Swegle kindergarten students kick off year with dual language classes

Rashelle Méndez, left, and Albeiro Reyes, right, listen during a lesson on the first day of kindergarten at Swegle Elementary. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)

Karina Rodríguez sounded out her name, writing each letter on the board as her students shouted out their best guesses.

Then, she turned to her instructional aide, Mario Martínez.

“What’s his name?” she asked the class in Spanish.

“Teacher!” several students shouted back.

Rodríguez laughed.

“Teacher what? Mar-tí-nez,” she said, writing it out slowly.

It was the first day of kindergarten at Swegle Elementary, which has two bilingual classes and two English-only classes.

Rodríguez’s class is bilingual, so most instruction is in Spanish at the start of the school year. Key words and phrases are repeated in English on the first day, and students gradually become comfortable with both languages.

Kindergarten teacher Karina Rodriguez sounds out her name for students. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)

Norma Lopez dropped off her daughter, Kayla, just before 8 a.m.

“She has a bit of a cold,” Lopez told the staff, pulling tissues out of her backpack.

Lopez has two older children in fifth and seventh grade and said she was “a little bit nervous” for Kayla’s first day.

Though Lopez speaks both English and Spanish, she’s tried to keep their home Spanish-only so her children grow up fluent in both languages.

“I think it’s really important,” she said.

Kayla De Los Santos, left, and Quetzal Moreno practice sitting quietly during their first day of kindergarten at Swegle Elementary on Sept. 12. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)

Not every student in the class is a native Spanish speaker. Some are more comfortable in English initially, and staff repeat themselves in both languages where needed.

Rodriguez’s lesson on the alphabet was briefly interrupted by an announcement from Principal Sarah Kimmell.

“It is National Chocolate Milkshake Day,” she said, causing many students to break into smiles. “So I hope you get a chance to celebrate that after school today.”

Students at Swegle Elementary walk to class the morning of Sept. 12, 2018. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)

Swegle kindergarten students play with blocks before the start of class on Sept. 12, 2018. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)

Ariana Mendoza, a senior at Western Oregon University, watched from the back of the classroom.

Mendoza is student teaching in her final year studying to teach English to students who grew up speaking another language.

She’s from California and grew up speaking Spanish at home because her parents wanted her to be bilingual. Starting school was jarring for her, because she was only allowed to speak English in class.

“That was a struggle for me,” she said. “I was just losing my culture.”

That motivated her to become a bilingual teacher.

“You’re not losing a language. You’re excelling in both languages,” she said.

Kindergarten teacher Karina Rodríguez leads her students in a song about the days of the week. (Salem Reporter/Rachel Alexander)