Pablo Da Ros (center) teaches Spanish vocabulary to seniorÕs residents and mentally handicap students from Santa Monica High School at the Silvercrest Senior Center on Fifth Street on Friday morning. (photo by Brandon Wise)

DOWNTOWN — On a rainy Friday morning, Rachel Volman plays “La Bamba” on the piano at Silvercrest Senior Residence Center for her fellow residents. Every week, she attends a Spanish class in the community room that combines her love of music with her interest in languages.

“When you get older, it’s good to keep your mind productive, not to just stay home and watch TV … . Most of us are here because we want to learn,” said Volman, 74, who arrived early for the class despite a recent surgery.

But it isn’t just her neighbors that she plays the piano for. In September, seniors in the Santa Monica High School special education transition program also began attending the classes.

“Typically our students have significant disabilities, and this type of support is vital if they are going to transition in their work and personal lives,” said Carol Gassman-Proud, a transition specialist at Samohi.

The class, usually a small group of ranging from ages 18 to 97, begins promptly at 10:45 a.m. with introductions in Spanish from each student.

Pablo DaRos, an Argentinean man who works primarily in education, leads the group in a brief lesson that includes the use of a conventional white board, flash cards and games.

“I was kind of scared when I started, because I didn’t know how to reach them,” said DaRos, who wore a smile throughout the entire lesson. “You just need to have a fun approach to get them to understand a concept.”

In between all the encouragement (DaRos frequently responds to students with “perfecto!” and “muy bien!”), DaRos pushes for participation with music. A large portion of the class is dedicated to learning vocabulary through song, with many students accompanying sing-a-longs with instruments such as maracas and tambourines.

“As it turns out, our Spanish teacher is an accomplished musician,” said Volman, who enjoys performing alongside DaRos’ drumming.

“We started with the songs and role playing. It became more about having fun. Just a part of the class is [learning] new concepts,” DaRos said.

Since the class began in May, it has progressed to become not only about learning the nuts and bolts of Spanish, but also about developing a community through inter-generational learning.

“[Silvercrest residents] want company and someone to talk to them,” said Paris Parnell, 18, a student from Samohi. “I get to learn Spanish so that if I meet people who don’t speak English, I can learn how to talk to them.”

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