2016-09-23 / Schools

Arroyo Elementary’s FLAGS program gets kids to the Greek

By Michael Aushenker

IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME—Above, world languages instructor Catherine Crowley teaches her native language to Arroyo Elementary students on Sept. 20. At right, she guides two fifth-grade students in conversational Greek. IT’S ALL GREEK TO ME—Above, world languages instructor Catherine Crowley teaches her native language to Arroyo Elementary students on Sept. 20. At right, she guides two fifth-grade students in conversational Greek. “Καλημέρα, δασκάλα!”

That’s how pupils at Arroyo Elementary will soon greet teacher Catherine Crowley each day.

It means “Good morning, teacher” in Greek.

As part of the FLAGS (Foreign Language Academy of Global Studies) initiative at Arroyo Elementary School, the campus now provides language instruction in Spanish, Greek, French and Italian.

World language instructor Crowley, who is fluent in all four tongues, also holds moreintensive after-school language lessons for interested students. On a bigger scale, upper-grade Arroyo kids can supplement their cultural edification by taking virtual field trips via Skype, video logs and pen pal relationships with children abroad.

RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers RICHARD GILLARD/Acorn Newspapers The Simi Valley elementary school, which developed the FLAGS Academy, launched its new language program just this month. The program includes foreign languages, cultural studies and geography, divided into four courses taken consecutively during the school year. Crowley teaches Greek this quarter, followed in the next three quarters by Italian, French and Spanish, respectively.

In March, FLAGS’ first year will culminate with International Week, a campuswide function celebrating ethnic music, dance, heritage and food.

“We wanted for kids to feel that their cultures are valued,” Arroyo Principal Aldo Calcagno said, explaining why he and his faculty hatched the curriculum.

FLAGS began in earnest when Simi Valley Unified School District Superintendent Jason Peplinski and Director of Elementary Education Kathy Roth approached Arroyo about creating a pilot program in that direction.

“The superintendent wanted to create a pathway all the way to high school,” Calcagno said. “Global studies as well as languages. Our program is unique to the school district but is part of a pathway that includes Sinaloa Middle School and Royal High’s (International Baccalaureate) programs.”

Crowley said she’s proud of Arroyo for undertaking this endeavor. Crowley’s role at the school has undergone a dramatic change with the implementation of FLAGS. She was a traditional classroom teacher prior to the creation of the program.

“Now I’m in contact with every class,” she said.

It’s an expanded role she welcomes.

There’s a good reason why Crowley is adept at many languages: She’s a native of Montreal, where both English and French are spoken. And Crowley’s grandparents emigrated to Canada from Greece.

“Greek is my first language; I learned it at home,” the daughter of educators said.

Growing up at a time when a 12-year-old could safely navigate through “les rues,” or the streets, of downtown, Crowley remembers how “very cosmopolitan” Montreal was. In school, she learned English and French. By seventh grade, she voluntarily joined an immersion program— intensive in French with one day a week in English.

“In Canada, we don’t have assimilation. Your heritage is cherished; it’s very important. There were some kids who wanted to blend in, but for me, I just had a thirst for languages.”

Crowley admitted she’s still learning Spanish, a challenge made easier because a good portion of her student body speaks it. Plus, like French and Italian, the latter learned from her first husband’s family, it is a Latinbased language.

“I see that (the students are) really open and excited,” Crowley said. “A lot has to do with the presentation.”

Through singing and gestural “over-dramatization,” her children “soak things up like sponges.”

Technology—iPads, Chromebooks— also helps.

“The optimum time to learn another language is under the age of 12,” she said, when the brain synapses are primed “and they’re not embarrassed to try something. They are more auditory learners at early ages. It’s amazing to me how quickly they pick it up.”

As part of FLAGS, each grade level focuses on a different continent, eventually homing in on specific countries within. Right now, sixth-graders are studying Europe; fifth-graders, North America; fourth-graders, Asia; third-graders, Australia; second, South America; first, Africa; and kindergarten, Australia and Oceana (Antarctica).

It’s still early in the school year, but the kids are excited, Calcagno said.

“We hear them repeating phrases from the lessons that they learned from the lab.”

Thus far, Crowley, who has been teaching at Arroyo since fall 2002, is the only teacher implementing language classes. Since other teachers on campus are fluent in German and Korean, Calcagno said, he hopes to expand FLAGS in the future, building on what Crowley has started. The principal said he would also like to see a class in Mandarin one day.

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