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Did You Know? Profile Sandra Torello, Spanish Specialist

By: Jenny Stodolsky, Lesley Ellis Parent

Sandra Torello, Lesley Ellis School’s Spanish specialist, credits her personal and career successes to the fact that she is fluent in English and Spanish.

Born and raised in Argentina, Sandra entered the biology field in college. She focused on immunology, earning her PhD from the Universidad de Buenos Aires. She then moved to LaJolla, California for her postdoctoral work at the Scripps Research Institute and eventually came to Harvard University to continue her research.

While taking a break to be at home with her toddler age sons, Sandra started teaching Spanish for healthcare professionals at the Boston Language Institute. She quickly realized that she loved teaching. When her oldest child was in Kindergarten, the school asked her to volunteer in its Spanish program. Right away, Sandra saw the difference between the adults’ and the children’s way of learning.  She explains, “With children, there is an enthusiasm for learning, not as a purposeful goal. It’s simply knowledge for knowledge sake; it’s the pure joy of discovery.”

She continues, “Of course, I also had an insider’s experience of what it is like to learn as an adult versus as a kid.  I didn’t start to learn English until I was twenty.  It was so difficult.  My own children were speaking English and Spanish from the beginning. There was no hesitation on their part to speak.”

In short order, Sandra was hired to be the school’s Spanish teacher. Thinking about that experience, she says, “As the school entered the fifth year of its Spanish program, I could see how the kids who had been in the program since the beginning were open to speaking the language, flaws and all.”  At that point, Sandra had found her calling as a teacher and joined the faculty at Lesley Ellis.

Arriving here nine years ago, Sandra has built the Spanish curriculum based on the Massachusetts state requirements and has incorporated the methodology of Total Physical Response. She explains, “We need to recognize that just as a primary language is learned by first listening, seeing, and touching, a secondary language should be taught that way as well. The body should connect with the words. This is why it is wonderful that the LES students start to acquire Spanish in preschool when so much learning is kinetic. For all the grades, I play physical games and make a point to use Latin music. The students are up and moving and Spanish starts flowing.”

Additionally, Sandra teaches about other cultures, those abroad as well as in our local neighborhoods. “When you study a second language, you gain an understanding and respect for others,” she says. Examples of this idea emerge when Sandra takes the 5th and 6th graders to a Mexican restaurant where they speak only Spanish with the waiters. “Suddenly the kids are in the skin of a minority who can’t fluently speak the native tongue. This gives them a visceral understanding.”

As LES has added grades, Sandra has added tools to advance deeper comprehension.  She is proud of her students’ progress and adds, “Many of our graduates have gone on to other schools and been able to pass out of the Spanish requirements.”  For the Middle School curriculum, she has a very specific goal: the students should understand and interact in basic conversational Spanish.  She says, “They will make mistakes. That’s okay. I want to help them become fearless speakers because communication is the most important goal.   Communication is how you engage with the world - it helps you expand your opportunities and take chances.  It’s how I moved from Argentina to California. It’s how I came here to LES where there is a true commitment to empower the students to look beyond their backyard.” If you would like to continue the discussion with Sandra, she can be reached at storello@lesleyellis.org.