Glendale Unified Spanish learners tune in to music

At some schools, students recognize Mother’s Day with paper maché and handmade cards. At Franklin Elementary, Glendale Unified’s foreign languages magnet, they serenade their mothers with tunes from Spanish-language headliners Ozomatli and Maná.

“They are learning folk songs from all over Spain and Latin America,” said music teacher Sara Quintanar following a performance at the school’s third annual Mother’s Day breakfast on Monday. “This year is the first year they have learned pop songs.”

Quintanar started to give music lessons to her daughter’s Spanish-language kindergarten class at Franklin Elementary School three years ago on a volunteer basis. Since then, the school’s parent-run foundation raised the money to hire her to teach music lessons for all the Spanish classes, as well as the school’s special education students.

“Next year, what we are hoping to do is have a music program for the whole school,” Quintanar said.

The emerging music program is emblematic of a school culture built around parental enthusiasm for Glendale Unified’s burgeoning dual-language programs. Home to German-, Italian- and Spanish-language classrooms — French will launch in the fall — Franklin is attracting highly educated parents who want to raise their children speaking multiple languages.

A decade ago, declining enrollment had district officials considering closing the school. Today, it faces the opposite problem: High interest and soaring enrollment numbers have left the school short of classroom space.

The music program serves to reinforce much of the language instruction the students learn in the classroom, second-grade Spanish teacher Dianeh O’Farrill said.

“A lot of words are multisyllabic and the music allows them to break it up to the beat,” O’Farrill said. “It also helps them with their behavior. It calms them down. It makes them listen.”

Quintanar conducts her music lessons entirely in Spanish. Students learn many of the same nursery rhymes and schoolyard tunes as their counterparts in Latin America, she added.

“It is amazing how at the end of kindergarten they understand everything I say,” Quintanar said.

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