COLUMBIA, SC — Every week this summer, kids from around Columbia have been traveling to vibrant Spanish-speaking locales, learning about the culture of places like Puerto Rico and Spain and getting their passports stamped along the way.
And theyve done it without setting foot on a plane.
Its all part of a summer camp experience, offered by local organization The Language Buzz, that uses an engaging, interactive curriculum to immerse kids in different cultures from right here in Columbia. The goal: to help kids learn a second language as naturally as they learned their first, and to get them to have fun doing it.
Victoria Dozier and her husband, John Dozier, started The Language Buzz about a year ago after they moved here from Chicago and found that, outside of the public schools, Columbia didnt have the kind of language-learning programs that had helped their three kids become fluent Spanish speakers while they were living in the Windy City.
They decided to renovate a shotgun-style house on Henderson Street that had been in Johns family for generations and turn it into a language learning center that offers a range of activities, from after-school programs to tutoring to summer camps. The center has worked with more than 100 students in the past year and offers instruction in Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese and, beginning this fall, German.
During the summer, parents drop off their kids at camp around 9 a.m. and pick them up at noon. The kids focus on a different Spanish-speaking country each week and even get a passport to commemorate their travels. They wear traditional clothing, try new foods and learn new dances, all while speaking the language and acquiring new vocabulary.
Local teachers design the centers curriculum and lead the classes and camps. Cederia Campbell, a Spanish teacher at Oak Pointe Elementary School and a USC doctoral candidate studying how children acquire languages, has been working at The Language Buzz since last summer. Campbell said the centers approach helps kids learn without realizing it.
Its natural. Its just filtered through all the activities, she said.
Friday, the campers gave a special performance to show their parents what theyd learned about Spain during the past week.
The girls wore traditional polka-dotted skirts and held castanets, a percussive instrument, above their heads and clicked them to the music. The guys also wore traditional garb, white-collared shirts with a black vest and sombrero, and clapped and danced while singing in Spanish.
Afterwards, the parents and kids enjoyed a kind of Spanish quiche and sangria para chicos, or sangria for kids, while their instructor, longtime public school teacher Mary Destefani, shared about some of the other activities they had done.
Tracey Weldon-Steward, whose two boys attended the camp, said she was impressed.
Its amazing how much they learn in a week, she said.
Victoria Dozier said The Language Buzz is the only center of its kind in South Carolina, but that could change soon. Parents in Greenville and Charleston have gotten word of the center, she said, and are urging her and her husband to open up in those cities as well.
Dozier noted that many of the parents who send their kids to the center are bilingual and want to make sure their kids are, too. She said many parents also are academics who understand the value of a multicultural education.
Its a learning approach that Dozier said she wants to make accessible to more people as the center expands its reach. The Language Buzz is hoping to market more to local schools and to do fundraising that will enable the center to offer scholarships to kids from lower-income families.
Our goal is to get those people who cant go to Spain to get a taste of Spain, she said.