In February, Bellview Elementary School Principal Michelle Zundel launched the school's first tuition-based language program, inviting two certified Spanish teachers to teach.

Hayden Jane LaCoste, 8, had been waiting all day to speak Spanish at Bellview Elementary School.

So when 2:45 p.m. finally rolled around Tuesday, the second-grader shot her hand up to volunteer, giving the after-school class her best pronunciation of nueve (nine).

"It's fun thinking in class that after school I get to do this, and I just can't wait to get out," she said.

After just eight one-hour Spanish classes, Hayden Jane and her classmates already have learned Spanish words for colors, animals and numbers — and they're putting the words together in phrases.

On Tuesday, the 24 Bellview students were practicing saying "nueve conejos azules" (nine blue rabbits).

The first- through fifth-grade students are among 50 taking after-school Spanish classes at the Tolman Creek school this semester.

Knowing there was no room in the district's budget for an elementary school language program, Principal Michelle Zundel decided to take matters into her own hands this year. In February, she launched the school's first tuition-based language program, inviting two certified Spanish teachers to participate.

"I have a strong commitment to having our students learn another language," Zundel said.

The program, which runs through May, costs $116, or $4 per class. The tuition money goes to the teachers, and Zundel provides a free snack for the students.

The students are learning a foreign language at a crucial period in their mental development, teacher Kate Friendly-Jones said.

"It is very important for kids at this age to learn Spanish because after puberty, research has shown that people aren't fully able to master grammar and pronunciation," she said.

Although Zundel will be leaving Belleview next year to become principal at Ashland High School, she hopes the language program will thrive long after she's gone.

"It is self supporting," she said, "and as long as we have instructors who are wiling to do this, it should be able to continue."

She hopes to secure grant funding so the school can provide tuition assistance to some students, she said.

The response from parents has been strong, Zundel said. Kimberly Sellers said she was thrilled to sign up her fourth-grade daughter, Kinsey Freeman, for the class.

"I think it's an amazing opportunity for the kids," she said. "They've already come so far just in this one hour."

Hayden Jane, the eager student, said she already has plans to use what she learns after school.

"I just think it will be fun to learn a different language," she said, "because I can talk to other people that are from different countries."

Contact staff writer Hannah Guzik at 482-3456 ext. 226 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.