HOWARD — The voices of children praying in unison fill the classroom inside St. John the Baptist School.
But the words these fifth-graders are reciting — “Dios te Salve Maria, llena eres de gracia, El Senor es contigo” — may be incomprehensible to a passer-by, unless that person understands Spanish.
The fifth graders in Riley Garbe’s Spanish class are incorporating prayer into their curriculum and the combination has resulted in reciting the rosary in Spanish. It’s a project that students have greeted with enthusiasm.
When Garbe was hired as a Spanish teacher at two Green Bay Area Catholic Education (GRACE) schools last January, he said he wanted to incorporate faith into his classes.
Garbe, who received his bachelor’s degree in English education at UW-Green Bay last spring and spent the summer participating in an international student teaching program in Mexico, splits his time between Holy Family School in Green Bay and St. John the Baptist School in Howard.
“My first objective coming in here (was) teaching kindergartners through fifth grade at both schools how to pray in Spanish,” said Garbe.
“The younger kids know, with a little bit more of my help, the Sign of Cross, the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Glory Be,” Garbe told The Compass during an interview at St. John the Baptist School. “With the older kids, I had to make it a little more challenging.”
Garbe created a rosary prayer project.
“I decided, ‘Let’s teach them how to pray the rosary,’ because if I can teach them the prayers to the rosary, then all they have to do is repeat it and it’s a great practice,” he said.
Fourth and fifth graders were assigned to groups and told to create “How to Pray the Rosary” booklets, (“Como Rezar El Rosario” libros). Within each group, students designed their booklets based on the different mysteries of the rosary.
After practicing their rosary prayers in Spanish, fifth graders at St. John the Baptist School recently took turns reciting a decade of the rosary in small groups before their classmates. “Each group has been leading a decade of the ‘rosario’ and offering up special intentions,” said Garbe.
Prayer, said Garbe, is “an intimate way of speaking.”
“If you can pray in a language, it makes you more intimate with that language,” he said, “and that’s what I noticed with these kids — especially with their pronunciation and their putting their heart into it, and it’s sticking.”
Students studying Spanish typically learn how to read and write, said Garbe, but they don’t always learn proper pronunciation or how to have a conversation. Reciting the rosary aloud helps to master pronunciation while engaging in prayer.
“I know grown adult Catholics who don’t know how to pray the rosary in English,” he said. “I’d say the future of our church looks bright if we have youngsters praying the rosary in two languages.”
Student Sam Mach said that while some of the words were “a little bit hard to pronounce, it’s a really cool thing to experience because normally we don’t learn how to pray the rosary in Spanish.”
“I think it’s good to learn another language and know other things in faith in case you want to visit somewhere that’s very strong in their faith,” added Reagan Hovden. “I think it’s really important that you learn other cultures and ways other people do things.”
Evan Froelich said he enjoyed having “the freedom to pray the rosary in Spanish. It’s really cool that you can do that.” Praying in Spanish was not a problem for Froelich, he said. “One day I just started doing it and just snapped into it.”
Warren Young said learning to pray the rosary in Spanish was initially a challenge, “but I got the hang of it after a while. It connects me to God and I just love doing it.”
Garbe said seeing the booklets the students created and witnessing their progress in reciting the rosary in Spanish has been impressive. “It’s just so inspiring for me to see fifth graders at that level of spirituality and faith in their life, because I wasn’t there when I was their age.”