Sharpstein Elementary School

Aerial view of Sharpstein Elementary School

Spanish language courses Walla Wallan Lily Kaminsky, 23, started in kindergarten and continued beyond college have opened doors of the world to her.

One of those doors is to Coslada, near Madrid, the capital city in central Spain, her destination for the 2021-2022 academic year. After years of studying and teaching Spanish, this fall Kaminsky will teach the English language and be a cultural assistant at IES Miguel Catalán, a secondary bilingual school.

“I’ll be teaching regular subjects in English, such as history or science,” she said. “They want someone who speaks native English so students can hear the accent, idioms and elements of the culture. I’m excited to be on the other side of it. I’ve been the student up to now, in college teaching Spanish, so now they can feel the agency I’ve felt. It’s cool to be part of opening opportunities. It’s a full-circle thing here.”

Kaminsky moved with her family from Colorado to Walla Walla at age 2 and in 2003, was in the very first dual-immersion bilingual class at Sharpstein Elementary School. Sharpstein Elementary is located at 410 Howard St., Walla Walla.

Kaminsky and her classmates had academic classes in Spanish for half the day and then classes in English the remainder of each day.

It wasn’t always easy.

Teachers were working out some of the kinks with the inaugural program, Kaminsky explained.

“I thought it was cool and I remember it being hard. I didn’t understand the significance. I was frustrated when my parents made me stay in it. Why am I doing this, none of my friends were in it,” she said.

Able to look back now, she added, “The best thing to come from the dual immersion program at Sharpstein was a good foundation for Spanish and a decent accent. At that point, I wasn’t very advanced in the language but it did help me as I continued to learn,” Kaminsky said.

She stuck with it, taking more traditional Spanish classes at Garrison Middle School.

“That was the hardest part of it as it wasn’t very organized. I really wanted to stop Spanish at that point.”

She went through all the regular Spanish classes at Walla Walla High School before graduating in 2016. Of particular influence was a class her junior year with Spanish instructor Dan Ojcius.

“He was a great teacher and enthusiastic. I took AP Spanish my sophomore and junior years. He really helped me find my love for Spanish.”

As a senior at Wa-Hi she took a Spanish enrichment class at Whitman College as she had exhausted all the high school courses. Kaminsky said she learned a lot from a professor.

She delved further into the Spanish language while a student at Portland State University, graduating with a double major in Spanish and business-marketing. She was a leader for two years in the Spanish Club and tutored in Spanish at a center on campus, and was as involved as possible in creating an inclusive space.

“We could all share and learn about Spanish-speaking cultures in the club. I enjoyed being a bit of a bridge between the U.S. and English and Spanish and different Spanish cultures. I shared my love of it through tutoring, always trying to show how fun it can be. Not just a class they have to pass,” Kaminsky said.

All of that practice, teaching and language building led to the teaching post in Madrid. She was set to fly to Spain on Sunday, Sept. 12.

Kaminsky’s earlier travels outside of the U.S. have given her experience speaking in Spanish. Her parents, Dr. Daniel and Jane Kaminsky, took the family to Mexico when Lily was 10 and again when she was about 19.

“They had me order at restaurants and read maps,” she said.

Walla Walla High School German and Spanish teacher Curtis Schafer was also influential. She didn’t study with him, but benefited through a trip he organized to Spain.

“He was the leader, and passionate about it. We got to go to some cities in Spain like Barcelona and Madrid, stay with a host family and experience Spanish life.”

Kaminsky and a friend visited Chile for a month while in college.

“They have their own way of speaking Spanish and I had to learn different idioms. Being able to connect with the people is an opportunity you only get with speaking the language. It’s opened me up to different worlds and in particular to the culture and the people there,” she said.

Kaminsky studied for three months while in Barcelona in 2019.

“It was really cool and now I’m ready to go live in Spain for a while,” she said.

“Every time I’ve traveled, I’ve learned about myself and the world,” Kaminsky said. “I’m better able to handle things, get out of my comfort zone, delay judgment.

“I’m still seeing what opportunities will come my way. I want to use Spanish in my career. I may continue teaching or work with a company doing business in Spain or the U.S. I’m interested in inclusive marketing. I was working at the Walla Walla Senior Citizens Center as an office assistant doing marketing. I created a lot of content in Spanish on the website, translated important documents, spoke on the phone in Spanish, creating more services and community in Spanish.”

Kaminsky has a visa for the nine-month 2021-22 school year and could potentially renew her contract if she wants to stay overseas. She starts teaching Oct. 1. Kaminsky said she hopes to connect with some acquaintances in Spain, such as her host family from high school and Barcelona plus the Spanish tutor she’s studied with for the past six months.

“I’m excited to teach and practice speaking Spanish,” she said. “It’s been a life goal to be fluent, and this is an opportunity to get really good at it to take with me. I’ve always enjoyed helping people.”

“We have a huge population the the U.S. that speaks Spanish. I might want to do that for a career,” she said., in a May 27, 2021, article reported that “13% of the population speaks Spanish at home, earning it the title of the most common non-English language spoken in the U.S.”

Kaminsky said she tries to promote learning different languages as a normal thing to do and promotes bilingual services and organizations to include people who feel more comfortable using Spanish as their primary language.

“Many European countries require a foreign language for many years and it’s normal to speak two, three or even more languages,” said Kaminsky. “And in learning other languages, it’s important to be respectful of the country, people, culture associated with that language.”

“I feel like that immersion program kick-started this whole journey for me. All the music I listen to is Spanish, the movies and shows I watch are in Spanish. I read the news and books in Spanish. It’s really awesome to be a part of this whole world and be a bridge between English and Spanish speakers and connect with people in this way,” Kaminsky said.

Annie Charnley Eveland can be reached at or 509-526-8313.

Annie joined the U-B news staff in 1979 and since 1990 has written Etcetera, a daily community column. She was promoted to a copy editing post in 2007. She edits copy, designs and lays out pages, including the weekly arts and entertainment guide Marquee,

(1) comment

Sue Osterman

Terrific article and could be a life changer for kids who have had this opportunity. More bilinguals in the USA is what we need!

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