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Thursday, Aug. 25, 2016

Local youngsters begin early, take peek into Spanish world

Friday, March 26, 2004

Spanish teacher Kathleen Crader leads her students in the Spanish version of a "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes."
SIKESTON -- Gathered around a child-sized rectangle table in a classroom at the Sikeston Kindergarten Center, Kathleen Crader prepared to read "Say Hola to Spanish at the Circus" to her seven students in kindergarten through first grade. "Read it in English," one child pleaded.

And Crader did -- but she only after reading in Spanish. Halfway through the children's Spanish course offered through the Sikeston Career and Technology Center, Crader admitted she doesn't expect the children to be fluent when they finish the six-session course, which ends next Thursday.

Instead, she's just trying to expose them to the language that has become the unofficial second language of America and a household language to the largest minority in the country -- Hispanics, the Census Bureau reports.

"It's amazing how many Hispanics are living in the region and how so few understand the language," Crader pointed out. Southeast Missouri's Hispanic population more than doubled during the 1990s -- from 1,678 in 1990 to 3,779 in 2000. The greatest growth among the counties occurred in Dunklin, increasing from 169 Hispanics in 1990 to 824 in 2000 partly due to the establishment of a commercial poultry-processing plant during the 1990s, the Office of Social and Economic Analysis reports.

And in the 1990s, Missouri public schools reported 6,131 Hispanic children enrolled. According to the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Hispanic public school enrollment had increased to 16,269 in 2000, two and a half times greater than in 1990.

"It would be ideal if some way we could incorporate Spanish into the elementary curriculum," Crader sighed. "But with funding cuts that probably won't be happening any time soon." So for now, Crader and her students will settle for a three-week program which began March 16. Throughout the classes, the children will speak, sing, learn simple phrases and numbers as well as learn about Spanish culture.

"I do roll call in Spanish and ask in their Spanish name," Crader said. "And they answer by saying 'aqui' which means here."

With a foreign language, it's often hard to remember a language when classes are separated for several days so SCTC is offering the class twice a week from 4 to 5 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The same class was offered in the fall, but not enough students registered so it was put on hold until spring. This time around the class is full, and Crader thinks the children are picking up on the language. "The kids in kindergarten know more Spanish now than my high school students. It's amazing how much more Spanish is available," said Crader, who's been teaching Spanish at Sikeston Senior High since 1982.

Stacey Comstock said her son, Jonathen Comstock, wanted to take the three-week course.

"He told me, 'Mom, I want to learn Spanish," Comstock recalled. "I don't know Spanish and I didn't have the opportunity that he does so we talked about it and agreed it was a good idea."

Comstock learned of the program through the Sikeston Kindergarten Center. She said she doesn't expect her son to learn everything in six sessions.

"I figured if he started younger, the more he will learn later," Comstock said. "He seems real eager to learn and by doing this, he'll be more able to pick up on it later."

Crader couldn't agree more with Comstock.

"All studies show anytime you become fluent in a language before age 10 or 11, when learning a language becomes easiest, the greater the probability of gaining native fluency," Crader explained.

Crader, who has researched the topic, reasoned a child's brain has more pathways to learn languages than adults, and by the time children are 10 or 11, they lose those pathways. "A child who was exposed to Spanish at a young age will always speak better than someone who learned later after they're 10 years old," Crader said.

Meanwhile, Shelby Heckert, a kindergartner at St. Francis Xavier School, met up with her mother after class and beamed proudly as she told her mom a Spanish word she'd learned. "Rojo," she said.

"Well what does that mean?" asked her mother, Stacy Heckert.

"Red," Shelby answered.

Shelby was introduced to Spanish in preschool, where she learned how to count to 10, her mom said.

"We wanted to continue with her Spanish," Mrs. Heckert noted about enrolling Shelby in the course. "Maybe she can get ahead on it."