Friday, April 3, 2009 | 3:06 p.m.
Map of Estes McDoniel
1831 Fox Ridge Drive, Henderson
Ten Estes McDoniel Elementary School students are preparing for the final exam of their young lives this week.
The group of fifth graders, who have been learning Spanish since they started at McDoniel through the school's immersion program, are headed to Costa Rica today for a weeklong tour during spring break.
"I had promised them as kindergartners that when they finished fifth grade, I would take them to a country where they could speak Spanish," said Linda Goodman LoBue, the former principal who with current Principal Holly Troncoso brought the Spanish immersion program to McDoniel in 2003.
The 10 students and 15 adults are each paying about $2,000 for the trip, but the group raised about $7,000 to help with costs.
This class is the first to complete the program from their first year through fifth grade.
In kindergarten, first and second grade, all students at McDoniel spend half of their school day learning in Spanish, LoBue said.
In kindergarten, which is full day at McDoniel, the students spend one-half of their day learning their numbers and letters in English and the other half learning the same material in Spanish. In first and second grades, all math, science and social studies instruction is done in Spanish, LoBue said.
"We watched very closely. We wanted to make sure our top priority was that these kids were top achievers in their native language," LoBue said. "It was pretty incredible. Our (standardized test) scores didn't drop."
From third through fifth grade, McDoniel students get one hour of Spanish instruction a day as part of their language arts curriculum, LoBue said. The teachers thought it was important that students also learn how to add and subtract in English and in Spanish, she said.
Children who transfer into McDoniel seem to catch up just fine, she said, though the school did use a grant to hire a couple of teachers aides to give them individual attention.
LoBue expects some of the students traveling to Costa Rica to find they are fluent once they arrive. All of them will be expected to keep a journal in Spanish, and tours will be given in Spanish. The children also will order their own food en Español, she said.
They may also be helping the parents who are traveling with them, many of whom know only a few words of the language.
Kody Lodovico, 10, said he would try to help his mother, but if he can't remember the words, "that will be kind of bad."
"It will be, 'Uh, how el mucho does this el costo?'" he said, putting on a confused look.
Ali Petruzzi, for whom Spanish is a third language next to English and her mother's native Japanese, is more confident, even though her family moved and she now attends Selma Bartlett Elementary. She expects to come back fluent in Spanish.
"Sometimes I'll be like, 'Wait, I know this word,'" she said.
The itinerary includes a trip into the rain forest, where Zack Mahoney, 11, is looking forward to seeing the frog pond and Brody Baumunk, 10, can't wait for the ziplines.
Eve Wellish, 11, is looking forward to the two days the children will spend in the rural village of Quebrada Ganado, where they have been corresponding with children of the village school. The McDoniel children are bringing boxes of school supplies to donate.
"They can't really afford them," Eve said, adding she is looking forward "to seeing how different they are from our lives."
That is a key element of the trip, LoBue said. The lessons the students come back with will involve not only how to be a patient and gracious traveler, but also to appreciate what they have in Henderson a little more.
"We want to let them walk on unpaved streets and play soccer on a field without a dropback," she said. "To go into homes where maybe they have enough chairs for everybody, maybe enough beds, maybe not, probably not enough bedrooms.
"These kids probably won't even have a house phone, let alone an iPod."
The McDoniel children will also need to be a little more polite than when they are at their hosts' homes, she said. Society in Costa Rica is a little more formal than in the United States.
"When my kids are visiting homes there, they will need to keep their feet on the ground," she said.
A key element of the immersion program is that it allows students to understand other cultures before stereotypes set in, LoBue said.
"It's a dream come true," she said. "We need more schools to be looking at ways to give our children international experience."
Jean Reid Norman can be reached at 990-2658 or [email protected].