Preschoolers learn and play in Spanish at Pasitos Felices
By Ben Crosbie | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Adriana Espinosa says her work as the director of a Spanish-immersion preschool is all about love for the children, for the job and, underpinning it all, for her Latino culture. That love inspired her to open the Pittsboro-based Pasitos Felices, where children from 5 weeks to 5 years old spend their days playing and participating in activities in a fully Spanish-speaking environment.
Enrollment began in July 2008 with only a handful of kids. Today, about 60 students fill the classrooms and play spaces in the building off Highway 902. The preschool’s primary purpose is to help English-speaking kids become bilingual and for Spanish-speaking kids to maintain a strong connection to their linguistic and cultural heritage.
“It’s very important to me that Hispanic children don’t lose their connection to their countries and their families,” says Adriana, who immigrated from Colombia with her husband in 2001. She spent several years preparing to open the preschool while working at a different school and raising her own three children. She says a major value in exposing kids to different languages and customs is to teach them to accept all types of people as they grow up in a country with its large and growing population of immigrants.
In addition to language skills, the preschoolers receive cultural exposure through learning about and celebrating holidays like Mexico’s Dia de los Muertos as well as traditional music and dancing like the Colombian genre of cumbia, which was highlighted during their graduation ceremony in June.
Adriana spent time teaching children to read and write while she was in high school in Colombia, which she says is when she knew that working with kids was her destiny. Among the many things she loves about children is that they “teach you many things” in unexpected ways and without judgment.
“They take you out of your routine, and they put you in that little world that they have of happiness and innocence,” Adriana says. “I always tell the teachers, and I tell myself, ‘This is a labor of love. If you don’t come with your heart full of love for these children, this doesn’t work.’”
In a feat now regarded with pride, Pasitos Felices never closed its doors during the pandemic, and all four instructors continued to come in every day, even when they were down to only four kids showing up. Adriana notes that the use of face masks presented a challenge for the children, who rely heavily on facial cues in order to interpret the feelings and tones of other people, as well as to develop skills of interaction and socialization. And though she describes her job as primarily fun and exciting, Adriana remains keenly aware of the intense responsibilities that come with presiding over 60 young lives every day.
“It’s a very big responsibility to have these little minds that are absorbing everything we teach them and to know that we have to guide them so that they eventually will be good men and good women, and they get ahead,” she says. “I think that the [parents are] very pleased because their children are happy, they’re well cared for, and they’re in a safe place with good people, with people who hug them and love them.”