By RICK GREEN, The Laconia Daily Sun
LACONIA — A typical lunch for 10-year-old Jack Benson is a ham-and-cheese sandwich with mustard, but things were a little different for him and his Holy Trinity Catholic School classmates on Thursday.
They got a chance to try out their new Spanish skills while ordering lunch at El Jimador Mexican Restaurant.
Jack ordered a quesadilla, a tortilla filled with cheese and grilled.
The fourth- and fifth-graders also seemed quite fond of papas fritas, also known as french fries.
When someone needed to go to the bathroom after several refills of limonada, the proper question had to be asked, “¿Donde esta el bano?”
Antonio Leon, the server at the restaurant in Belmont, used Spanish to introduce himself to the students and to find out what they wanted to eat and drink.
On the way to the kitchen to fill up a bowl of tortilla chips, he said he likes what the children are doing.
“Normally, not too many customers speak Spanish here, but we appreciate when people even say a word or two,” he said. “They are trying to learn, and that makes us feel good.”
Holy Trinity Spanish instructor Clarena McKinney, who is originally from Colombia, utilized the time while waiting for lunch to ask the students the Spanish names for articles of silverware, salt, water and other things on the table.
Mary Jane Cooney, the principal of the school, said the visit to the restaurant was McKinney's idea.
“This is something new that she wanted to try and I think it is a wonderful way for the students to practice their Spanish, and also have the opportunity to go on a field trip to a restaurant,” she said.
McKinney said that, when children apply knowledge they have learned, it serves to reinforce their skills.
“We've been working on vocabulary words for different foods, how to greet when we arrive, what to say when we leave, how to order and ask for something that we need,” she said.
She also talks to the children about her culture and what things are like in Colombia and South America.
“Their brains are sharp. They are like little sponges, absorbing everything,” she said. “They have great capability and are so smart.”
McKinney learned to speak English while in high school. She also knows a bit of Italian.
She studied business administration in her native country, lived for a time in Barbados and studied English at Hunter College in New York.
McKinney is from Armenia, Colombia. The city is in the western central region of the country and is a major coffee-growing area.
She left because she wanted to learn about other cultures, and returns about once a year to visit friends and family.
McKinney has memories from childhood of beautiful, sunny fields of coffee and huge trays of coffee beans.
She has an 11-year-old daughter who goes to Holy Trinity School, and has learned Spanish from her mother.
“I've met about 10 Colombians in the area,” she said. “Sometimes we get together for a meal. They say, 'I love your daughter's vocabulary.' She speaks like an adult, because she learned from me.”