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West Jordan Journal

‘Gettysburg Address’ addresses both history and Spanish language skills

May 10, 2021 11:34AM ● By Jet Burnham

These Spanish dual language immersion students memorized the “Gettysburg Address” in both Spanish and English. (Ronna Hoffman/Riverside Elementary)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Jess Martinez believes his students can do something that no other students can do: they can recite the Gettysburg Address in both English and Spanish from memory. Martinez teaches fifth grade in the Spanish dual language immersion program at Riverside Elementary and used the experience to teach history, language arts, Spanish and memorization skills.

“Mr. Lincoln really expressed some of the most beautiful language, and it is just as beautiful in Spanish,” he said. “It’s not all of it common, everyday language, but it's very rich, it's very diverse language, it's very beautifully expressed, and the concept is even higher, and that's what I want to really get through to them.”

Fifth grader Jacey Richards knew it would be difficult to memorize the 270-word speech in both languages, but she was excited to accept the challenge.

“When I first looked at it, I was like, ‘this vocabulary is tough, especially in Spanish,’” she said. “But then Mr. Martinez went through each and every phrase and section and gave the exact meaning of the exact word, and the definition, so we knew pretty much every single word there.”

It turned out to be a highlight of the school year.

“We have learned so much from just those two pages as a class, not only what Mr. Lincoln was talking about, but we, as a class, have learned teamwork, learning to do it in unison and synchronize what you're saying, and show that you mean it, and we've actually really grown together,” Jacey said.

She said Martinez was a great support, and when the students became discouraged with their progress, “he’ll come out in full-blown inspirational speech and tell us that we can do this.”

Martinez believes students rise to the expectations they are given.

“I don't shy away from the hard stuff,” he said. “The beauty of it is that they often don't know that it's hard. They just think this is what we do in fifth grade.”

Martinez noticed that even reluctant students who are often disengaged in class were excited when they were able to pass off lines.

“These kids—two in particular—they've discovered something about themselves they didn't think they could do: they can memorize, and they can memorize stuff that's important,” Martinez said.

Principal Ronna Hoffman was so proud of the students’ accomplishment that she filmed their final recitation. Students also proudly performed the address for their parents at teacher conferences.

All of Jacey’s school-aged siblings are in the Chinese DLI program, and both her parents know Spanish. Her mother, Angela Richards, said the program challenges her kids and provides them with the ability to communicate with Spanish speakers in the community. She has been impressed with Jacey’s progress in Martinez’s class.

“This year, she's learning more of her social studies through Spanish, so she's been able to learn a lot of vocabulary and to be more confident in the structure of sentences and in vocabulary in Spanish,” she said.

DLI instruction is integrated into the core curriculum, with some subjects taught in English and some in Spanish. Martinez clarifies that he doesn’t teach Spanish; he teaches in Spanish for social studies and math curriculum. He uses stories, poems and historical documents, written in Spanish, to discuss historical contexts and to introduce Spanish vocabulary.

Jacey said Martinez uses creative and engaging activities in his classroom. One of her favorite activities was when he taught them some Spanish songs.

“The entire class got connected, and we were all having an absolutely fabulous time while singing rapid Spanish,” she said. “I couldn't believe how fast the entire class was going because if they were supposed to do that for an essay or a report, they would be a lot slower and stuttering, but how they were singing it over and over again super-fast—it was crazy.”

Martinez, who has been an educator for 34 years, said this is the first time he’s ever attempted to ask students to memorize a historic speech in two languages. He has been pleased with the results.

“I only have the one regret,” Martinez said. “I have about two years left in my career, and I think I finally got it right, and then I end up retiring, just when I'm getting good.”