ELMHURST – Matthew Niewiara began learning Spanish in second grade. Eleven years later, the language is taking him to Costa Rica.
Matthew, a York Community High School junior, won the 2013 Junior Travel Award from the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. He submitted samples of his written and oral work in Spanish to a committee appointed by the AATSP.
The committee also considered Matthew’s score on the National Spanish Examination, a standardized test designed to measure the proficiency of students studying Spanish as a second language.
“During middle school, we got to choose between French and Spanish, and I decided Spanish because I think it’s more widely used in the U.S.,” Matthew said.
In July, Matthew will travel with 11 other students from across the country on a 10-day trip through Costa Rica, a $3,000 value. Their itinerary includes everything from visiting a local school and natural landmarks to horseback riding and planting trees.
“One of the most interesting things I think I’m going to like is that we’re going to go visit Arenal, the volcano,” he said.
Recently, Matthew, a Spanish 4 Honors student, received Gold Medal status for scoring at or above the 95th percentile on his most recent National Spanish Exam. He has taken the optional exam every year since he began high school.
“The fact that I’ve kept with it has helped a lot, and starting early in grade school,” he said.
Matthew enjoys watching movies and listening to music in Spanish. He studies a little bit at a time – not leaving it all until the night before a test – because he has little time to cram for hours. He splits his time among many other interests, such as track, National Honor Society, teaching Sunday school and Science Olympiad.
Matthew’s sister, Claire, a York freshman, may be following in his footsteps with Spanish, but he considers her to be “blazing her own trail.” Claire earned Silver Medal recognition on the most recent National Spanish Exam for scoring at or above the 85th percentile.
Last summer, Matthew spent two weeks at a Spanish camp in Minnesota called El Lago del Bosque, which is offered through Concordia Language Villages. Counselors from Spanish-speaking countries lead campers from all over the country in formal language lessons, along with tradition summer camp sports and games.
One of Matthew’s favorite memories was meeting Argentinian musician David Bolzoni.
“I’m very excited,” Matthew said. “I guess a little nervous.”
This will be the 17-year-old’s first trip out of the country on his own, but he plans on traveling more in the future. Matthew is interested in engineering or medicine programs that travel overseas.
While his major and future college remain undecided, Matthew is pretty sure he wants to minor in Spanish.
“I think especially during college study abroad, I’d like to go to Spain,” he said.