Spanish Capstone blog - 3/19

Sunday, March 20, 2011 - from Jessica

We must still be on Madrid time. The three of us were all awake at 3 AM. Unlike having Capstone in Mexico, this year the Chinese, Japanese and Spanish track students can all compare jet lag stories.

Capstone, as any family who has taken the trip will tell you, is quite the experience. Since we have been at TIS since January 2004 we have heard over and over parents telling their pride in hearing host country partners express their amazement at TIS students’ level of fluency and lack of accent in their respective track languages. We knew the comments were coming. However, I think we all filled with more pride than expected when we heard our Tour Director tell the local tour guides his perspective of our children’s Spanish ability. Conversations something like this: Local guide “Really? They speak Spanish?” Our tour director “Yes, very well.” I overheard words like “belisimo” and “perfecto” when others discussed our children’s language abilities.

We had a very multi-generational group. We had parents, a one-year old sibling, a set of grandparents, and a God parent, along with our TIS fifth graders, two third graders, and one second grader. A guide from another tour outside the Prado Museum stated “what a great group – so many ages.” It was a new experience for most, and certainly a new experience for our Tour Director. We were a unique group, just as TIS is a unique school. If nothing else, our fifth graders gained a better understanding of the larger community of families that supports them.
Some students had a marvelous time with their host families. In fact, the one student who was very concerned about the home-stay before leaving for Spain seems to have made a life-long friend in his host-brother. However, the family stay provided hurdles and challenges for some of the students. Though the experience may not have been one of fond memories for all, it was certainly one of growth. All the students gained strength in character during the week.

At the school itself, all students seemed to do fine. My interpretation of my son’s stories is that they negotiated playground politics among the host-students and themselves very well. Academically, Constanza reported that all of the teachers were impressed with our students’ speaking, reading and writing in Spanish. She said she was surprised that the host teachers thought highly of the writing abilities. Constanza has pretty high standards and has been working to improve the students’ writing abilities all year. Then there was the cafeteria food. It was either hit or miss with our TIS students. Of course, we parents marveled at the thought of not needing to prepare a lunch or worry about Pizza Monday duties.

Once the students ended their host family stays, our tour schedule was very busy. Spain is full of sites to see. We went to many UNESCO designated “World Heritage Sights”. The Spanish government clearly supports the arts and preservation efforts.

Our city tour of Madrid included the Royal Palace and the Prado Museum with stops along the way in Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol (where “kilometer zero” or the exact center of Spain is located).

Acalá de Henares is an outer suburb of Madrid (think Forest Grove) and Cervantes’ birthplace. We had some sunshine on this day, which may be why we all loved the town.

Salamanca was the furthest out and a long day. Still, you could hear the students “ooh” and “aah” as we would go around the bend of a narrow cobble-stone street and find yet another amazing edifice, with intricately carved entry ways.

Avila offered something beyond fantastic churches in its very well-preserved city wall. We walked the perimeter of the city along the top of the wall and learned how the city operated in medieval times – with Muslims, Jews and Christians all living alongside one another in harmony. That ended in 1492 when Isabella and Ferdinand expelled all Jews and Muslims from Spain. Towns such as Avila suffered the economic consequences of losing a significant portion of their population. Now our fifth graders know that more happened in 1492 than Columbus sailing the ocean blue.

Segovia was a favorite of many of the students. Cathedrals, yes, of course – but also an aqueduct built in Roman times and the castle after which Sleeping Beauty’s castle in Disneyland is based. This was the snow day. Though the group wasn’t well-prepared for the weather, I think they all got a kick out of the snow. Actually, most of our trip was gray, cold and damp, much like Portland. I don’t think Southern California kids would have been able to take the weather in stride as much as our web-footed Oregonian kids.

Toledo sits on a hill top at a bend in the Tajo (Taugs in English) River, Spain’s largest. The sun came out for us on this day, which made the city sparkle. We visited another cathedral, something like our fourth or fifth – I lost count. You can now ask any of the students on the trip the difference in Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque architecture and art styles. They’ll likely give you a long answer. We also went to what was once a Synagogue, designed by Muslim architects. It was converted to a Catholic church centuries ago, so one has to make an effort to see the Jewish roots. Then we visited a “factory” where Toledo’s metal and ceramic handicrafts are made. We didn’t see many people working except for two artisans creating gold pendants. The tour ends at a souvenir shop and there was some creative bargaining going on to purchase swords. Somehow, all the families left without one sword purchased. Important because it is against Capstone policy to buy weapons.

In an effort to suggest a “pared down” tour schedule, I began asking the students which of the towns we toured they liked best. It was a difficult question for many of them to answer. One student voted for Segovia over Salamanca. One stated she liked the Prado Museum tour the best. What an amazing answer. A fifth grader liked a world-class museum, where they saw the works of the Spanish masters (Velazquez, Goya, El Greco) better than any of the other sights to fill the senses. When I asked my son what he liked best about Madrid, he also said The Prado. Better than churros and chocolate.

So this is what investment in a TIS education provides, children with Spanish speaking skills noted as “bellisimo” and children who truly appreciate art. Priceless.