Spanish at Chandler

Chandler’s K-8 Spanish program leads students in a sequential progression of understanding, speaking, reading and writing Spanish. Many students become conversationally fluent by eighth-grade graduation. All students are exposed to a variety of new perspectives, cultures, customs and people.

To meet its goals, Chandler’s five Spanish faculty supplement a fast-paced curriculum with a wide selection of activities to push students out of their English comfort zones and into an immersive experience of speaking, writing and hearing Spanish.

The marriage of rigor and variety has proven fruitful: Chandler alumni impress their high-school Spanish teachers. One such teacher is Dr. Maite Bernath, Chair of World Languages at Polytechnic School. “Most students I teach from Chandler consistently show dedication to language studies and show great promise. They come with a strong foundation. They are diligent, enthusiastic and eager to learn. They have a deep appreciation for the culture. It is always a pleasure having students from Chandler!”

Matilda Berke ’13, explains how Spanish classes at Chandler led to a passion for Spanish literature when she took AP Spanish Literature at Polytechnic School. “It was probably the best class I’ve ever taken – we read and analyzed texts ranging from Don Quixote to 19th century “Romanticismo” poetry to Gabriel Garcia Márquez’s magical realism,” Matilda notes.

She explains, “I’m currently learning French, Italian and German independently so I can read literary works in those languages. My strong foundation in Spanish at Chandler definitely makes picking up new languages easier!”

K-5 Spanish

To teach Spanish to kindergarteners, Chandler faculty harness kids’ natural energy and playfulness. Students sing songs, have scavenger hunts, play guessing games, and dance to music as they learn vocabulary. As the months unfold, faculty teach Spanish words while students draw, cook, garden, sing, and tinker with crafts. Faculty bring out bags of colorful props to teach words related to weather, clothing, foods and parts of a home.

From the outset, Chandler’s Spanish faculty give students many opportunities to listen and speak, since these are prime years for developing an ear for the language. Furthermore, early language practice helps students shed embarrassment over inevitable mistakes as they learn.

As students progress, they produce more written work. In third grade, students learn to write sentences and have written homework. By fourth grade, they are conjugating verbs. Faculty continue to work across departments to give students diverse experiences with the language. Music and art classes incorporate Spanish language and culture, for example, and each year the STEAM projects incorporate use of Spanish.

Chandler faculty ensure that each new grade level offers students fresh topics and activities. However, one popular Lower School tradition repeats every year: in December, students make 800 tamales by hand, and families buy them to raise funds for an orphanage in México.

Middle School Spanish

Chandler’s Spanish faculty in the Middle School help new students transition into the program with differentiated classes and extra support for beginning speakers. Starting in sixth grade, Chandler students study Spanish as a core academic subject, with class four days a week, nightly homework, tests and final exams.

Although Chandler faculty set a challenging pace in their Spanish classes, they also engage students with a huge variety of Hispanic cultural activities and celebrations. Alumni quickly recall the popular Latino food festival (and whether they won the guacamole contest), Cesar Chavez Day, Día de los Muertos, and the special field trip to Olvera Street in Los Angeles.

Sarah Gilman ’10, now a junior at USC, laughs, “I didn’t even realize how much I learned at Chandler until I discovered I could hold in-depth conversations with native speakers, and tested into advanced courses at Flintridge Prep. Every day of class with Señora Vasquez was filled with new ways to get us speaking Spanish, almost without our noticing!”

Dexter Renick ’15, now at Polytechnic, concurs. “The best part was speaking Spanish in real life situations. For me, all the practical use of Spanish made Chandler classes so interesting.”

Technology has opened up new possibilities for teachers and students. Students practice online Spanish grammar lessons at home and receive instant feedback, while teachers monitor progress. YouTube movies, songs, newscasts and commercials provide exposure to a world of diverse Hispanic cultures and dialects. Students present grammar lessons to their classmates with Powerpoint, make iMovies, and use Spanish vocabulary apps on their cell phones.

In the second semester, teachers in the advanced classes aim to allow no English in their classrooms. For Chandler’s eighth graders, the intensity provides a sense of accomplishment as they prove that young students can read, write and converse in Spanish at levels typically expected of much older pupils.

Jake McCarthy ’12, remembers being “beyond prepared to walk right into Spanish 3 at Polytechnic and grow as a Spanish speaker and citizen of our bilingual city.” Jake completed Poly’s Spanish program with the AP Literature exam in his junior year.

Later, as a freshman at Duke, he enrolled in Spanish 301 – an advanced writing class – which, he notes, “fulfills my college language requirement, but I won’t stop taking language classes.”

Theodore Jaffrey ’14, now at Phillips Exeter Academy, points out that “Chandler’s Spanish program is run by committed faculty who cover an extensive variety of topics.” In Theodore’s case, strong grades in honors classes has been proof of great preparation. Equally important, he has discovered a love of Latin American cultures. “I travelled to Bolivia with Señora Vasquez and also to Nicaragua on a Flintridge Prep program,” he says.

Chandler’s Spanish faculty are always improving their program – introducing new books, projects and technology tools to expand their students’ capacity for understanding, reading, writing and speaking Spanish. The department prepares students not only to succeed in high-school Spanish, but to work and live with an appreciation for diverse cultures in a global society.

Chandler School, 1005 Armada Drive, Pasadena, (626) 795-9314 or visit




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