Earlier this week Spanish students in the eighth grade took the A train uptown to Washington Heights. In addition to using and experiencing Spanish language in context, this excursion emphasized the importance of enlarging our sense of community. Some students remain anchored in their own neighborhoods, except on vacation, and engaging with our neighbors in the Heights increased our appreciation of New York City.
Students first walked along Saint Nicholas Avenue – long considered the Little Dominican Republic – led by 8th grade Spanish teachers, Laura Múrtula-Montanya and Kim Allen, along with our own Washington Heights local, Spanish teacher Felix Alberto. In addition, physical education teacher Rose McLean and Middle School Head Glen Pinder joined the group of 43 students for their field study.
Although the George Washington Bridge was surrounded by fog, the group was able to glimpse its magnificence from the highest point in the neighborhood.
Accompanied by the sounds of merengue, students explored the variety of stores, street vendors, and other businesses in the Heights, noting the prevalence of the Spanish language throughout. They were even able to briefly observe a Spanish language mass at St. Elizabeth’s Church.
While Washington Heights hosts a large Dominican community, many other Spanish-speaking cultures are represented there, and a lunch of pupusas, maduros, and tamales at La Cabaña Salvadoreña was a big hit. In addition, the staff happily agreed to only speak Spanish with our students.
After lunch, some students further practiced their linguistic skills buy buying pastries at a Dominican bakery, using Spanish to make individual purchases.
Another group visited the St. Rose of Lima School, where they conducted interviews and games with groups of children in their elementary school. They played charades and other guessing games, ran races in the gymnasium, and asked each other questions. What is Brooklyn like, and what are you like? What is is like to live in Washington Heights? What is the difference between a Catholic school and a Quaker school? What makes us different, and how are we the same?
The eighth grade students proclaimed the day a success. Not only were they thrilled to get out into the city and enjoy one another’s company, many were also excited about the idea of continuing their new connections with the younger students, and with our new friend, principal Joe DeBona, of the St. Rose of Lima School. Mr. DeBona generously arranged for us to work with his students and warmly welcomed us into the school. Above all, in what we hope will be an annual tradition, the Washington Heights excursion proved to us how important the Spanish language is the New York City, and how important it is to reach out and make connections.
–– reported by Teachers Kim Allen and Laura Múrtula-Montanya
A Postscript: While the 43 eighth grade Spanish language students were on their field study in the Heights, eighth grade French language students were treated to a French Film Festival at school presented by their French teacher Nicole Imboyo.