Bring Back Heritage Spanish Classes at AITE

There is a lot of diversity at AITE. In a regular Spanish class, there is a mix of Latino and non-Latino students. Many of these Latino students are considered heritage speakers, meaning they been exposed to Spanish at home, but aren’t fully fluent in reading and writing Spanish. Having heritage Spanish speakers in a non-heritage class will affect their learning.

According to, 22% of students at AITE are Latino. If they choose to take a Spanish class, it could be filled with other students whose Spanish speaking skills are different from theirs, since they are non-heritage speakers. Being in a class with others who do not have that same advantage can affect the heritage students’ learning experience. This is because they are most likely learning about things they already know, and consequently, their knowledge remains stagnant. This could cause them to lose interest in the class and weaken their Spanish level since they are just relearning. It could even cause poor test scores on the Spanish AP exam. 34% of the Latino students at AITE choose to take an AP Spanish course, and previously being in classes with non-heritage speakers, they might not have enough to bring to the table.

During my freshman year at AITE I took Spanish 3, and the majority of the class was non-Latino. Coming from Rippowam Middle School, where there were heritage classes, I was basically relearning almost everything I was taught in middle school. However, in the heritage classes in middle school I truly excelled. All of us were able to speak Spanish fluently and understand it, and we learned a lot more compared to when we were in non-heritage classes.

In the sixth grade, I was placed in a regular Spanish 1 class. It was way too easy for me and because of that, I was getting bored with the material. At the end of the year, I took a test to determine what Spanish course I would be taking the following year. The exam was a bit more challenging for me but it was certainly at my level. The next year I was placed in a heritage Spanish class and introduced to an amazing variety of Latino cultures. I was given work that challenged me and my abilities. At the end of the year, it was almost like I had become a different person. I went from being able to speak Spanish and not being able to write it to becoming a fluent Spanish speaker and writer. My pronunciation and writing skills improved drastically because of the great learning environment that I was in. We were able to bond more with one another, we told each other stories, and learned a lot more about each other’s cultures than we would have in a regular Spanish class. 

I interviewed Raquel Bonessi, a Spanish teacher here at AITE who used to teach heritage classes before they were shut down. She agrees that the native Spanish speakers do in fact improve their Spanish skills in the heritage class.

She compared the heritage students that were in regular Spanish classes to American kids being put in English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. She was devastated that there would no longer be a class where she could empower her heritage students.  She told me, “I like the fact that I could boost their self-confidence because a lot of kids came to this country with two languages and somewhere in elementary or middle school parents were told ‘only speak to your child in English’ and that really bothers me because sometimes the parents do not know the language so what’s the depth of the conversation you’re going to have with your child in a language they don’t understand?” However, she also believes that having heritage students in a regular Spanish class will benefit the American students because they can learn from them. In my freshman year in Spanish 3, I was often paired with first-time Spanish learners to help them with their Spanish and this was a strategy that our teacher used to help them improve. 

There used to be Heritage 1 and 2 classes at AITE for the Spanish-speaking students, however, it is no longer offered due to a lack of funding. A heritage Spanish speaker could take those two classes and then jump right into AP Spanish.

Finding out that I would have to be in a non-heritage class in high school, I was pretty disappointed that I would no longer have the same experience as I had in middle school. When I found out my Spanish teacher, Bonessi, was Cuban, I looked forward to connecting with her through our shared culture. However, in my experience, the class was very slow, and I found that I could speed through a lesson most of my peers had trouble understanding.

I was expecting more hands-on activities that would’ve required me to think more and enhance my love for the Spanish language. However, because of the difference in my Spanish level compared to the other students, we never had any really challenging activities. Some of the activities the students in the heritage classes would do include interviewing important Hispanic figures in the community, creating their own United Nations and reporting on the countries that they’ve selected, and other activities that would connect them with their culture. 

Although it was a not-so-great experience for me, I cannot speak for the other non-heritage students. They might have been grateful to be in a class surrounded by students who could help them rather than having to ask the teacher for everything. Their test scores would also be generally higher compared to heritage Spanish speakers. This would give them more opportunities in the future. For example, they might have a higher chance of going abroad with CIEE, an international study abroad program offered at AITE, in which students must apply for and will be tested on their language skills. If they choose to take the exam, they might also receive the Seal of Biliteracy, an award for students who show advanced language writing and speaking skills.

Despite this, I don’t believe it is right for a Spanish-speaking student’s talents to be wasted in a regular Spanish class. Heritage classes would bring the Latino students together and the class would align with their Spanish level. It is important for them to connect with their culture at school, so they feel a part of the school community. Bringing back heritage classes would also potentially help non-Spanish speakers learn more comfortably because they would not be compared to the other students who have the advantage of being native Spanish speakers. And conversely, it will help the heritage speakers with their language learning by providing them with more challenging courses.