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North Marion educator, coach designs a Spanish class geared for Spanish speakers

COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Left to right are eighth-graders Briana Rivera, Aaliyah Verdugo, and Doris Rios, who stepped outside of Teacher Ben Bonsers Spanish for Spanish Speakers class to discuss all that they have learned there.North Marion Middle School Teacher Ben Bonser is a problem solver. So, when he noticed that Spanish speakers didn't always have an opportunity to foster their language skills, he stepped up.

One of the challenges is that heritage speakers may have different levels of proficiency in Spanish, so they're not always sure which Spanish classes to take in high school, Bonser said. Basic classes may be too easy, but are often required. However, Bonser's new class prepares them to take a leap forward in their studies.

Last winter, Bonser established a trimester-long class for eighth-graders, Spanish for Spanish Speakers, that includes High School credit. During the trimester, he determines where students are in their language development and builds on it. At the end of the class, if students earn As and Bs, they can start at Spanish 3 in High School. If they do about half the work, they can enter High School at Spanish 2. And if things don't work out in the class for students, they would start at Spanish 1, like many other students.

"This isn't a new idea; it's just about recognizing the language that our students bring with them to our school," said Bonser, also the head coach of the North Marion girls soccer team and an educator who has taught Spanish speakers in English language development classes for his entire 20-year education career. "They grow up speaking Spanish in their homes, and, while they mostly use English at school, their knowledge of the language is a resource that should be valued."

There are other Spanish classes in middle school, including an exploratory class for all students or, for eighth-graders, a yearlong Spanish 1 course for high school credit. While they're great classes, many heritage Spanish speakers are simply bored to tears in them. With Spanish for Spanish Speakers, Bonser's goal is to rapidly cover topics in one trimester that are typically included in Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 classes at the high school, focusing on the reading and writing skills.

Presumably, students could advance to a higher level of Spanish in high school because of Bonser's class. With Spanish 3 coming in this year at the high school and a more comprehensive Spanish 4 arriving in 2022-23, there is so much more to offer students. They can even graduate with a biliteracy seal on their diploma, drawing the attention of colleges and employers.

However, all that's in the future. For now, eighth-graders like Doris Rios, Briana Rivera, and Aaliyah Verdugo are just excited to be in Spanish for Spanish Speakers.COURTESY PHOTO: JILLIAN DALEY - Teacher Ben Bonser shares details about the growing list of Spanish classes available in North Marion.

Verdugo explained that she loves that the class focuses on how to use words in Spanish and how to pronounce them. Case in point, there are different verbs for "to play" for a game and for an instrument. She said other classes emphasize the type of Spanish that is spoken in Spain, yet most of the Spanish speakers who live in the United States are Latinos, which means they or their family is from Mexico, Central America, South America, Cuba, or Puerto Rico. That's true in the North Marion community too.

"I can learn more Spanish to understand my family," she said.

Rivera said that she appreciates the advanced content of the class, which involves creating slideshows and essays. She's had to improve her spelling and pronunciation.

"It makes you sound more proper," she noted.

Rios said that the content is so comprehensive that it shows how a particular word may be used differently in other countries.

"It has helped me improve my vocabulary," she said.

For instance, in Spain, a torta is a sweet cake, but in Mexico, it's a sandwich filled with meat and vegetables. In the Philippines, a torta is something else entirely, a type of omelet.

Bonser said that there is a great deal more that he would like to do with Spanish for Spanish speakers and the language program as a whole, but this year has been a great beginning.

"The class is new and is still a little bit of a work in progress, but I'm happy that the students can earn a little high school credit and be placed in a more appropriate Spanish class when they enter high school," Bonser said.

To share stories on the North Marion School District, email Communications Specialist Jillian Daley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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