By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Hudson – Thirty Hudson students spent the first three weeks of their summer this year learning Portuguese in an intensive foreign language immersion camp. The camp, which cost roughly $60,000 to run, was funded entirely by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Students in third through eighth grade spent their time learning the basics of Portuguese and applying their lessons to the real world. They visited a Portuguese market and a restaurant where they ordered or bought food while speaking Portuguese. At the end of the camp, they presented projects on either Brazil or Portugal to their parents at a ceremony.
“It’s really amazing to see third- and fourth-graders that didn’t speak any Portuguese suddenly come up to me and speak all these Portuguese words and sentences,” said Ana Pimentel, Hudson Public Schools’ (HPS) foreign language director and camp organizer. “Their excitement about it is amazing.”
The NSA, which primarily serves as the federal government’s global surveillance agency has, since 2006, been funding similar camps across the country through its STARTALK initiative. The initiative seeks to promote fluency in languages where the demand for fluent speakers does not match the supply. These 11 languages include everything from Arabic, to Urdu, to Portuguese.
The program funds educational programs for students and teachers during the summer while also supplying school systems with funding to buy materials for their classrooms to use during the regular school year.
This summer’s foreign language program comes as Hudson’s new superintendent Marco Rodrigues enters the district hoping to improve foreign language and English Language Learning education for students.
Attending the end-of-camp ceremony, Rodrigues saw the camp as a jumping-off point for the work he and his curriculum directors hope to do in the future.
“I think it gives a huge opportunity for us to start looking at what the values and needs are for Hudson as a community,” said Rodrigues, who is, himself, trilingual. “For me as a leader of the schools now, I want to create opportunities, not only for kids in kindergarten, but for high school students to perfect what they have learned.”
For more information on the STARTALK initiative, visit startalk.umd.edu.