A Smarter Response to Eliminating Foreign Language Programs

Last week Education Week ran a story about huge cuts to foreign language programs across the country. When I was in California recently, I learned about a creative solution to this problem involving two parents, Dave and Ruth Finsthwait, who created an affordable and sustainable Spanish language immersion program for schools, called Sombrero Time.

Ruth holds a Masters Degree in Special Education and is a credentialed bilingual teacher. David holds a BS degree in Kinesiology and has considerable experience in business working for Silicon Valley firms such as Adobe and Cisco Systems.

They started literally, in their garage, teaching neighborhood students, and have grown to become curriculum development company and turn-key language service provider specializing in teaching K-6 students Spanish using an immersive language approach.

The beauty of their curriculum is that anyone who is a native Spanish speaker can use it with elementary school students and teach them Spanish. Their motto is "Learn Spanish in Spanish." For the past four years, Sombrero time has been testing and refining the curriculum and delivery methodology ensuring that WHAT and HOW students learn is effective and relevant to their education and future life experience.

With appropriate professional development, schools can use any Spanish-speaking personnel, teachers, administrators, Title I assistants, before- & after-school staff, cafeteria personnel, and/or custodial staff as facilitators of this program and build this program into their normal work day. I think it's an incredibly smart approach, particularly during tight budget times. This is one strategy schools can use to make the most of the talents and skills of all of their personnel. It empowers everyone within the four walls of a school to play a major role in supporting learning.