Spanish education pilot program to expand

Children reap benefits of SIUE Spansih education through camp Picture courtesy of Cathy McNeese

Children made worry dolls at camp, a craft that originated in Guatemala Photo courtesy of Cathy McNeese

Spansih professor Esther Herrera guides a student through the computer lab training Photo courtesy of Cathy McNeese

SIUE faculty taught local children Spanish last summer while engaging them in culturally authentic craft-making, computer lab learning and recreational activities, and the program will be expanded this summer.

The Summer Spanish Youth Camp was held through the partnership of the Foreign Languages Department and the Office of Educational Outreach.

Cathy McNeese, Program Director of Summer Youth Programs in the Office of Educational Outreach said she thought the program was successful, especially in observing the children interacting with Spanish professor Esther Herrera and two speech pathology graduate: Elizabeth Paquin and Brittney Ferguson.

“The children were very high energy and excited and really liked to show the Spanish they learned the previous day,” McNeese said.

McNeese said Herrera and she built a model for the foreign languages camp, which worked particularly well–every morning for two weeks, the children were taught about a Spanish-speaking region, did crafts, played traditional games and then engaged in language learning on the computers. In the afternoons, the children went swimming, rock climbing, bowling, played soccer games, or went on nature walks on campus. They plan to use the same model next year, which is programmed for children ages 6-12.

Herrera said the camp was unique because the crafts were culturally authentic, based on specific Hispanic cultures. They made Aztec calendars, a piñata and worry dolls, as made in Guatemala, and she taught the traditions behind the crafts.

“In regular summer camps, they usually just make ordinary types of crafts. But this is something very different for them, which they’ve never been exposed to… something from another country — it’s more fascinating,” Herrera said.

According to Herrera, in the summer camp she used an interactive, communicative approach which focused on “real communication, meaningful contexts, multimedia, music, art and drama.”

“Children were exposed to different methodology to help them learn Spanish through their particular learning styles. The children enjoyed learning the new vocabulary by performing and having contests,” Herrera said.

Herrera said she was pleasantly surprised by the camp’s end, the children’s learning and enthusiasm.

“By the end of the two weeks, the children were able to do several presentations in Spanish for their parents.   Their fluency in Spanish was extraordinary. Children have amazing capabilities for learning foreign languages,” Herrera said.

According to Herrera, the camp’s last day, a piñata party, was bittersweet as the children did not want it to end.

“On the last day, the girls decided to wear dresses to celebrate our party. I was so encouraged by their enthusiasm and cheerfulness,” Herrera said.

McNeese said the self-supporting pilot program was mainly intended for enrichment of the children in learning foreign languages.

“It’s not a money-making thing. We break even financially,” McNeese said. “It’s really for the enrichment of the kids and to get them to be excited about foreign languages and to expose them to different cultures.”

McNeese said she anticipates an increase in participants this summer because they are expanding the program and plan to add other languages that are yet to be determined.

Foreign Languages Department Chair João Sedycias said the partnership has become a win-win situation for everyone.

“Everyone benefits — the teachers, students, their parents, the support staff, the Office of Educational Outreach and the Department of Foreign Languages,” Sedycias said. “Before, we were pretty much on our own as a foreign languages department. Now, we are pooling our resources and engaging in a joint venture.”

In summer 2014, Beginning Spanish will take place June 9-20; Intermediate Spanish will be held July 7-18.

To learn more about the program, contact Cathy McNeese at 618.650.3208, e-mail her at or visit the program website at


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