Spanish teacher

Sandy Deandrade, Spanish teacher at Sublimity Elementary, wades through a sea of raised hands. Deandrade is teaching the language to all 430 students at the school.

“Buenos dias!” Mrs. Sandy Deandrade said Tuesday.

“Buenos dias,” chimed 26 Sublimity Elementary fourth graders in unison.

“Today we’re going to play bilingual bingo,” the smiling teacher explained amid whoops from the crowd.

And so began Spanish class, the only one of its kind in the district.

The program began two years ago, thanks to an annual $48,800 arts and humanities foreign language integration grant awarded to the school by the Kentucky Department of Education.

Initially Principal Betty Mae Hodges planned to use the money to teach her students Japanese.

“We had about 12 Japanese students at the time,” she said. “I really wanted to teach all the students the language but I couldn’t find an instructor.”

Hodges soon decided Spanish might be a better fit. She put the word out and a resource teacher at Johnson Elementary pointed her in the direction of Deandrade, who had worked as an instructional assistant in the past.

Deandrade was excited by the prospect and, thinking about how her own kids would enjoy the opportunity, agreed to help.

But it wasn’t without its obstacles.

“Oh, I was so green last year,” she said. “I called a lot of teachers who are doing the same thing to get advice.”

She also enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University to begin the process of earning her elementary education degree.

Deandrade came to the United States from Brazil 24 years ago.

She grew up in Rio and at age 20 decided to break from her tightly knit family to start a new life in the United States.

She moved to Miami and later went on to Chicago, where she met her first husband and started a family.

And then came time to move again.

“He thought Kentucky was the greatest place in the world,” she said. “He thought it would be a good place to raise children.”

So, in 1992 the Deandrade family landed in London.

It was a difficult transition for Sandy, who had always lived in sprawling, heavily populated cities.

“When I came here I cried every single day. I was afraid a bear would come into the house and eat us,” she laughed. “I felt like I was just in the middle of the woods.”

Eventually Deandrade overcame her unhappiness (and her fear of hungry bears) and established herself in Laurel County.

When her first husband died, she made the decision to stay in her adopted community, eventually remarrying and having another baby.

It was while she was working as the Spanish telephone operator at Senture that her friend told her about the new program at Sublimity.

Following Deandrade around for a morning, it’s clear she does a lot of walking.

She visits all of the school’s 430 students twice a week to give lessons, meaning by the time today’s kindergarten student reaches fifth grade they will already have had six years of Spanish lessons.

The class itself is clearly anticipated by the students, some already speaking in “Spanglish.”

“Why don’t you go to the dormitorio,” one student said to another Monday.

“It’s a pretty good class,” fourth grader Shawn Meade said frankly. “You get to learn about another language.”

Fellow classmate Austin Jackson agreed.

“It’s fun learning how other people talk in other countries,” he said.

Teacher Karen Jewell is impressed by the students’ progress.

“They will remember stuff that will blow your mind,” she said. “She keeps it different all the time so they stay interested.”

Deandrade’s success may well stem from her deep belief in the program — and the fact that she’s a student herself.

“Maybe they’ll never use it but it’s good to expand your mind,” she said. “It’s like in college with algebra. My teacher says I’ll probably never need it but it’s good for the mind.”

Staff writer Tara Kaprowy can be reached by e-mail at tkaprowy@sentinel-echo. com.

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