Intern program nurtures Spanish-speaking elementary students

The intern program is designed to give CES students exposure to Spanish language and culture and to spark interest in continuing in world languages.

Angie Pinto Bolanos is a long way from her hometown of Bogota, Colombia.

She is enjoying living on Vashon Island with her host family, working with first grade and kindergarten students as part of the Spanish Intern Program at Chautauqua Elementary School (CES).

“The intern program has been an amazing part of the Chautauqua experience. Having interns enables us to learn about other cultures and brings diverse teachers to our school, which directly supports our racial equity goals,” said CES Principal Rebecca Goertzel.

Interns in the program, Goertzel explained, are teachers in their home countries, and offer direct support to CES students by working individually with those who need native language support, helping students in math, and teaching topics relevant to their own cultures.

Pinto Bolanos, who graduated from the Universidad Libre de Colombia with a Bachelor’s Degree in Education, said that she is excited to increase her expertise as a new teacher.

“This is a great opportunity for me to learn new styles about education and gain more teaching experience,” said Pinto Bolanos. “I also want to improve my English.”

The intern program is designed to give CES students exposure to Spanish language and culture and to spark interest in continuing in world languages.

In addition, the program supports English Language Learner (ELL) students by providing primary language support for students and families, increasing cultural awareness and acceptance through adult heritage speakers, and providing Spanish literacy support for native Spanish speakers.

Pinto Bolanos sees the program benefitting her equally as much as the first-graders she works with. The students are exposed to someone from a different culture, and in turn, she is able to learn American culture from the students. Her reach extends far beyond first grade. She will also join Spanish classes and teach all students about Colombia, help in supporting math students, and give essential support to some kindergarten students with limited knowledge of English.

“I think you can always learn new things in life,” said Pinto Bolanos. “Each day when I come in, the students give me that kind of lesson, and I appreciate it.”

Pinto Bolanos is enjoying the quiet island life of Vashon, noting that it is a big departure in terms of the people, noise, and the hustle of the huge city of Bogota. She loves the community and the opportunity to immerse herself into a different area of the world but is still coming to terms with the food.

“In Colombia, we eat a lot of meat, chicken, and fish, and here, it is much more vegetables,” she laughed. “It has been difficult for me to adapt to the food, but I am trying.”

The district relies on the Vashon Schools Foundation to support the intern program, and on local families to offer housing.

“We are always looking for potential host families and they don’t need to have students in the district to host,” said Goertzel.

For each of the past seven years, Chautauqua has welcomed two to four interns. This year, due to the pandemic, there is only one. Next year, Goertzel said, CES hopes to have three interns again.

The Spanish Intern Program is made possible by the Amity Institute, a non-profit organization and U.S. State Department designated exchange visitor program for exchange teachers and educational interns. Amity’s programs have operated for the past 60 years.

Islanders who are interested in housing an intern in the future should contact