Once home to a jewelry and watch repair business, the space at 2285 Mission St. near 19th has undergone a transformation. The art deco flooring and mid-century beige tiles have all been replaced by a child-centric display of Lego toys and young people’s paintings.
It’s now home to the Mission’s newest Spanish immersion after-school program, a brightly lit space dedicated to teaching children a new language through simple activities. Calling itself “Aventuras,” its founder and full-time director Carolina Ramirez said it was the result of converging interests over a span of 19 years.
Ramirez said she first had the idea of starting up a Spanish language kids’ program several years ago, when she had children of her own. When it came time to find somewhere for her son and daughter to go after class – her son is in second grade and her daughter in kindergarten – she couldn’t find one.
“I couldn’t find a program that I liked in Spanish that handled music, art, science, technology and movement,” Ramirez said.
After quitting her job and going back to school full-time at City College, she took some classes geared toward childhood development. While in school she volunteered as a teaching assistant at a second grade class at Dolores Huerta Elementary for a semester and knew instantly she wanted to work in education.
The state does not require her to have a license to run Aventuras, because it is an after school venture.
The Spanish immersion program costs $10 an hour, or $800 a month and runs 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week. Already, Ramirez has seven students enrolled from the Mission, including her two children.
At home, she said, she instructs her children to speak Spanish because she wanted to immerse them in the culture from her home country of Colombia. Her husband is not a native speaker, so she wanted the kids to maintain that connection to their roots.
Ramirez went to a bilingual English and Spanish international school in Colombia. Being bilingual allowed her to travel to the United States for an internship, a move that started her career in industrial design.
“Industrial design is all about the experience, so I unknowingly was getting myself ready to build this place,” Ramirez joked.
She found the space at 2285 Mission St. and fell in love with it immediately. It probably helped that her landlord liked the idea of an after school program dedicated to Spanish learning and waived the construction costs for an ADA compliant bathroom, a new heating and cooling system, and cleaning the walls.
Cindy Richter, who lives in the Mission-Bernal area, signed up her 7-year-old daughter for the new program.
“I just think in 2019 if you’re not bilingual in California, you’re not helping yourself out,” Richter said.
Richter works for a produce company called Fruit World, handling logistics of transporting fruit. She often speaks to growers from the Central Valley, Mexico and South America who want to find ways to sell their organic produce. Though she is not a native Spanish speaker, knowing Spanish is crucial. She wants to further integrate into the Mission community.
“The Mission’s demographics are changing, as you know, so I think other families like us that aren’t native Spanish speakers want to get invested in the community,” Richter said.
Richter said that she hopes that by enrolling her daughter in Spanish immersion programs, her child would feel a stronger connection to the Mission and its community.
Working alongside Ramirez is Edith Sarubilo, a recent arrival from Argentina. Back in Buenos Aires she worked as a teacher in several community projects. There she taught art, music and dance lessons to children and it gave her the experience Ramirez was after. Here in the Mission, she’s noticed how diverse her students are how different their backgrounds are compared to her former students in Buenos Aires. In Buenos Aires, all of her students spoke Spanish and were mainly from Argentina or South America.
But in the Mission, the diversity here presents a challenge. Some of the kids might already know two languages or have trouble switching between English and Spanish, or get the words mixed up.
“The process is interesting and it motivates us. It makes us think about things we ought to do to give full benefit to the kids coming here,” Sarubilo said.
Currently, Aventuras only has about seven kids enrolled but Ramirez hopes more will join. Between herself and Sarubilo, Aventuras has the capacity to take 10 more students, Ramirez said.
Prices begin at $350 a month to attend twice a week, and top out at $800 a month for five days of attendance. Although this is the first after school Spanish immersion program to cater to elementary-aged kids in the Mission, a similar Spanish immersion day care program can charge to up $2,090 a month.