LEARNING LIFE: Warming up in Spanish class at Riverside High

Feb. 10, 2013 @ 08:23 PM

The soccer season’s behind him now, but Cameron McNeill can’t slow down.
On a chilly Thursday morning, he walks down the halls of Riverside High School in blue shorts, sneakers and a red sweater pulled over a white shirt.
The junior is looking ahead to lacrosse season and hopes to make the team.
“You sure those shorts are right for this weather?” asks Spanish teacher Anuja Munshi as he walks into Room 132.
“I try to wear them as often as possible,” McNeill replies with a smile.
He is one of just eight students in Munshi’s Advanced Placement Spanish 5 class, which lasts from 9 to 10:40 a.m. That’s a decent teacher-student ratio.
McNeill explains that Munshi also taught two of his siblings.
“It’s been good” teaching the McNeill family, she said with a smile.
Munshi teaches the class almost entirely in Spanish, beginning to end, with occasional breaks to explain something in English.
Hola, muchachos,” she says once McNeill and the other students are settled in at their desks. “Como esta?
After the morning announcements broadcast through the public address system, it’s time to review for an impending quiz on sentences that speculate about the future or discuss conditional ideas.
She uses a projector to display several sample sentences, in English, on the white board. Some sentences use a student in the class as its subject, such as, “Marcos must have been hungry when I saw him because he was eating a hamburger.”
Munshi asks McNeill to translate “Would you be able to help me sweep the floor?” into Spanish.
His answer, which she scrawls in black ink on the white board beneath the sentence: “Podrias ayudarme a barrer el piso?
Next, the students break into two pairs and one trio – one is absent this particular day – to converse about hypothetical situations. One situation poses the question of whether the students would eavesdrop on a conversation between a classmate and their teacher.
McNeill admits that he would: “Yo soy curioso.”
In another exercise, Munshi asks students to speculate about their classmates. One sentence posits “No dijo nada Cameron durante la clase de Espanol.” (“He didn’t talk at all during Spanish class.”
McNeill smirks: “That’s true, every day.”
One classmate suggests that he must be “muy timido” or very timid.
Cameron?” Munshi replies in Spanish. “Imposible.”

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For this series, The Herald-Sun chose four students and their families to follow through the 2012-13 academic year to explore what these different opportunities for learning are all about.

The students are:

--Cameron McNeill, a junior at Riverside High School, part of the Durham Public Schools system.

--DeVon Eaddy, a freshman at Research Triangle Charter High School, a public-supported charter high school.

--Bella Cude, a sixth-grader at Duke School, a Durham private school.

--Henry and Scarlett Edwards, home-school students in Chatham County.