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Youth learning the 'lengua'

By By BARBIE MORSE BURNETTE, Staff Writer
In the back of the Union Alley children's store in downtown Washington, a handful of elementary students gather around their teacher for a half-hour Spanish lesson once a week.
The students have learned how to count in Spanish, can name most of their body parts in Spanish and know that "choc-o-la-tay" is chocolate.
Their teacher, on this particular day, is 11-year-old Leandro Rodriguez.
His mother, an American, and his father, a Venezuelan, both speak Spanish, as does Rodriguez and his two younger sisters.
Rodriguez got the job after his mom, who works part-time at East Carolina University in Greenville, turned it down.
Laura Mixon, Rodriguez's mother, said she was too busy to handle the additional teaching responsibility but suggested her son do it instead.
With help on lesson plans from his mom, Rodriguez agreed to the task.
The children respond well to him, Mixon said, because he's closer to their age. Mixon is planning to substitute for her son at an upcoming class which he will not be able to attend. "They probably won't think I'm any fun," she said.
Lydie Jennings, owner of the store, said the children interact well with Rodriguez and quickly absorb his lessons.
Many of the students, she said, are just learning words and numbers in English – but now know them in Spanish as well.
"It's easy for them," she said. "Everything is so easy for them to say at their age."
Jennings said her own daughter, when registering for kindergarten, was asked to count to 10.
Her daughter responded, "'Would you like me to do it in Spanish or English?'"
Jennings said her daughter previously had learned some Spanish from the Montessori School, which she attended before starting kindergarten. Many students, however, don't receive any foreign language training, she pointed out.
She decided to offer the Spanish classes, Jennings said, because she felt there was not enough being done to teach foreign language at the elementary-school level.
She chose to offer Spanish, because the language is more prevalent locally than other foreign languages.
And the benefit of the classes is tremendous, she added.
"It's important for kids to know more than one language for the long term; it's important to learn and appreciate other cultures," she commented.
The classes are offered once a week for six weeks at a cost of $35, Jennings said. The cost includes the price of flash cards or dictionaries for the students, as well.
Jennings said the classes are usually offered in three sessions during the regular school year – two after Christmas and one before.
Jennings has picked up some Spanish from the classes, but she admits it's more difficult to learn as an adult.
"I think that the earlier you learn it, the better," she commented.
Barbie Morse Burnette may be reached by telephone at 940-4212 or via e-mail at barbie@wdnweb.com.