Giving the Spanish program the help it needs after a difficult year

The Spanish hallway in the North building

Kayden Panse

The Spanish hallway in the North building

Starting the new school year, Jr. Danielle Kyes walked into her math class 30 minutes late, agitated by  her last class. She began whispering to her classmates around her, explaining how difficult her IB Spanish quiz was and how she needed extra time to connect with Instructor Melody Holmes after class. 

   Shortly into her quiz, she realized that her Spanish four class from last year didn’t prepare her for the jump to the next level in her Spanish education. Kyes, along with other Spanish students in the second semester last year, were given short-term and long-term substitute teachers. Sra. Alguillera went through a terrible accident and was unable to teach, and both Sra. Ransom and Sra. Brown went on maternity leave. Of course, none of this was at fault of our amazing teachers, but the students of West Ottawa had a difficult time adjusting.

   “Ransom left for six weeks to have a baby and during that time I basically learned no Spanish,” Kyes said. “We took our first quiz [this year] and it shocked me how much different it is, and how much simple things like verbs, nouns, and your foundation you really need to know, and it was things like that that really threw me off.” 

   Kyes is not alone. Many of her classmates made the jump from ending the 2021-2022 school year with little understanding, to taking higher level Spanish courses. The group of Spanish four students seemed to have had it the worst, knowing that IB students at the time had a stable teacher, and all other Spanish levels (one, two, and three) were transitioning to just another year. Jrs. Brooke Pedersen and Stella Herman were equally frustrated by the challenges they faced.

   “Ransom was my Spanish teacher last year until she went on maternity leave. We had a long-term sub, which was difficult on many levels. I didn’t learn many new things with the sub we had so I feel like I lost a lot of the Spanish skills we had just learned with Sra. Ransom before she left,” Pedersen said. 

   “So far this year feels pretty difficult because the speed that we go in class and the amount we learn each day is completely different. Going from a sub who barely knew Spanish to an amazing teacher who speaks fluent Spanish is very different and difficult.”

   Herman also had a lot to share from her experience, “Ransom left for maternity leave [ . . . ] It was actually easy for a student like me because we got to do a lot of group work and projects which suit my type of learning. 

   “The reason this year is harder for me though, is because last year we did not get as far as expected which hinders my understanding going into IB Spanish. IB Spanish is hard because Sra. Holmes speaks fluent Spanish very frequently and it’s very fast moving, which is not what we are used to from last year.” 

   But not only the junior class struggled; Soph. Heather Chicholski had a similar experience in Spanish two. 

   “For Spanish last year I had Aguilera [ . . . ] Last year I didn’t learn how to use reflexive verbs correctly, and now we are moving on and being taught new things. It wasn’t hard at the time, but now I have to face the effects of not really learning what I should have.”

   The end of the 2021-2022 school year was filled with frustration and confusion within the Spanish hallways.

   Getting insight from Holmes, the teacher who held down the fort last semester, she informed us, “Last year was quite the interesting year for Spanish teachers at WOHS. This unique situation had all Spanish teachers in the department coming together as a team to create as seamless a flow as possible. Teachers shared lesson plans, Google Classroom activities, resources, and time.” 

   In fact, Holmes is the only teacher teaching the previous Spanish four students as they step into IB this year, and according to her students, she’s doing a great job.

   “Senora Holmes is not critical about what her students do and don’t know, but how to help her students grow in their weak spots. She does things to know what her students need and her teaching revolves around that rather than moving on while we are two steps behind,” Herman said. 

   “Holmes has been super understanding. She has been really helpful with the worksheets and the homework she is given and also been super supportive with whatever stage I am at with my Spanish. She really wants me to succeed in the class no matter what.” Pedersen tells us.

    Even Grant Honeycutt (Jr.), who speaks Spanish with his parents at home, says “Senora Holmes has been lenient and understanding that the transition will be difficult for most people.” She also “Gives us good advice about what we should study and work on.”

   However, we think it’s safe to say that Holmes isn’t the only teacher putting in work. 

   According to Chicholski, Sra. Jacobson has been doing a great job as well. “We played some review games during the first few days of school and Mrs. Jacobson has been able to answer any questions I have,“ she tells us. 

   “This year, we were able to welcome two amazing full-time teachers to the department: Mrs. Emma Jacobsen and Ms. Gwen Hoenke. Both are experienced teachers who identified WOHS as a location they wanted to bring their expertise and passions into the classrooms for our Panthers.” Principal Jake Manning informed us. 

   This year we have a network of Spanish teachers at all levels so that help is available at all levels. 

   Our staff is taking the necessary steps to ensure this situation never happens again. The amazing teachers in the heart of our language program are doing their best to help those who need it, from putting in extra work to welcoming new partners. 

   Foreign language is a welcome mat to wisdom and helps people connect and share their culture and lifestyles. West Ottawa is ensuring students through all ages have the opportunity to understand and learn the beauty of language.