On Tuesday, Jan. 29, nine local eighth graders from St. Helena Montessori left for the school’s inaugural 15-day Cultural Exchange trip to Spain.

The students are Madeline Sullivan, Ellie Beckstoffer, Lael Gott, Veronica Kelly, Oliver Spencer, Emrys Davies, Alice Wrede, Josie Katz, and Ava Bracher. All are in St. Helena Montessori’s Adolescent Program. They flew to Madrid and are staying with families in the town of Jaen, in the Andalucia region of southern Spain.

They are attending school with their host families and will embark on excursions throughout the region to locations like Cordoba and Granada to experience the rich cultural history of Spain.

The exchange was organized through the school and Senora Beatriz Bell, a Spanish instructor at St. Helena Montessori and the coordinator for Globally Students, an international cultural exchange program designed to foster language skills and provide experiences to broaden students’ view of the world. Adolescent Program Director Alexander Heil added, “It promises to be a wonderful opportunity to immerse themselves in Spanish life, learn more about the people and culture, and acquire more of the language. We hope that they are able to begin friendships that will continue through the years.”

In the weeks leading up to their departure, the students wrote letters to their host families, had video conferences with their new “hermanos y hermanas,” and put together a slideshow about St. Helena Montessori, the Napa Valley, the Bay Area, and California in general.

After their return, the students will present on their personal experiences and what they learned of Spanish culture and life through a presentation to the other students and staff. Speaking Spanish is a skill that SHMS students are offered from the earliest ages on campus. The school offers bilingual classrooms for children as young as 18 months all the way through their eighth grade year when students typically graduate from the farm-based Adolescent program, and this trip offers a “capstone experience” for their many years of Spanish language studies.

In the fall, St. Helena Montessori will welcome Spanish students to continue and encourage the cultural exchange.

For more information regarding St. Helena Montessori or Globally Students, contact Ted Stonbely at 707-963-1527 or ted@sthms.org.

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