There are few teachers on the R. Roger Rowe campus able to boast that when the students pass them in the halls, they do so with a hearty "Hola!" In her second year as the kindergarten through sixth grade Spanish teacher at Rowe, Kim Kelley gets just that kind of greeting.
"It's pretty cute," said Kelley, who is at the helm of the kindergarten through sixth grade Spanish program, a program that just started its second year at the school.
Getting students learning Spanish at a young age has numerous benefits, Kelley said, noting the most important of which is strictly scientific.
"When you're younger you're developing language in one part of your brain,' she said. "After 13, it takes two parts of the brain. At a younger age, it's easier for the brain to keep it all in one spot."
Learning Spanish young also gets students prepared for high school language classes and beyond that, there are many jobs that see bi-lingual employees as a plus.
Kelley, 24, is in her third year of teaching. From the Bay Area originally, she attended the University of San Diego and taught in Chula Vista and at High Tech High School before coming to Rowe. She is enjoying teaching at the elementary school level.
"They get so excited to learn something new," Kelley said.
Kelley teaches kindergarten through fourth grade students as part of their daily rotation. She then has two fifth grade sections and two sixth grade sections - those grades can opt to take Spanish as an elective. Teacher Shelby Backman handles the seventh and eighth grade elective classes.
"I think Spanish is an important program to offer," said Superintendent Lindy Delaney. "It's a personal preference for students and parents how much foreign language they want to take at a young age."
The students learn basic vocabulary, verbs and sing songs in Espanol. Kelley often uses a puppet called Mama Llama to help out with the teaching.
"The kids love when Mama Llama comes out," Kelley said.
After one year, Kelley has been impressed with what children have been able to retain.
"It's pretty cool to see what they remember," Kelley said, noting that those who had Spanish in fourth grade and are now in a fifth grade elective are now that much further along.
Kelley additionally serves as the school's English language development coordinator, for students who are transitioning from Spanish to English. Rowe currently does not have many students in the program but when they do, Kelley admits it is challenging.
"When we do have newcomers, it's really difficult to transition in," Kelley said. "This is a very highly academic school and it's difficult for kids to catch up."
Just like with the Spanish-language learners, Kelley said it's always a bit easier when they start learning English younger, with that one part of the brain firing.