a new language. 

Colega meets with 3-5th grade students during their class time. Colega is a real-life dog who lives in Spain; the stuffie version of Colega lives in Fiorella’s classroom. Colega does not speak any English; this challenges the students to communicate with Colega only in Spanish. Not only increasing their language skills but also incorporating the cultural aspects of Colega’s home in Spain. 

Learning a second language at a young age supports children’s awareness and understanding of different cultures, helps them adapt to new environments, and builds confidence. Cognitive aspects of child development show that a second language can increase memory and executive functioning skills. Studies also show that starting to learn a second language before the age of 10 makes it more likely to achieve the grammatical fluency of a native speaker.  These are just a few of the many reasons and ways that Bixby’s Spanish program fosters creativity, independence, and curiosity.

To learn more about our Spanish program check out our curriculum guide!