Schools launch free online Spanish lessons for students

Posted June 16, 2021 5:00 a.m. EDT
Updated June 16, 2021 2:41 p.m. EDT

Through partnerships with Participate Learning, schools across North Carolina launched a successful summer Spanish program that helps prevent summer learning loss. (Photo Courtesy of Participate Learning)

This article was written for our sponsor, Participate Learning.

For many students, summer is much-anticipated respite from the classroom. But oftentimes, the lapse in regular academic instruction can lead to a significant learning loss. In fact, a recent study found students in southern states from grades two through nine lost anywhere from a quarter to a third of the lessons they learned the previous year.

Any parent can vouch for the fact most kids have plenty of time to fit in a few learning lessons during the summer — but many don't have access to programs that would supplement their studies. In order to address this gap and offer a virtual learning option, Participate Learning, a global education company, launched a free summer Spanish language program in partnership with a number of North Carolina schools.

"With language learning, if you stop for extended periods of time, it can be difficult to jump back in at the beginning of a new school year. We came up with the idea of a summer program that we could offer to all the students in the schools that we worked with, where they'd take Spanish lessons one-on-one with one of our teachers who had taught in the United States, but was back in their home country," said Jeff Seaby, director of marketing and a former teacher at Participate Learning. "We also asked the teachers to infuse their culture into the lesson in the process. The idea is that students not only get a language lesson out of it, but they also get a cultural experience."

The summer Spanish program is available for any student who attends a school affiliated with Participate Learning, free of charge. Across North Carolina, that totals around 11,500 students who have access to these online lessons.

Since kicking off the program in the summer of 2020, Seaby and his team have seen overwhelmingly positive results and responses from both students and parents who participated, as well as a steadily high demand. In the first round of the program, over 4,500 lessons were taught.

For some students, the summer Spanish lessons offer a chance to catch up on their academics without having to consider summer school or an expensive private tutor.

"My son was a little behind with his Spanish so we booked lessons for him, and he loved it — it really helped him stay up on his Spanish when he couldn't really be immersed in it in the classroom," said Renee Taboada, a parent of an online Spanish program student. "I was able to book the same teacher each time, and she would just have conversations with him in Spanish about the weather and his interests and things. If you have the same teacher, you can always suggest or ask for help in certain areas, so it's really been beneficial to us."

In creating the summer Spanish program, Participate Learning encouraged instructors to make lessons as personalized as possible and purely conversational. Oftentimes, parents would share some of their child's interests and hobbies, and teachers would structure lessons and vocabulary around those topics.

In doing so, they hoped to make learning Spanish fun rather than a chore.

"We didn't make them follow any kind of curriculum — we just said the goal was to get students speaking. From the results we've gotten so far, that turned out to be a good chance we took, focusing on the student first and the content second," said Seaby. "We sent out a survey after every lesson to get feedback on the teacher, the lesson, and whether or not they would recommend the lesson to a friend. 1,013 participants answered it and 1,000 said it was recommended. That's 99 percent, so we were thrilled to see those results."

Taboada's own experience reflects the results of Participate Learning's surveys. While her son was previously having trouble holding a conversation in Spanish, he's made a marked improvement in his skills.

"He's a little bit more withdrawn in a group setting like a classroom, so the one-on-one situation was really good for him, because he's got that more individualized attention with this program," said Taboada. "The program has been really easy to work with. Anytime I've ever had an issue, they've been very quick to respond and help me out. They work around your schedule and have different options for group settings or individual lessons, and the teachers have been receptive to feedback."

While the Spanish lessons were partially a reaction to the 2020 online learning shift, the success of the first round has been encouraging. Participate Learning now plans to offer the program every summer moving forward.

"We have a lot of teachers who were very experienced online for many years, so we found teachers that really love to teach online," said Seaby. "We're excited to continue offering this every summer and help students in combating some of the summer learning loss."

This article was written for our sponsor, Participate Learning.

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