On June 19, 2015, 16 North Rockford Middle School sixth and seventh grade Spanish Immersion students, accompanied by parents Stacy Anderson, Jeyvon Fiveash, Jennifer Gluth, and John Hoyle, teacher Maestra Clare Adamus and principal Lissa Weidenfeller, set off for an 11 day trip to Costa Rica. This was the second trip for the middle school Spanish Immersion program and is different from other district trips in that the students were completely immersed in the Spanish language. Through this experience, the students grew as world citizens as they formed relationships with Costa Rican students. They also were empowered as Spanish speakers as they were exposed to new vocabulary and interactions, and became environmentalists as they saw another country utilize its natural resources.
The trip was contracted through EF Tours and had the benefit of a Spanish speaking guide who accompanied the group throughout the entire experience. The group’s guide, Antonio Cedillas, stated that it had been ten years of leading tours since he had led a tour completely in Spanish to this degree. He was so impressed with the group’s dedication to Spanish use and the fluency level the students have obtained and utilized during the jam-packed trip. The students participated in activities that included cultural experiences, outdoor sports that highlight the Costa Rican ecology and biodiversity, and interactive activities with locals. Whether it was zip lining through the rainforest, kayaking on Arenal Lake next to a volcano, hiking through Santa Elena Cloud Forest, or chasing monkeys and hermit crabs on Manuel Antonio beach, the students were exposed to native speakers and navigated the new experiences in Spanish.
While the adventures flooded the students with new vocabulary, the most eye-opening experiences were with local Costa Rican students. The Rockford students visited a small school called Escuela La Guaria in La Fortuna in which the principal was also the teacher and balanced instruction for 23 students in grades first through sixth. Rockford students discussed pop culture, clothes, school schedules, sports, and foods with the students, and learned more about their worldly neighbors than they ever could have from a textbook. The Costa Rican students could not believe how fluent the students were and stated how excited they were to visit with American students who could actually communicate with them.
Students were exposed to the Costa Rican culture of futbol (soccer) after interacting with one of the country’s soccer teams, Saprissa, which was staying at one of the group’s hotels. The students were able to communicate with the local celebrities who feed the Costa Rican National Team – the players even helped the students with picking the ripest fruit from a star fruit tree. The Rockford students were also able to play soccer with a local soccer team of middle school students and were blown away by their skills. After soccer, the students were taught the Costa Rican version of freeze tag and then introduced the locals to Four Square. The new friendships were celebrated over traditional Costa Rican desserts and both groups of students were begging for more time together.
The students left Costa Rica with new friendships, a more worldly view, and a deeper understanding of what our planet has to offer. The abilities of the Rockford students’ Spanish were acknowledged and celebrated by native speakers of the language which has further increased their confidence in Spanish.