Ecker Hill Middle School dual-language students take first at fair | ParkRecord.com

Ecker Hill Middle School dual-language students take first at fair

Students in the Spanish and French dual-language immersion program at Ecker Hill Middle School show off their awards. They competed at the BYU Language Fair against students around the state last month.

The seventh-grade students shuffled nervously off the buses and onto the campus of Brigham Young University. They had spent weeks preparing for the competition, but, surrounded by high school students from around the state, they were second-guessing their abilities. Once the middle schoolers started speaking Spanish fluently, they gained courage.

Their confidence continued to grow as they won the top mark in every competition. At the end of the day, the students, from Ecker Hill Middle School, were named the overall winners of the Spanish BYU Language Fair.

Junior high and high school students from 25 schools around the state came to compete at the event last month. A total of 23 students from the dual-language immersion program at Ecker Hill Middle School took first place in the individual categories, which included prepared speech, skit, trivia and impromptu conversation.

The students each participated in one to three events, and almost all walked away with some recognition.

Several of the students said that they did not realize how fluent they were in Spanish until they arrived and started to overhear other students talking.

"It gave me a gauge of how good our program is here," said Kate Rooney, one of the students who won an event.

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The majority of the students have been speaking Spanish during the school day since first grade. Most have been in classes together during that time, and for the past two years, they have had Patricia Muñoz as their teacher. This is the first year Muñoz brought students to the event.

"I felt really lucky to have such a good program," said seventh-grader Dave Georger. "Since fifth grade, we've all improved so much, especially with Ms. Muñoz. She has pushed us and pushed us so hard. I feel like I have learned so much in the last two years."

Student winner Max Yatkeman said that they would not be where they are without her as a teacher.

The students said they were happy to receive their individual awards and thrilled to be named as the overall winners in front of a full ballroom, especially since they were some of the youngest students at the competition.

"It was honestly pretty insane," Georger said. "To think that we took first place in front of all those people, it really sets a good reputation for us."

Muñoz said that she was proud of her students' achievements. They were competing against students who were much older. She was not expecting them to take home numerous first places.

"I think it was really good for the kids to know where they are and feel confident about what they are doing," she said. "I think it's powerful for them."

Between the competitions, the students were able to walk around "Españolandia," where they purchased souvenirs, completed activities in Spanish and stood through a long customs line. All participants had to speak Spanish. If not, they were put in "jail" and had to complete a task to get out, such as sing "Feliz Cumpleaños," or "Happy Birthday," in Spanish.

Students from Ecker Hill's French classes also attended the French version of the event. They walked away with several awards too, including first place in the culture bowl, or trivia, event.