April 26, 2018
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Orono program immerses students in Spanish

By Meg Haskell, BDN Staff

ORONO, Maine — About 65 “estudiantes” from all over Maine spent part of the weekend at Orono High School, making and eating empanadas, dancing the merengue and playing Taboo — all in Spanish, all the time.

The activities were included in a two-day Spanish immersion program for high school students organized and hosted by the Orono school.

In Taboo, players prompt their teammates to guess a specific word by defining the word or its associations. But the prompting player cannot use the word itself, or any words from a list of five “taboo” words on each word card.

Got it? Good. Now, let’s try it in Spanish.

“Piernas, pero no …,” offered Joel Riemersma of Orono, a lanky 18-year-old senior at Orono High School. He gestured expectantly toward his team members, who hesitated, glancing at each other, puzzled. His clue translated as “legs but no …” Arms? Knees?

“Pies!” shouted someone. That’s pee-ez, feet. Legs but no feet. Amid laughter and wisecracks, Riemersma returned to his seat, grinning. The other student took his place at the front of the room.

Orono Spanish teacher Christine Crocker helped organize the immersion event and emceed the lively game of Taboo, encouraging shyer students to come forward and try their luck.

“Es divertido!” she promised them. It’s fun!

The game was just one of many Spanish-only activities during the weekend.

“The dancing was pretty fun,” said 16-year-old Julissa McLaughlin of Topsham, in English. “We learned merengue, bachata and salsa.” (Parents: Do NOT look on YouTube for a video of bachata.)

Her friend Will Gerencer, 17 of Bowdoin agreed that the dancing was fun, and also enjoyed watching a soccer movie in Spanish.

“And last night we made empanadas,” he said. “Little pastries with jelly in the middle and cinnamon sugar on top.”

The Mount Ararat High School juniors said this was their first time at the annual Orono High School Spanish immersion weekend, which has been taking place for several years now. Both said they likely would come back next year.

“I might bring a mattress, though,” said McLaughlin. “That floor was really hard.”

The students, who arrived Friday afternoon from at least eight schools, spent the night in sleeping bags on the polished hardwood floor of the high school gymnasium.

Among the immersion participants were several foreign students. Brewer High School student Eliane Villanueva, 17, a native of Paraguay, said the weekend gave her an opportunity to meet new friends. Villanueva said she has studied English for six or seven years. Coming to the United States to spend a year with a host family in Orrington, though, has pushed her into fluency.

“This is the first time I’ve really been talking and eating and dreaming in English,” she said. Villanueva and the other foreign students each made presentations, in Spanish, about their countries. The immersion program wrapped up late Saturday afternoon, after a pinata party.

Joel Riemersma, complete with feet on the ends of his legs, helped coordinate the immersion event this year to fulfill his 30-hour service learning requirement. A fourth-year Spanish student, Riemersma said he also plans to study French.

“I figure that if I learn Spanish and French, I can talk to pretty much anyone in the Western Hemisphere,” he said.



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