LAYTON – When it comes to teaching Spanish, North Davis Preparatory Academy is doing something right.
The charter school, with a 900-plus student enrollment, just received national honors from the Education Office of the Embassy of Spain. The award, which comes with $5,000 in cash, teaching materials and access to a virtual Spanish classroom, was only given to seven Spanish immersion schools in the United States. Approximately 100 schools applied for the honor.
NDPA is the only school to ever receive the award in the state of Utah.
The award was given specifically to the middle school of NDPA, which consists of about 300 students.
Chantal Esquivias is one of the Spanish middle school teachers. She is proud of her school and the caliber of teaching that is happening there. She thinks there are several keys to the success of the school’s dual immersion program.
“We have 40 teachers here and 18 of them are Spanish,” she said.
She noted that the school is a true dual immersion school because if students choose the full immersion, they are getting Spanish all day by a teacher that knows the language and the culture. Students that choose the exposure on only track – where it’s not full immersion all day – are still being immersed in the culture and the language.
“I think the real key to it is that students that come her are learning the culture,” Esquivias said.
For the middle school students, for the first two trimesters of the year, Spanish language is taught. But for the final trimester it is Hispanic culture. Students learn about a minimum of nine different countries that speak Spanish during their time at NDPA.
“You can’t learn the language without learning the culture behind it,” Esquivias said.
Kim Lovell, Dual Language Coordinator for NDPA agrees. “The emphasis is really on good cultural education. What good is a language if we don’t know how to apply it,” Lovell said. “We have such a focus on being culturally aware,” she added.
Ninth-grade students also spend about two weeks in Spain during the spring. Lovell thinks that is also key for students to learn and understand the language.
“They can see how what they have been learning applies to them and their surroundings,” Lovell said.
Lovell is the person who turned in the application and remembers at first she thought they hadn’t won. “I was surprised because I think we are doing such amazing things,” Lovell said. Then when they got official word they had won, everyone was thrilled, but Lovell was a little sad. “Of course I was excited for the recognition but a little sad that there was no one we could copy ideas from,” she said with a laugh.
She admits when NDPA started its program it has all been new territory for them. “We are creating our own curriculum,” she said. They want the students to learn Spanish, but be able to use it and use it well.
Lovell attributes much of the success of the school to principal Debbie Gomberg. “She has an awesome philosophy because she wants to help people achieve their dreams,” Lovell said. In this case, it is the teachers she has helped because Lovell sees that she has given them space to grown and not given strict rules. Gomberg isn’t a traditional principal that gives specific mandates to her teachers, Lovell said. “She gives them freedom and then has faith they will see it though,” Lovell said.
Esquivias feels that and loves that she has some latitude with her students. Esquivias listed off different projects the students have been working on related to Mexican culture – the country her students are studying right now. Elaborate art projects, dances and service projects where her students are helping a younger grade with a large Mexican celebration are just some of the things students have been doing.
Lovell is glad to see the hard work paying off. “Sometimes when you get bogged down in the day to day of it all it seems overwhelming and hard but I’m so thankful to see the rewards of our efforts,” Lovell said.
She will travel to Washington D.C. this Thursday with Assistant Principal Ryan Robinson and Esquivias to receive the award. Gomberg is retiring this year and Robinson will take over as principal next year.
Video: North Davis Preperatory Academy Wins National Award.docx Caption: