Three times a year, more than 100 West High School students visit Midvale Elementary School to converse and read through a Bilingual Buddy Exchange.

The West students in Spanish 5 Advanced Placement classes are paired with Midvale students who are enrolled in the dual-language immersion program in kindergarten, first and second grade.

“It’s really fun to be with high schoolers,” said second-grader Robin Chambreau. “They’re really big.”

His partner, senior Sam Meyer, also enjoys the experience.

“It’s really fun to see how much they’ve progressed,” said Meyer during the second exchange of the year on March 11.

The high schoolers serve as role models. First-grader Hazel Foster, who meets with senior Pallav Regmi, said she likes hearing about her buddy’s experiences in school.

Students from both schools write letters of introduction and inquiry to one another before meeting. When they get together, the students speak entirely in Spanish and do activities like playing math games, reading to each other and spending time outside. High schoolers have written children’s stories and read them to their buddies.

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“Even though we are different ages, we are in similar places in Spanish,” said Franny Tyska, who is a buddy with second-grader Nahndo Medina.

Lindsey Tyser, who teaches Spanish 5 at West, said the activities allow students to use vocabulary they wouldn’t ordinarily use at the high school level.

Sarah Thomas, second-grade dual-language immersion teacher at Midvale, and Denise Hanson, who was a Spanish teacher at West at the time, came up with the idea five years ago. It was something Thomas had done at Verona High School as student teacher. In both cases, the high school and an elementary school have been within walking distance.

“Sometimes it’s hard for kids to have an authentic reason to use Spanish, especially as they get older,” Thomas said. “It’s also a chance for the little ones to show off their Spanish skills.”

Denise Hanson, now a positive behavior intervention specialist at West, likes the idea using resources that already exist in schools. The high school students’ match with elementary students is valuable because kids are the hardest population to understand, she said.

Seniors Vicky Angenent-Mari and Andrea Silva-Ramirez both said they wished they would have had the experience when they were young.

“West High students get a chance to see how language learning at an early age is so beneficial,” Tyser said.

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