Experiencing Madrid

On Feb. 6, 22 Prodell Middle School eighth-grade student ambassadors departed for a 16-day exchange program in Madrid. The total immersion experience, which is unique to the Shoreham-Wading River School District, offers students hands-on, experiential opportunities and promotes world languages through cultural and global awareness. “I believe in learning through experience,” said Prodell Middle School Spanish teacher Barbara Gaias. “We are the only eighth-grade public school in the nation to have a program like this.”

In 1981, Gaias established pen pal relationships with Prodell’s sister school Instituto Santa Marca in Madrid. Within two years, the program had evolved into a cultural exchange visit that has been successfully running for the last 32 years. “This program is a part of our school’s legacy,” said Gaias, who has seen generations of families participate in the program since its inception. “To know that children have a life event like this in common with their own parents and relatives is nothing short of amazing. Furthermore, I am always impressed by the level of fluency of our students when they return. Their listening comprehension skills are excellent and their willingness to practice the target language is inspiring.”

“Living in Madrid really opened my eyes to what life outside of Long Island is really like,” said student Allison. “This was so much more than a trip,” added student Kerry. Prior to departure, students are matched with a host family with whom they spend their stay. “My family was extremely welcoming and generous,” said student Alissa. “They treated me as if I was their own child. You develop a sense of mutual trust and respect that can only be fostered by living under the same roof.”

During their stay, students were able to experience day-to-day living in Madrid first hand as well as visit museums, attend concerts and see famous landmarks. “Life in the city was very different from life here,” said student Emily who, along with her peers, noted a difference in meal times, smaller homes, less traffic with smaller cars and the city’s cleanliness. “Everyone uses the Metro as their main mode of transportation,” said student Kalei. “I thought it was interesting that children younger than us were so independent, mature and responsible – they knew how to read maps and survive on their own.”

The student ambassadors also learned how to overcome uncertainties and make connections with others – important life skills that will serve them for years to come. “Going into the trip, I thought that my student host and I would have difficulty communicating and relating to one another,” said student Todd. “It turns out that we are both very interested in sports so we used that as our common ground. We became such good friends that I am going back to Madrid over the summer to visit him!”

Also on the trip were four Shoreham Wading-River parent chaperones, who oversaw the students during their time in Madrid. “This is a very popular program that we are all very passionate about,” said parent Donna Lovasco. “Kids that went on this trip years ago still talk about how it was the best thing they’ve ever done, which is why we are going to keep this program around as long as we can.”

Students and chaperones organize several fundraisers throughout the year to help fund the trip. “It’s a lot of work but we always pull together and make it happen,” said parent Monika Mannix. “It is so special to watch our children bloom,” added parent Johanna Villamil. “They left for this trip as individuals and came back as a group of students with a shared experience that they’ll never forget.”