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Students say 'mucho gusto' to Spanish language

| Thursday, March 7, 2013, 8:55 p.m.
Barbara Rebon, a Hempfield Area fourth-grade teacher at Fort Allen Elementary, teaches students of her 'Say It In Spanish' class how to dance 'Merengue' on Tuesday, February 24, 2013. Rebon who is of Cuban and Spanish descent, offers the classes on the side in Greensburg. Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review

Barbara Rebon is standing in front of 12 young students, guitar in hand, singing “bienvenido” — “welcome” in Spanish.

The students respond simultaneously, “Gracias!” And then the music begins.

In Spanish, they sing out days of the week, colors and numbers, complete with hand motions, repeating after Rebon over and over without a flaw.

The music stops and the students each find a partner. They introduce themselves in Spanish, “Me llamo is Ashley,” and reply, “Mucho gusto,” or “Nice to meet you.”

When the music resumes, they find another partner.

Aime Dancu, for one, is impressed.

“My daughter came home from school with a flier — she was so excited,” said Dancu about Rebon's "Say It In Spanish!" class, held one evening a week for Hempfield Area School District students in grades K-5.

“Any time they want to opt in to further their education, I think it's great,” Dancu said.

Rebon encourages parents to sit in on the classes because then they can practice at home with their children.

“It's an interesting approach. It's based on sounds and listening skills,” said Dancu, who took Spanish in high school and college and remembers finding the reading and writing a challenge. “They listen and repeat her words and catch on very quickly with that message.

“Her approach is refreshing and effective,” Dancu said.

It's just fun for Ashley Dancu, 11, a fifth-grade student at West Hempfield Elementary School.

“My favorite thing is counting from zero to 20 in Spanish, and I like the music too,” said Ashley, who practices at home with her sister, Andrea, a second-grader who takes the class.

Ashley said she sometimes uses “ola” to say hello or “adios” when she's leaving, even when she is not in class or practicing at home.

It's that exact idea that Rebon, a fourth-grade language arts, math and science teacher at Fort Allen Elementary School, is trying to instill.

“They're not just isolated vocabulary words,” Rebon said. “The goal is to get them to use them and really talk. I try to teach them a little culture too, to keep it fun and engaging for the kids.”

Rebon was born in Florida to Cuban parents. Her mother only spoke Spanish at home and Rebon did not learn the English language until kindergarten. Her great-grandfather was French and her grandmother was from Spain.

Rebon previously taught Spanish in Yough School District until she was hired by Hempfield seven years ago to teach Spanish to students in grades K-5. Shortly after her arrival, the elementary language program was eliminated.

After a few parents inquired, Rebon decided to give the off-campus classes a try. They began in January. Ten classes cost $120 for one child; with a 50 percent discount for siblings taking the classes that are offered in Greensburg.

“For me, it was kind of like, ‘Let's see what happens here,'” Rebon said. “I haven't opened it up to other districts yet, but that's my next step. This is a start but my vision is far greater than this.”

Jacqueline Horral has two children Felix, 5, and Femi, 7, students at West Point Elementary School, who are attending Rebon's classes.

“We just love it. She's so energetic,” Horral said. “The kids come home singing. You would think the hour would be really long for the kids but it goes by really fast.”

Rebon, who is certified to teach Spanish for grades K-12, holds one-hour classes for the younger students, followed by one-hour sessions for the older children.

Devin Crabtree, 10, a fourth-grade student at West Hempfield Elementary, reported that Rebon's teaching style keeps him interested.

John Dancy of North Huntingdon, who takes his grandson, Devin, to class each week, said he is amazed at the amount of information the children can absorb.

“And I'm picking up quite a good deal of it myself,” he said.

Michele Stewardson is a freelance writer.