California's State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson visited the Lake Tahoe Community College on Monday to experience LTCC's Intensive Spanish Summer Institute firsthand.
It was an opportunity for Torlakson to practice some of his own Spanish as well as see a program that, according to Nancy Zarenda, an adjunct instructor and advocate for ISSI, has become a model for the rest of the state.
Since 1993, ISSI has brought people from all over the country and of all different Spanish-speaking abilities to the Lake Tahoe Basin. With 94 topics offered over the five-day session, there's something for everyone according to ISSI Director Sue O'Connor. The topics, or cultural breakout sessions, include classes on music, dance, food, religion, literature and much more.
Torlakson, who spent Monday immersed in ISSI classes with his wife, Mae Cendana, called the program the "gold standard" for California. And according to Mae Torlakson, it's not the traditional grammar classes that set ISSI apart.
"Learning it through cooking, through walking in the woods, learning it through eating with friends, everything, it's not boring. Your right brain is being more creative about what you're learning," Mae Torlakson said.
O'Connor said that getting students out of the classroom is one of the institute's main goals.
"We wanted something that was really fun, and comfortable and that you're learning Spanish not just through grammar, but from all of these other things in the cultural breakout sessions," O'Connor said.
For the state superintendent of schools, learning about Latino culture in addition to learning Spanish plays an important role in a fully-rounded education.
"It's more than just learning the language, it's learning the culture, the values, the traditions, so there's more respect between the people of California," Torlakson said.
According to the U.S. Census, Latinos represented about 38 percent of California's population in 2010. Latino students comprise about a quarter of the state's student body and those numbers continue to grow, Torlakson said.