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Language program inspires Incarnation students

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Monday, August 10, 2009

By Carmen M. Hubbard

DAYTON DEANERY — Students at Incarnation School in Centerville are getting a jumpstart on learning a foreign language through a program that has evolved in the 10 years since its inception.

“We needed to have this. We’re in this homogeneous community but it’s becoming more heterogeneous. We have families from Africa and Columbia,” said Cheryl Reichel, principal.

Student teachers from the University of Dayton initially taught Spanish and French to Incarnation students as an after school program. But Reichel said she wanted to expand the program to have language teachers on staff and have foreign language be part of the school curriculum. In order to do so, administrators raised student tuition to fund the program.

“It was a wonderful opportunity, but every year we’d have a new student teacher. I wanted more consistency and thought I’d find someone to teach Spanish and French,” Reichel said.

The department currently has a staff of four teachers. Among those recruited to teach at Incarnation was Spanish teacher Eugenia Charoni, who was a Wright State University student teacher in Spanish at the time Reichel asked her to teach at Incarnation. The principal explained to Charoni that administrators were interested in revamping the school’s foreign language department. Charoni has been a teacher at Incarnation for one year and teaches Spanish to students in kindergarten through the fourth-grade, and French to fifth- and sixth-graders. Charoni, who is Greek, speaks Spanish, French, German and English fluently.

“I try to impress them through the different cultures in the world,” she said.

“Learning another language helps students with their communication and cognitive development. It improves their math skills. We see it in the little ones.”

Last spring Incarnation language students spent six weeks learning to recite the Hail Mary and Our Father in French, Spanish and German during class. Ana Berling’s Spanish class held a Mother’s Day program in the school’s chapel. Berling is also the foreign language department coordinator. As in many foreign language classes, no English was spoken from beginning to end. French teacher Julie Roshong assisted her seventh-grade class with conjugating verbs as they prepared for their final exam at the end of the school year.

“The program is really to prepare students to go to level two in Spanish, German or French at (Archbishop) Alter and Chaminade-Julienne high schools,” said Roshong, who has been a French teacher at Incarnation for five years. “This is the only Catholic school I know in Dayton that offers French, Spanish and German. Most kids want to learn the language that’s part of their heritage. The younger a student learns a language, the easier it is. The older they are, the more they can form bad habits.”

In Charoni’s first grade Spanish class, students sang a song that she wrote to teach them the Spanish words for facial features and parts of the body. Later, they identified objects and colors in Spanish on a computerized touch-screen projector.

“I am free to build the program. Dr. Reichel allows me to do what is best,” Charoni said.

Students in Carol Flaum’s German class not only learn the language but also about the country’s education system too.

“Having a foreign language in your background will take you way further in life than without it,” she said. “I think it gives you a better understanding of people who are different from you.”

Flaum is a retired German high school teacher and has taught at Incarnation for four years. When her seventh-grade class has completed their lesson for the day, Flaum treats them to a music video of a German rock band. While the students said it’s a lot of fun, it’s also an opportunity to practice their German.

Toward the end of the school year, the foreign language department hosts a field trip for students to have dinner at French, Mexican and German restaurants in Dayton.

The foreign language department also invites guest speakers from different nationalities to talk about their country and culture to students. Next year, Reichel said she’d like the school to host an international culture fair for students as a way for them to develop the language they’ve learned.

“This is helping with their geography and understanding of other cultures. It also teaches diversity,” she said. “Students are learning to accept (other) children as being a child of God. They’re unique and they’re our brothers and sisters in Christ.”

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