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story.lead_photo.caption Students currently enrolled in the Whitney English Academy order helpings of ice cream Wednesday at Central Dairy. The students are on a two-week visit to the U.S. from Navalmoral de la Mata, Spain. In between taking classes at Helias High School, the group has been visiting tourist destinations around the Capital City. Photo by Sally Ince / News Tribune.

Ten high school students from Spain who are educated at an English academy opened by a Jefferson Citian have been getting a taste of life in the United States — including a literal taste of ice cream Wednesday at Central Dairy.

"It's like being in a movie," student Julia Garcia Pita said of visiting the U.S. "It was exactly like I imagined," including the yellow school buses — and "the food is bigger," Garcia Pita said as she held a Central Dairy cone.

She is part of a group of Spanish students brought on a two-week summer trip to the U.S. by Whitney Griffin, who last fall opened the Whitney English Academy in Navalmoral de la Mata.

Griffin attended Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City and Westminster College in Fulton. While in college during summer 2008, she studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain.

She returned for a semester in 2009 to Salamanca, stayed a month longer in an intensive-study program in Malaga, and then in fall 2010 returned to Spain with only two suitcases for a job as a teacher's assistant in language and culture — after graduating from Westminster with a degree in international business and Spanish.

After nine years of teaching English in Spain, including for the Spanish government, Griffin said she opened the Whitney English Academy in October in Navalmoral de la Mata.

She compared Navalmoral de la Mata to Fulton — having a population of 17,000-18,000 people. Navalmoral de la Mata is tucked against the base of scrub-covered, rocky hills, about two hours west of the nation's capital of Madrid and on the way toward the western border with Portugal.

"The academy is in the afternoon. This would be like a hobby of theirs," akin to soccer practice or a music class, Griffin said of when her students, ages 3 to adult, attend.

She said students spend one hour a week with her in a more conversational setting, and students spend another hour with teacher Isabel Cortés Gonzlez, who works with them on skills such as grammar and reading comprehension.

Griffin's group is not the first delegation of Spanish students to visit Jefferson City, but it is the first time any of the group, including Cortés Gonzlez, have visited the United States.

"All of you are so nice, so kind," Cortés Gonzlez said.

She shadowed a teacher Wednesday, while Griffin said the students — eight girls and two boys — have so far been shadowing juniors in their classes.

The group arrived Aug. 15, and Wednesday was the students' third day of school at Helias.

Griffin said seven families are hosting the 10 students — most of whom are high school freshman-aged, with one sophomore and one junior among them.

Griffin said she has about 140 students signed up for next year at the academy — school hasn't yet started for the students in Spain — and the 10 students on the trip to the U.S. were the first to sign up after she offered the opportunity for the experiential learning trip to their parents.

The group's itinerary has included or will include visiting the Lake of the Ozarks, going to a St. Louis Cardinals game and visiting Chicago.

After having Central Dairy ice cream Wednesday, the group met with Jefferson City Mayor Carrie Tergin and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe at Kehoe's office at the Capitol, followed by a tour of the Capitol.

The group also plans to sample other American cuisine — including s'mores made over a fire, BLTs, barbecue, Arris' Pizza, chili dogs, Chicago-style pizza and fried chicken.

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