When I started teaching Spanish in elementary schools in 1993, it was very difficult to find quality materials to teach children. Additionally, my classes were offered after school, which challenged me to motivate students who were often tired by this time. In order to be successful, I had to make Spanish classes fun for the students so they would be eager to learn and always look forward to our next meeting. I also had to make them effective so that parents could see how much their children were learning and would happily send them back for future sessions.
I put all my effort in developing materials that appeal to children and gradually discovered a passion and a talent for it. As others heard about my program, it began to grow. Before I knew it, I had more after-school Spanish classes than I could handle, and I began hiring other teachers to help me in other schools. At the same time, I was volunteering at my children’s school coordinating parent volunteers to teach Spanish to K-5 students for thirty minutes, once a week.
As more parents became aware of how important it was to teach Spanish to their children, they began asking me how this could be achieved in their schools. It was then that I decided to start providing my materials to more schools, letting them handle the teaching. I gave up the after-school classes to devote myself full time to the development of “Risas y Sonrisas.” That’s Spanish for “Laughter and Smiles,” which is what this program is all about—the joy of learning Spanish.
Today schools all over the country and around the world are following the program I started many years ago. In the Leander Independent School District in Austin, TX, there are now over 25 elementary schools implementing my original concept of teaching Spanish with parent volunteers. Risas y Sonrisas has won prestigious awards, and its accomplishments and successes have been cited in newspaper articles and broadcast media. Public and private schools in the United States—as well as schools as far away as China, The United Kingdom, Australia and South Africa—are now using “Risas y Sonrisas” to enrich their Spanish language classes.
Our next project will be to complement our program with more uses for the interactive whiteboard as well as to develop interactive eBooks for the students. We would like to strengthen our relationship with the schools using Risas y Sonrisas in order to develop a community of teachers who can support each other and trade new ideas. Please join our mailing list so we can keep you updated!
It has been an amazing journey with incredibly rewarding and unexpected results. We are constantly looking for feedback in order to continuously improve and add to our materials. We encourage teachers to let us know what they think about our curriculum and where they would like to see it go.
Through Risas y Sonrisas we continue to share our success with others—schools, teachers, homeschoolers, parents and especially the students who benefit the most from learning to speak and love Spanish from an early age.
About the Founder
Leticia Smith is originally from Mexico City and has lived in Austin, TX since 1986. She received a BBA with a Minor in Marketing from Texas State University and an Accelerated Learning certificate from the University of Houston.
Not knowing then the impact it was going to have in her future, she worked four consecutive years in the University’s Spanish Department where she acquired invaluable experience teaching college students twice a week and offering tutoring services. Later, when she had the opportunity to teach children, she discovered that her true vocation was to teach and inspire others to put joy into learning.
Her years of experience as a Spanish instructor teaching children in all grades at elementary schools eventually led to the development of her award-winning program, Risas y Sonrisas.