>>> This is my personal review of Spanish House Elementary School – Spanish Immersion School in Dallas, TX on Skillman Street. The school also provides adult classes, Nursery and Preschool programs. This tour occured on October 6, 2014. I am not a school expert, I’m just an everyday mom looking for the right school for her family. I am in fact HUMAN! Sidenote: it will be hard to be unbiased as this is the Preschool and Nursery for my two children. In addition to this, I also attend the adult Spanish classes. <<<<<
Spanish House is centrally located just north of Mockingbird on Skillman Street in the old Girl Scouts Campfire building. The Elementary school shares the property with the preschool so there are around 200 children ages 3-7 on campus. There is one small circular parking lot with one entrance/exit and it does not offer a lot of parking. The school offers morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up to help with the traffic.
The Elementary school is on the second floor of the building. Each classroom is brightly lit with large picture windows overlooking the school grounds. There are also large observation windows from the common area, which allows the rooms to feel much bigger but also give an openness to anyone who wants to observe what is going on in the classroom. The students sit at table desks but in groups of four facing each other. The walls are moderately covered with learning materials or student work (almost everything is in Spanish). The children’s chairs have book bags on them to hold their materials and there are a few learning centers on the outskirts of the classrooms.
There is a medium size common area between the classrooms that houses the children’s cubbies and work displays. A restroom and offices complete this area. The first floor is mostly dedicated to the preschool classrooms but does house additional restrooms, the administrative offices and a large multipurpose room. The walls in all the common areas are brightly painted and some are decorated with artwork made by the children. The multipurpose room is used for indoor P.E., yoga, fiestas and group events. Outside there are two playgrounds and a garden that surround the school.
Currently, there is no required uniform for the children. They bring their own lunches and snacks. Snacks can be eaten whenever a child feels hungry as long as it does not disturb their classmates. They offer two payment plans for tuition a monthly fee of $1080 or an annual fee of $10,070 and do offer sibling discounts. Their admission process is pretty simple. Open admission is offered to current students first then they open up admission on a specific date and time via their website to outside families. It is pretty much a first come, first serve process but they have waiting lists that rotates a little over the year.
This history of this immersion school is pretty unique. The owners, Luis Martinez and Catherine Wallace, met in Oaxaca while Catherine was learning Spanish through an adult immersion program. They fell in love and moved to Dallas where Catherine was from. Luis started teaching adult Spanish classes out of their home. This program grew with popularity and they moved to a larger space and added a baby to their family. They had so many inquiries about a preschool program that they opened up the preschool in 2010. In 2013 they added the nursery program and the elementary school. Thus the program is popular and growing, growing, growing!
The elementary school started in 2013 with their founding Kindergarten class. As this class moves up a grade the school will add that year into its educational plan (so this year 2014-2015 they offer kindergarten and first grade) until they reach fifth grade. Currently, the first grade has 8 students with two teachers and the kindergarten classes have 14 students each with two teachers. It is very important for this program to keep the classrooms small with a small student-to-teacher ratio.
They use a full immersion program in all their teaching. The teachers or maestras(os) are all native Spanish speaking educators (but are fluent in English as well). In the Elementary program, they all have degrees in education in either their home countries or in the United States. They are handpicked by the director and she spends a year teaching them the project based learning as well as second language acquisition. From the moment you walk into the school you hear Spanish. In the Elementary program Spanish is spoken 90% of the time with English spoken 10%. In First Grade this percentage will change to 80/20%. The English portions of the day are mostly spent on learning the structure of the English language and supplemental to other lessons.
The Elementary program is based on the director’s extensive history and knowledge with Project Based Learning. This approach to education is rising in the world and really focuses on using problem solving techniques with team work as well as gives children more confidence in their knowledge base. The best way to describe this (that I understand) is that the class is given a challenge and they have to work together in small groups and also large groups to provide many solutions to this problem. They then present these to adults who are knowledgeable in these areas for feedback. They rework the projects and then do a final presentation.
Example: The children were challenged to make outside Rube Goldberg machines using repurposed materials ((paper towel tubes, water bottles, soda cans, etc) that the preschool children could use during recess time. The elementary children worked with the grounds administrator to figure out the best outdoor locations for the machines. Professional Spanish speaking engineers visited the classroom to discuss their designs and functionality and give feedback. The kindergartners then demonstrated their machines to the preschoolers for testing. One last trip to the drawing board and the redesigned machines were enjoyed by all the children in the school during outside play. And this was in KINDERGARTEN!
In my observation of the classroom it is very apparent that it is active participation. One maestra would be asking questions and giving instructions while another maestra was moving around the room, encouraging participation and interacting with students. The children were all alert and answering questions. You can see projects of various kinds, that the children have been working on, throughout the rooms and the common area. Some projects and designs were things I would have expected in upper grades but these are kinder and first grade students.
However, I also found through my tour I kept thinking…these are just 5 year olds! I worried if there would be too much pressure on them in this type of learning environment. To us it is more important for our children to learn by doing than by focused on learning, if that makes sense. Hence one of the reasons why we have considered Montessori education. After doing research and discussing with Jill, the director, I understand that the learning process in this model is mostly organic. As the children find a challenge they intrinsically want to find the answer so it is not that they are forced to learn something, the learning comes out of the critical thinking process.
They also focus on individualized lesson planning. Each child has a track based on their starting abilities/skills and the maestras, administrators, child and parents work together to develop a plan for that child. There are no general tests, no markers that every child must meet at a certain time, it is about working with the child to build their learning potential as they move through the year.
All students are required to come to school with an iPad or tablet. A lot of the learning is supported through technology and also using these devices as research modules. The children also have 40 minutes of yoga, P.E. or technology a day as well as outside time.
For me, I think the two most confusing features of this school is their two biggest strengths: full Spanish immersion and the project based learning. In general, most people do not understand how either of these can work and ESPECIALLY together! Given my history with Spanish House I can confidently say that immersion education is amazing in so many ways. You really do feel your brain working in ways it normally doesn’t. I can only imagine for a child who doesn’t have a lot of preconceived education and knowledge can fill up their brains with so much more. As for the project based learning, I think this is another unique education approach that is gaining in popularity for good reason, it makes sense to teach our children at an early age to work together to strive to learn, problem solve and be creative. Spanish House provides an active, diversified learning environment, which for young children is important for their physical and mental health.
The school is also very diverse and focused on cultural relevance. The students that attend the school come from all over the world and some of them speak 3+ languages in their homes. Surprisingly, there is a large (maybe even 50%) of families where there is no Spanish at home, yet these children speak Spanish on a daily bases. They discuss world events and cultural importance in the daily use of project based learning….maybe researching where a specific construction idea came from and then using that point of reference to learn more about that person, country or time in history.
Here is my list of positives and negatives. Again, it is hard because my children and I attend school there and we have known the owners for many years. Your list will be different than mine and I encourage you to contact Jill Clayton for a tour or information. On item to note is that the school is actively looking for a location to expand.
100% Native Speaking Spanish Immersion
Small Campus and Small Class Size
Individualized Lesson Plans
Very down to Earth
40+ of active playtime each day
Sense of community as the elementary students work on projects for the preschool students
Introduction of technology & research early in education
Children work with professionals in project building gaining communication skills and self esteem
Small campus, can get over crowded quickly during busy times
Could be communication barrier between students/maestras/parents
Project Based Learning could be hard for some students to integrate into
Plans only go through 5th grade currently
Small school, could be cliquish
No male maestros or male instructors at all
Lack of extra activities (sports, music, etc.)