Spanish starts at Kindergarten

Story and photo by Capt. Erin Dorrance
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***By their high school senior year, several non-Hispanic children will speak Spanish fluently with little to no accent. This goal is now achievable thanks to a pilot program at Department of Defense Dependents Schools around the KMC. 

Ramstein, Landstuhl and Vogelweh schools have all adopted the Foreign Language in the Elementary School program which teaches kids a foreign language from the first day of kindergarten instead of past language programs that didn’t start instruction until high school grades.

 “Ages 5 to 12 years old are at an optimum for learning languages,” said Kathleen Swim-Manco, a Spanish FLES teacher at Ramstein American Elementary School.  

Numerous academic studies have concluded that the early study of a second language increases a student’s cognitive benefits and students tend to achieve higher scores on standardized tests in reading, language arts and math. It also increases student’s self-esteem, creativity and positive attitude toward diversity. 

  “It’s fun because there are a bunch of words that I’ve never learned before, and now I’m learning them this year,” said 8-year-old Sam August, who just started the program at Ramstein Intermediate School. “If we go to a Spanish place, we will be able to speak Spanish.”

  If children in the KMC are not enrolled in the German Immersion Course, they are in the Spanish FLES program, said Cynthia Chavez, a Spanish FLES teacher at Ramstein American Elementary School. Although the Department of Defense Dependents Schools’ FLES program in the KMC is Spanish, other DODDS schools around the globe have chosen Mandarin Chinese and Arabic, said Patty Gabilondo, a Spanish FLES teacher at Ramstein Intermediate School. 

 “Spanish was chosen as the [Department of Defense Education Activity] FLES language because Spanish is rapidly becoming the second spoken language in the U.S.,” said James Somers, DODDS-Europe instructional systems specialist. 

 The approximately 1,100 Spanish FLES students at Ramstein’s schools have taken quickly to the program. One of Ms. Swim-Manco’s first grade students went to Spain with her parents and took great pride in helping her parents with vocabulary to ask where the bathroom was and to order at a restaurant, said Ms. Swim-Manco.  

 Ramstein American Elementary School is in its second year of the FLES program. On the first day of kindergarten, students learn vocabulary and culture by interactive teaching programs including puppets, singing and dancing, said Ms. Swim-Manco. 
Some parents are so excited about what their children are learning in the program that it is motivating them to take classes, said Ms. Chavez. The classes also allow the parents to increase their involvement with what the children are learning. Parents are always invited to come into the classrooms to see the program firsthand. In fact, parents are encouraged to bring cultural lessons into the classroom, said Ms. Gabilondo. Ms. Swim-Manco’s class, for example, has cooked sopapillas, plátanos and learned cultural dances since the start of this school year.   

The FLES program is becoming more popular within DODDS as the positive feedback rolls in. Ramstein’s FLES program currently covers kindergarten to third grade; however DODDS plans to extend the program over the next couple years to eighth grade; which is when most students take their first foreign language class.   

“Next [school] year, the program will include students in grades four and five at Ramstein Intermediate School,” said Ramstein American Elementary School Principal Kathy Downs.  
The program offers the opportunity for a student who has taken the FLES program all the way from kindergarten through senior year to take advanced courses including advanced placement courses in preparation for college credit, said Ana Garcia, a Spanish FLES teacher at Ramstein Elementary School.  

 Editor’s Note: To see a video about the FLES program, go to If you would like to visit a FLES classroom, contact the Ramstein American Elementary School at 480-3996 or the Ramstein Intermediate School at 480-6023.