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Meet Karina Torres: Empowering Bilingual Education

The following was taken from an interview Karina did with Canvas Rebel. The original can be found here.


 
Karina Torres, Executive Director of Intiwasi

We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful Karina Torres. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with Karina below.


Karina, appreciate you joining us today. When you were first starting out, did you join a firm or start your own?

My first business venture was Kallpachay, which offered Spanish immersion camps and afterschool classes for children. At that time, I recognized a significant need for effective Spanish language instruction for kids. I observed that traditional methods of learning through drills and instruction were not as engaging and impactful as immersive, play-based approaches.


After a few years, my business partner and I decided to part ways amicably, leading us to divide the business. Recognizing the crucial role of early education in providing children with extended hours and immersive exposure to the Spanish language, I made a deliberate choice to focus on preschool education. It was essential for me to create an environment where children could learn in a comprehensive and immersive manner.


It was fascinating to witness the positive changes and see the power of immersion in action. People began to understand my vision and the importance of raising bilingual children, which ultimately drove the demand for more comprehensive programs beyond just after-school classes.


Reflecting on my journey, I am grateful for the decision to pursue my passion for language education, as it eventually led me to establish Intiwasi, the school I currently run. I am proud to provide a nurturing and immersive learning environment where children can thrive and develop their language skills while experiencing the joy of learning.

  

Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers.

I studied anthropology at UT Austin, specializing in Latin American studies. After completing my studies, I returned to Peru, where I grew up, with the goal of pursuing a career in archaeology. However, I soon realized that further education was necessary to achieve this dream. Leveraging my bilingual skills, I started teaching English to adults in Peru, including executives such as bank managers, entrepreneurs, and pilots. Building strong relationships with my students, they soon asked me to teach their children as well. This experience led me to a position as a teaching assistant in an English immersion British private school, where I discovered my passion for education. Many of the ideas and concepts that I incorporate into our school at Intiwasi were inspired by my time in this role. Motivated by this newfound passion, I pursued a master’s degree in applied linguistics, specializing in second language acquisition. Two years later, I returned to the United States and began searching for opportunities in a similar field.


My journey led me to Los Angeles, where I met a family who wanted me to teach the Spanish portion of their homeschool curriculum. As I started teaching multiple subjects, they sought an out-of-the-box education for their children. Drawing from my background in anthropology, Montessori principles, and hands-on learning, I created a unique educational approach. This experience solidified my love for working with children and education.


At Intiwasi, we provide Spanish immersion education for children aged 2 and above. Our program recognizes that language is not just about words; it is deeply intertwined with culture. Intiwasi is a culturally diverse space that celebrates the rich diversity of Los Angeles and represents the vibrant tapestry of our community.


One of the challenges parents face is raising bilingual children. Whether they speak multiple languages at home or none at all, we have become a valuable support system for families seeking to raise bilingual and bicultural children. We offer a network and community for families, especially in a post-pandemic world where connecting and meeting people can be challenging. Creating a supportive environment for both children and parents is an integral part of our mission.


A significant difference between our students and others is that ours are truly bilingual. They effortlessly switch between languages and can use them orally with ease. While many schools may focus on teaching grammar, our structure is designed to allow children to use language naturally. We place equal emphasis on social-emotional development, understanding that education is deeply intertwined with emotional well-being. Each child receives an individualized education, recognizing that every child is unique and learns differently.


I am immensely proud of our school’s growth and resilience, especially during the pandemic. We began with just seven children and have now grown to 82. This achievement is a testament to the quality of our program and the dedication of our team. As we continue to expand, we are in the process of becoming an IB school and incorporate renowned curricula such as Foss Science and Singapore Math.


I am proud of what I created in Intiwasi. We provide personalized learning experiences for children and their families, embracing individuality and cultural diversity. We understand the importance of bilingualism and offer a supportive community for parents navigating the challenges of raising bilingual children. Our students not only excel academically but also develop strong social-emotional skills. We take pride in our growth and look forward to continuing our journey of providing exceptional education to our students.

  

Any stories or insights that might help us understand how you’ve built such a strong reputation?

Our reputation has been built on several key factors that set us apart and contribute to our success. Firstly, our focus on developing a high level of Spanish fluency among our children has been instrumental. Our immersive language program ensures that students not only learn Spanish but also achieve a level of fluency that is highly regarded. This fluency is a testament to the dedication and expertise of our teachers, who excel in effectively communicating with parents and foster a strong partnership with our families. This collaboration between teachers and parents creates a supportive environment where everyone is invested in the success of the children.


A significant aspect of our success lies in our commitment to meeting the individual needs of our families. We recognize that each child and family is unique, and we work closely with parents to address any challenges or difficulties they may face. By proactively addressing small issues, we prevent them from escalating into larger problems later on. This proactive and personalized approach not only supports our families but also helps maintain a positive reputation in our community.

Above all, we provide a well-rounded education. Our students are not only academically advanced compared to their peers at other schools but also have the advantage of learning to read and write in two languages. This accelerated bilingual education gives our students a broader perspective and equips them with valuable language skills and cultural understanding. By offering a comprehensive academic journey, we ensure that our students are well-prepared for future success.


We take pride in the achievements of our students and the positive impact we make in their lives and the community.


Are there any books, videos or other content that you feel have meaningfully impacted your thinking?

One notable resource that has influenced my approach is a class I took on brain development. This course delved into research that has provided compelling evidence regarding the benefits of early language exposure on children’s brain development. It highlighted how exposing children to language at a young age activates various areas of their brains, fostering cognitive growth and overall development. This knowledge has reinforced the importance of our Spanish immersion program and the value it brings to our students’ educational journey.


Additionally, the Montessori philosophy has had a profound impact on my management and entrepreneurial thinking. The emphasis on fostering independence and providing an organized environment aligns with the developmental needs of children. Understanding that children thrive when they have a sense of order and when things are in their designated place has influenced our approach to creating a structured yet nurturing environment at our school.


These resources have not only shaped my thinking but have also informed our school’s approach to early childhood education. By understanding the impact of early language exposure on brain development and incorporating principles of independence and order from the Montessori philosophy, we have created a dynamic learning environment that promotes cognitive growth, independence, and a strong foundation for our students’ future success.

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