Mariana, a systems analyst for Eastman Chemical Co., said that although the family always speaks Spanish in their home, she wanted to find a program for Nico to learn how to read and write in Spanish as well as learn about the culture and history of his native country. One of Mariana’s friends, a teacher in Argentina, told the family about the program.
“We didn’t know what he should be learning at his age,” she said. “With this, we know what we need to teach.”
Michael, who also works for Eastman, said the system is designed so citizens of Argentina living abroad can keep up with the Argentine school system and the character of the country. The program is run by Argentine Ministry of Education’s distance education service. The program’s stated purpose echoes what the family was looking for. Its goal is not just to educate students but also to provide practice for their national language and keep them connected to their home country.
Nico studies four subjects during each school year. Fourth grade was language, mathematics, social studies and science. The class work is similar to what he learns in fourth grade at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School in Kingsport.
“The social studies they learn is local,” Mariana said. “They learn the same basic things but when Jefferson is teaching about Tennessee, Argentina is teaching about Argentina.”
Once the student is enrolled, communication happens via e-mail and the computer. The school year is divided into four periods and runs from March through December. At the end of each period, Nico takes a test for each subject.
“They send the program with what we have to cover,” Mariana said. “We download four PDF files and buy the books.”
With four extra subjects to study, Nico’s day can be long. At various times through the year, Nico is involved in soccer, golf, tennis, swimming, baseball and basketball. Once he finishes his day at Jefferson and gets done with sports practices, he comes home to work on his homework from Jefferson. Mariana asks him to work for an hour and half, but Nico said it only takes him half an hour. After dinner, Nico gets an hour of free time. Then, it’s back to work. Either Michael or Mariana will teach him while the other parent spends time with their 5-year-old, Lucas.
“We do a lot more on weekends,” Mariana said, “and a lot during the summer.”
The farther the program goes, the less time Nico has for himself. Lately, Mariana said, the challenge has been finding time for Nico to read for pleasure. Although he can earn a diploma from both Argentina and the state of Tennessee, Michael and Mariana are not sure if he will have time in high school to stay with the program. When they ask him if he wants to stay with it through high school, he shakes his head no. The program requires a lot of time from Nico and his parents. Michael said the challenge is finding a balance.
“The challenge is when is the right time to work on it, and the balance between having fun and saying ‘cut it, let’s do math,’” he said. “But once we’re in, it’s great for both of us.”
This originally appeared in El Nuevo Kingsport Times-News. Right, Nico Knutzen's mother, Mariana, helps him go over his homework. Photo by Brianna Murphy.