Fanning her hand swiftly in front of her face, Rhode Fernandez, a foreign language specialist at Floris Elementary School in Herndon repeated the Spanish word "caliente" to the first grade class students over and over again.
"El verano es muy caliente," Fernandez said, pointing to a graphic depicting the sun on a computerized "Smart Board" at the front of the class room. Her students responded with similar gestures and repeated the Spanish phrase, which means "the summer is very hot," back to her.
Moving along to explain other basic emotional words like happy, sad and scared, Fernandez jumped from student to student to make sure all were participating in the language exercise.
The Spanish lesson was one of two, 30-minute lessons a week taught by Fernandez to the first graders of Floris Elementary as part of the Foreign Languages in Elementary Schools program, one of several new programs initiated by Floris administrators this year.
STUDENTS AT FLORIS Elementary School will benefit from three new programs initiated over the summer, including a new Spanish program that will eventually encompass all students of the school. Administrators had pushed for the Spanish program after Fairfax County Public Schools officials decided to begin phasing out the school’s long-time Japanese Immersion Program, according to Floris Elementary principal Karen Siple.
The phase-out will take several years, as the district did not want to interrupt the more than 100 students who were enrolled in the program last year by ending it all at once. All of those students who were already enrolled in the program before the start of this school year will be able to finish it with Floris Elementary if they choose.
District officials had decided to phase the program out because of Floris Elementary’s close proximity to Hunter Mill Elementary School, which has nearly three times as many students enrolled, according to Fox Mill Elementary officials.
"It had been a very strong, well-supported program at the school and we’re very sad to see it leave," said Siple. "It was a tough decision, but I think it’s one that we’re ready to move on from and look towards our new programs."
After lobbying with Fairfax County Public Schools, Floris Elementary was granted its request for a Foreign Languages in Elementary Schools program over the summer, Siple said.
After much deliberation, they chose Spanish because of its prevalence in modern American society and for the opportunities that students would have to speak it on a regular basis, which would only increase their chances at attaining fluency, she added.
The program aims to teach students Spanish through exercises and activities, but also through review of other school lessons solely in Spanish, Siple said.
"The best thing to see is when they come up to me, all smiles, saying ‘hola senora Fernandez!’" said Fernandez, smiling. "I think that by teaching them to speak Spanish it really allows them to not just learn a useful skill, but to be more sensitive and empathic … they see all people, no matter what language they speak, as people."
FLORIS STUDENTS this year have also welcomed a new Gifted and Talented Center for advanced third grade students at the school.
"In the past the gifted and talented students would have to leave to go to other schools, and by doing that, they were leaving their friends behind and the school and community that they had become attached to," said Siple. "But by having our own class, our students and stay here, have all their same friends still and feel more connected with the community."
The Gifted and Talented Center, which serves 22 third grade level students, will add more students in more grades as the project matures, Siple added.
The school is also introducing the "Positive Behavior Support" program that Fairfax County Public Schools is encouraging as a framework for school rules and regulations that focuses on explanations and consistency.
The program should go into effect within the next couple weeks after training with the district is complete, Siple said.
TRYING TO STAY on top of the ever-changing world of technology is also a priority at Floris Elementary, said Ron Crouse, the school-based technology specialist.
Floris Elementary has gone from possessing three computerized Smart Boards at the start of the 2004 school year, to 21 of the roughly $3,000 set-ups at the start of this school year — enough to include nearly two-thirds of the school’s class rooms, Crouse said. Much of the money that has been raised already for the purchase of the Smart Boards has come from school fund-raising activities, he added.
"They have been a great addition to all of our classes," Crouse said. "As the kids learn how to use them more and they continue to adapt to them, they’ll be more likely to use them for advanced exercises as they move up through the grade levels."
The ultimate goal, Crouse added, is to assure that each classroom has a Smart Board within the next two to three years.
"The most important thing is to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the school is working together to be the best place it can be for the kids," she said. "If we can do that and add to the bright futures of our children, then we know that we’re doing our jobs."