The Rampage

Interview with Dr. Roldan

Josephine Schizer and Harry Shams

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Interview with Dr. Roldan, New Head of the Foreign Language Department

This year, Dr. Roldan took over as the new chair of the Foreign Language Department. Her appointment marks the beginning of a new era for a department that has, more or less, remained stagnant for years. Along with Dr. Roldan’s promotion comes an opportunity for the department to change its long-standing practices and its approach to teaching students a new language. We had the chance to speak with Dr. Roldan about some of the changes she plans to introduce to the department.


Schizer: This is your first year as the head of the Foreign Language Department. Are there any changes you want to implement?

Dr. Roldan: We are trying to expose our students to the Hispanic and Latino culture in New York City. We’re open to taking them to museums or plays this month or next month. I’m trying to take them to Museo Del Barrio or the Museum of the City of New York. For French classes, Mr. Perea is open to taking the students to interesting exhibitions related to French art and Francophone culture, maybe from Haiti or Africa. Not only that, but exams are going to have a small cultural section. What I really want is for students to have a broader sense of the Spanish language and culture. Let’s say, for instance, that we learn about Mexico or about Salvador: I want students to at least know about the indigenous populations, the main religions, the main natural resources, the capitals, and the main sites, such as museums and beaches. The cultural exchange is very important, and if students really start doing this from the 9th grade, it’s a straight path to the AP, because the AP is really about making cultural connections.


Shams: Historically, students at Ramaz have felt that while they may learn the fundamentals of Spanish or French, they don’t actually gain fluency. As the new department chair, how do you plan to ensure that every student has the chance to gain a lifelong understanding of the language they are studying?

Dr. Roldan: We are working to make sure that the curriculum of each class is made in accordance with the specific needs of the students. To that end, the first thing that we did was replace the usual eight-unit curriculum with a six-unit curriculum. This was done because we want students to really understand the fundamentals of the language before moving on to more difficult material.


Shams: What are some new testing methods that you plan to introduce to the Foreign Language Department?

R: One of the main focuses of the department is to provide the students with the necessary tools to develop oral communication skills. One of the ways we plan on doing this is by making sure that each foreign language exam has an interview section. That way, students can begin to speak the language proficiently, instead of simply being able to write the language proficiently


Schizer: This semester there is no language final. Do you have any thoughts about that?

R: It’s not a problem because we’re always doing assessments in the classroom, and we are going to have two exams and a final project. Assessments take place every day when we’re teaching. When we’re practicing the language, if students answer a few questions orally before they write them, that’s an assessment because it’s proving that they know it. It’s a different kind of assessment.

Shams: In the past, the Foreign Language Department has emphasized vocabulary. Do you feel like you’re taking an opposing position by emphasizing oral skills?

R: Vocabulary is important, but the most important part of learning any language is building an understanding of the language that allows you to retell your own experiences. It’s important that students don’t just learn random words, but rather words that are relevant to their own experiences. It’s also important that students be able to describe those experiences in conversations.


Shams: Do you think that the current tracking system of foreign language classes is in need of improvement?

R: I am open to reconsidering the current placement levels. For instance, one initiative I’d like to explore is the creation of a separate class of native speakers, or speakers with at least one fluent parent.


Schizer: Ramaz students already speak Hebrew. Does this present added challenges to the Foreign Language Department? Does it make it easier?

R: I think it’s easier because students already have a bilingual mind (or many times they’re trilingual: there are children that speak Hebrew, English, and Portuguese or Arabic as well). Students already have an open mind for many languages, and that complexity is great. It’s fantastic, because they can always compare. For instance, when I’m teaching the articles, I can explain that this agrees with number and gender just like in Hebrew.

Not only that, but I believe that students are aware of the importance of Spanish in New York and in the United States. Certainly, if they go and apply for school or want to pursue a complex career such as being a doctor or judge, they are going to be in great advantage if they speak Spanish.


Schizer: Many schools offer other languages like Latin or Mandarin in addition to French and Spanish. Has Ramaz ever considered this? Do you have an opinion about it?

R: I can always bring this suggestion to Rabbi Stochel. I don’t have a problem with it, because we do have a faculty member, Mr. Cabot, who can teach Latin. So yes, it’s an opening; you never know whether a child would be interested in pursuing Latin.


Schizer: I remember that in previous years the Foreign Language Department directed the publication of a Spanish magazine. Will that continue under your watch?

R: This year we’re going to have an open call for papers for the Spanish magazine, El Ramillete. I really believe in letting each child have the opportunity to write. I believe that the magazine will have an opening for creative writing as well, because we may have a hidden poet that we don’t know about!


Schizer: There are several new teachers in the department this year. Did you hire them?

R: It was teamwork! I’m very glad that I have such a supportive team, not only in my department but also in the administration. We’re thrilled about all of the changes. I think teachers feel quite comfortable with what they’re doing, and I’m having weekly departmental meetings. I’m open to their inquiries and suggestions, and we’re doing everything as a group. Without their initiative, it would have been impossible for me. And so far, no students have complained. Everyone’s happy!


Schizer: I know that in the past the high school and the middle school shared language teachers. Is that still the case?

R: No, I was the very last person that did that. It was exhausting and it was very hard, not only for the teacher, but for the students. The teacher really needs to stay in one place and have their students know that they can come if they have questions. Last year I never had a minute for questions, and I never got to know my students or help them, because I always had to run back to the other building. So no, the middle school has their own Spanish teacher now, and they are not offering French this year.


Shams: Were you at all nervous to take on the position of department chair?

R: Not at all; I think that I am 100 percent ready for this position and that my ten years of experience speak for themselves.


Schizer: Is there anything you want students to know about the department?

R: I want students to know that if they do very well they can always move up to the next level. What I really want to have is a strong track towards the AP, because every student should have the opportunity to pursue the AP. It’s great training for college. I’d really like to integrate the French students as well. I’m trying to welcome them all to my department and my office so they know that they can come to me with all of their questions.


Schizer: What do you like about Ramaz?

R: Oh, I love it! I wouldn’t change it for anything. I think it’s the best experience of my life. Students at Ramaz are very energetic and bright. And you know what is the most beautiful thing about it? They challenge themselves, and it’s proven by students who choose to move up in their tracks. It’s challenging every day, but I look forward to it!




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