Charter School hosted 15 student visitors from Spain

Spanish students joined Charter School students on a trip to a Habitat for Humanity project where they helped out. — Photo by Paul Karasik

The world just got smaller for 15 high school student visitors from IES Francesc Ribalta Secondary School in Castellón de la Plana, Spain, and their Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School hosts.

The group, including two chaperones, arrived on the Vineyard on December 9, and left Thursday, December 19. The 10-day visit provided an opportunity for many of the students to visit the United States for the first time. It is a trip that neither they nor their hosts are likely to forget.

The week was filled with activities. They included a bus tour of the Island, an overnight trip to Boston where the students visited the MIT Museum, the ART theater, the Cultural Survival Fair, and went bowling, a trip to Providence, grand dinners where they were treated to fresh Edgartown oysters, and attending classes during “project period” at the Charter School.

Twice a year, regular classes are suspended in place of in-depth studies of specific subjects. So, instead of going to the usual calculus or English classes, the students got to choose from classes that included forensic science, community service, computer programming, cooking, mixed media, and winter hiking.

Spanish student Mireia Guillén enjoyed her community service class. “We went to help wrap presents for the Red Stocking Fund,” she said. “It was a lot of fun.”

Her classmate, Belén Barberá, agreed. “This school is so different,” she said. “Students are encouraged to develop their own creativity. In Spain, our teachers expect you to learn only what they teach. At the Charter School, teachers help students to learn what they want to learn. These teachers are very helpful and nice.”

Mireia chimed in, “It’s like a community here…more like a family.”

“These students are really engaged,” said principal Paloma Segura Mestre, one of two chaperones. “Our kids are not familiar with this kind of flexible program.”

“They are used to a more teacher-centric classroom…more lectures,” said her colleague, Mar Romeo Casanovas. “The community service group visited the elderly residents at Aidylberg to interview them for an oral history project. They took this responsibility seriously and the cooperation was impressive.”

As a K-12 school, the entire school body was able to interact with the Spanish students who visited all of the Spanish classes to speak one-on-one with Charter School kids. In the first-second grade class, youngsters interviewed Spanish students about their favorite foods and activities back home in Spain.

Each day of the 10-day visit was packed. On Tuesday, they began their day at school in their project period groups. Then they went to the regional high school where they visited to the Spanish classes. Later that day, they cheered the Charter School basketball team in their game against the Edgartown School. The day ended with a group meal at the home of host family Beth O’Connor and John Chatinover. Their son Keith enjoyed having two Spaniards in the house.

“It’s fun,” said Keith, who is looking forward to visiting them next year in Spain. “It helps my Spanish a lot. Every minute I’m learning a new word.”

Paul Karasik is development director at the Charter School.