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The seniors from Fike High School’s International Baccalaureate program recently had the opportunity to visit the Spanish immersion program classes at Elm City Elementary.
For the 10 IB students who have studied Spanish their entire high school career, it was like looking in a mirror — with a couple of big differences.
The content and teaching style were very similar to their own IB Spanish class. But there was a nearly 10-year age gap between them and most of the 116 students in the Elm City program, and, more importantly, many of the Spanish immersion students are fluent in Spanish.
“The ease that the children speak Spanish is really remarkable,” said Ana Rosa Rivera, a senior in the IB program. Many of her classmates shared the same sentiment.
The fluency of the elementary school students is due to the structure of their classes. They are taught from the first day entirely in Spanish for every subject, and the teachers do not speak English in the classes. Much of the Spanish spoken by the teacher in the earlier grades is accompanied by visual clues, hand signals and pictures located throughout the classroom.
Learning math, English and science in their second tongue trains the students’ brains to pay more attention and think more critically because they have to pay more attention and learn to think analytically about the information they are learning.
Another IB senior, Danielle Trossman, said she was impressed with the children’s level of Spanish, and their ability to use the language in all subjects, including math.
“It is obvious these students will be successful in the future because they are already able to think critically in two different languages,” Danielle said.
According to the University of Minnesota’s Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition, language immersion programs increase a child’s ability to learn both their native and non-native languages by breaking down the phonetic sounds. The ability to break down the phonetics of a language increases a child’s reading ability and vocabulary.
Eduardo Basaez, the immersion program’s first-grade teacher, said the full immersion aspect of the program enhances the children’s reading comprehension skills because they have to pay more attention to the words.
The program overall creates students who are not only fluent in Spanish but whose skills in other subjects are likely enhanced as well. This is expressed throughout the curriculum of all the grade levels at the immersion program. For example, the fourth-grade class was discussing the similarities and differences between Martin Luther King Jr. and Mozart when the IB students were there. The depth and breadth of their knowledge and the ability to express it were impressive.
After observing the Spanish immersion program, Thomas Haitema, the IB Spanish teacher at Fike High School, said “the Spanish immersion program is the jewel in the crown of Wilson County Schools. The impetus to implement the program and sustain it up to now shows the forward thinking of the board of education. The level of engagement that the children show and their cognitive gains indicate that the program is a resounding success.”
The Wilson Board of Education is currently studying the program and looking at Spanish immersion programs in other school districts. Right now, the program is offered in kindergarten through fourth grade. Among the issues that the board is looking at are whether to expand the program to the middle school level, what the costs of the program are and whether there are fundraising or grant opportunities to continue the program. The board hopes to have a decision on the future direction of the program soon.
As the senior IB students left Elm City they wished they had a time machine and could go back to elementary school and participate in a program like the one they had just visited.
IB senior Ken Lin summed up their experience well: “I wish the program had been offered when I was in elementary school.
“The skills these children are learning will serve them well in high school, college and beyond.”