"Hola!," Adriana Groot greets in Spanish.
"Hola!," about 20 students answer."Buenos dias!," or good morning, Groot said."Buenos dias!," the class called out in near unison.Then the banter turned conversational as Groot asked each student how they were doing."Como estas?" Groot asked Shaun Treend."Feliz," or happy, Shaun answered."Como estas?" Groot asked, directing her question to Katelyn Winebarger."Cansada," or tired, Katelyn answered.Welcome to Spanish class kindergarten style at Riverview Elementary School. The class is offered to all grade levels as a proactive way to help them embrace a second language."I get to learn about Spanish and play a lot of games," 5-year-old Emma Grace Hilton said.Grasping the lingo early is a hit with kindergartners, Groot said."Starting this young is easier than starting at 15," Groot said. "Children soak up everything."Assistant Principal Angie Padillo agreed."Our kids love Spanish," Padillo said. "They are actively engaged in the lessons."And research proves an early intro do the lingo is vital, she said."Research shows that children learn foreign language when they began at an earlier age," said Padillo, the mother of three first graders, who also know some Spanish words."It's easier to understand the basic concepts of the language," she added. "It's more natural for them, and they're naturally motivated to learn the language."Introducing foreign languages is not a new concept in Fort Mill schools as it is offered districtwide in all elementary schools, school board Chairwoman Jan Smiley said. About 10 miles away, students in Rock Hill elementary schools also learn a second language. In 14 elementary schools, students learn Spanish while two elementary schools offer French and another offers German, Rock Hill School District spokeswoman Elaine Baker said."We live in a global society, and learning a foreign language exposes students to new cultures," Baker said.In most cases, Rock Hill students grades three to five are taught a foreign language; however, at Richmond Drive, learning starts in kindergarten, she said."The earlier you take foreign language, the more affluent you'll be with it as you go into higher grades," Baker said.Back in Fort Mill, the class reviewed shapes that Groot pointed to."Rectangulo," a student answered."Excelente," Groot praised.Next, she pointed to a circulo before asking the students to identify another shape's color. All of the children excitedly raised their arms to answer."Rojo," a student called out about a red shape.Again, a teacher praised with "excelente."Then Groot challenged the class as she held up a picture of a certain colored shape as they sat atop a vividly colored carpet."Here's your test," she told them. "I'm going to call out a shape and color. You hold it up if you think you've got it."Then the game began."Circulo verde," she said as the students held up their cards."If you're holding up a green card, excelente," she said."Rectangulo amarillo," she requested.The entire class held up cards showing yellow triangles.Mission accomplished, the students returned their cards to individual plastic bags.Moments later, the class migrated from the carpet to their desks for a game of Bingo, but not the American kind with I-12 or B-6. Instead, Groot used the game as an opportunity to reinforce the previous lesson that was dedicated to shapes and colors. To win, students had to match a color and shape Groot called out to their Bingo cards."Triangle verde," Groot said, prompting her class to search for a green triangle."Square rectangulo," she called out.Half a dozen calls later, a student called out the much celebrated Bingo. As the game progressed, so did several others. Then it was time to leave the Spanish nest.Just as class ended, Ethan Crumly, 5, surveyed what he'd learned."I get to learn new color words," he said. "I learned how to count."And a proud Groot looked on."Just to see a child get Spanish is a reward in itself -- to see that children are opening their eyes to something new and different, and they're not scared. They're fearless. That blank slate or a student's mind is being filled with diversity and culture. Spanish is a contribution toward making a student well-rounded and accepting to different people and cultures."