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Grant allows Hilmar to offer summer language academy
Portuguese pic1
Hilmar language academy students learn the numerical system in Portuguese while playing a card game. There are currently 93 students enrolled in the summer program that is open for grades 2-11. - photo by NANCY ANGEL / The Journal

While most area students are spending their summer relaxing and enjoying a break from the rigors of the academic year, 93 Hilmar students are learning about another culture.

The Hilmar Unified School District added the Summer Portuguese Language Academy to its curriculum last year. The district received a STARTALK grant to allow students the opportunity to learn communication skills through an interactive approach to language learning.

“STARTALK is a federal initiative to increase the number of United States citizens learning critical need languages.  Portuguese was recently identified by the United States government as one of these critical languages,” said SPLA curriculum coordinator Cecilia Areias.  “We currently have 93 students attending the program and many others are on the waiting list.”

The program is open to all students in grades 2-11, regardless of language proficiency.  Students participating in the STARTALK Portuguese Academy Language Program are expected to attend the program during its three week duration, at no cost, Monday through Friday, from June 18 to July 6 at Elim Elementary School.

Students are divided into six classrooms based on their level of Portuguese language experience, with priority given to the most proficient students.  They learn not only the language, but also Portuguese cultural dances, customs, and traditions.

“There are several kids in this program who are in our dual Spanish language program and are doing this as a third language.  This is an opportunity that will benefit them in the future,” said Areias.

Assistant Principal of Elim Elementary Carlos Rocha is confident that the number of students will increase throughout the years to come.

“We initially wanted 80 students to be a part of the program for this year, but with the number of people interested, we decided to add 13more students.  We want to provide these students with the opportunity to participate in culture to understand traditions.  Bullfights are a very traditional Portuguese sport and also very popular in this area so we are going to take our students to a field trip to witness a tradition within the Portuguese community,” said Rocha.

On the last day of the program, the students will perform a traditional Portuguese dance and play in front of their parents.

STARTALK student Natalie Brasil has been participating in the Portuguese Language Academy since its inauguration last year.  She enjoys learning the language and dancing the traditional Portuguese dances.

“This program is really fun because we get to play Portuguese games and dances.  I like learning about my heritage and traditions,” she said.