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High Schoolers Give Elementary Kids an Intro to Spanish

Nonnewaug High School junior Katherine Tenemaza (left) and Mitchell Elementary School third grader Paloma Koemp play a bingo game during a Spanish lesson run by Nonnewaug’s Latin American Club.

WOODBURY – It starts with an “hola” and ends with “adios,” and also helps Region 14’s younger students get some exposure to Spanish.

For a 10th year, students from Nonnewaug High School’s Latin American Club are volunteering their time after school to teach Spanish to Mitchell and Bethlehem elementary school students.


Nonnewaug World Language instructor Jan Caruso coordinates and oversees the program but says all the teaching is done by the high school students. There are five seniors (Alexa Spain, Emma Evans, Elizabeth Varnum, Pamela Shork, and Sarah Viele) who she affectionately calls “my babies,” as well as two juniors (Mikela Caruso and Katherine Tenemaza) and three sophomores (Kylie Bushka, Amanda Wochek, and Olivia Hendershot) who plan the activities and decide what they would like to teach the younger kids.

“It’s really just meant to be an introduction into the Spanish language,” Caruso said. “They go home and use the little words and phrases they learn, and I hear from parents all the time that they are enjoying it.”

Caruso said the elementary students learn words, sayings, and expressions that touch their everyday lives. They also learn the proper words for things like pets, family members, clothing, and foods.

On a recent Tuesday, a group of second and third graders were playing a Spanish-language bingo game. A group of fifth-graders were playing a rapid-fire game, identifying different colors in Spanish.

Evans has been a teacher since her freshman year and has worked with the same group of fifth-graders since they were in second grade. She gets a kick out of the kids seeing her in town somewhere and talking Spanish with her.

Evans is also a “graduate” of the program, having been a participant when she was a Mitchell Elementary School student.

“When my mom made me come, I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Evans said. “I went for a couple of years in a row, but then it was really cool to be one of the tutors for the younger kids a couple of years later.”

A lottery for elementary school students who are interested in the program is held in January, and the six-week program begins in February.

This year, Caruso did not have to turn any elementary school students away. There are 27 in the program this year, and eight of them are bused to Mitchell Elementary School from Bethlehem Elementary School.

Caruso said the experience has always been a positive for moth the students teaching and the students learning.

“My Spanish teachers love it, and most of the students enjoy it,” Caruso said. “Part of the joy is they’re having this time with the big high school kids, which is why I stay out of it. That’s a big draw for the elementary kids because they look up to the high school kids.”

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