St. Mary’s HS offers new “Heritage Language Learners”

Friday, June 7, 2019
Spanish Heritage Language Learners at St. Mary’s High School in Anne Dahlhauer’s class Maria Mendoza, Lupita Hernandez-Gonzalez, Joshua Reyes and Carlos Hernandez. /Photo submitted

In an ongoing effort to continually better serve their students, St. Mary’s High School added a Heritage Language Learners Spanish course for native Spanish speakers to fine tune their overall Spanish communication skills.

St. Mary’s Spanish Educator Anne Dahlhauser said when she arrived at St. Mary’s High School, she soon discovered there was “a big disparity” between the “heritage” students and the “non-heritage” students. Spanish courses involve listening, reading, listening and writing Spanish. The heritage students found the speaking and listening skills easier and the writing and reading skills a bit more challenging.

“When the students were combined, it was super boring for the heritage kids,” Dahlhauser observed.

Anne Dahlhauser, St. Mary’s High School Spanish Educator

So, for Spanish I and II, the classes are split (freshman and sophomore years) for heritage students and students learning Spanish as a foreign language. In the upper levels, the juniors and seniors are brought back together for Spanish III and IV.

Dahlhauser said the HLL concentration has worked well and has helped the students really sharpen their Spanish communication skills.

“At St. Mary’s we always strive to provide the best education possible for all of our students,” said St. Mary’s 6-12 Principal Ryan Berg. “Students need to be challenged in their areas of strength and supported in areas where growth is needed. Our Heritage Spanish classes allow us to challenge our students who already know the language. It gives them opportunities to more deeply explore their culture and the finer nuances of the language.”

Aside from academically, Dahlhauser said the Heritage Spanish classes also brought positive benefits for the native Spanish speakers.

“It’s really affirming them in their home language. Their parents are happy and very supportive of the program,” she said, noting most heritage families speak more Spanish than English at home.

An added benefit of the class is that the native English speaking students will go to their Spanish speaking classmates for help with their Spanish coursework.

“I know the heritage language learners have helped (the English speakers), which is awesome,” Dahlhauser said.

The Spanish I and II HLL students are exposed to news sources from Spanish speaking countries to learn how there are different versions of Spanish words used around the world. And they are also learning about worldwide current events and culture.

“We also go through Spanish prayers in class and read lots of books and work on writing skills. This is similar to what English-speaking students study in English classes.”

Dahlhauser said she stresses to the students that in class they are exposed to academic Spanish, which will help them in jobs and further studies. This may differ at times with what is spoken at home or with friends, but it is beneficial for students to have this type of exposure to the various aspects of the Spanish language.

“I’m not the expert, but I’m here to facilitate and help students continue developing their language. We have so many students with lots of abilities in Spanish already, which is exciting.”

This school year, two seniors receive the first ever Seal of Biliteracy from St. Mary’s High School last month when they graduated. Alondra Meléndez and Gabe Elsden earned the Seal of Biliteracy after much studying and taking the exams required.

“Mrs. Dahlhauser has been a fantastic addition to our staff. Spanish teachers are in short supply across the state, so we are quite fortunate to have someone with her knowledge and expertise,” Berg explained. “She initiated the idea of offering Heritage Spanish classes to meet the needs of our native speakers. The change has gone smoothly because Mrs. Dahlhauser works hard to give her students authentic experiences and truly immerses them in the language.”