Spanish Immersion is one of the most unique offerings in Jenison Public Schools! As a reminder, we have one class of each grade, K – 6 at both Rosewood and Bursley Elementary Schools and they are full and bustling with Spanish speakers young and old!
Rosewood 1st grade Spanish Immersion teacher, Anna Evans, has seen her students grow in their language skills since the beginning of the year and is already looking forward to how much more comfortable they will continue to be with a second language. When students begin the Spanish Immersion program in Kindergarten, teachers use English in the beginning of the year and slowly transition to a mix of Spanish and English. However, when they walk in the door of their first grade classroom, they only hear Spanish from their teachers. “The students themselves are allowed to use English for the first half of the year. ” In January, the first graders will participate in the ceremony called “Crossing the Bridge” where they cross an actual bridge as a representation of full immersion in the language. “From that point on, the students are only allowed to use Spanish even with their peers. Moving on to second grade, the curriculum challenges grow, as they do every year. Students will be expected to be able to fully communicate their thoughts and needs in Spanish.”
Ms Evans is thankful for the teamwork and mutual support within the SI program in Jenison. There is a lot of additional work that must be done to correctly educate students in this program. “Just because a resource is in Spanish, does not mean that it was designed for an immersion student, in fact, most resources in Spanish are created for native Spanish speakers. This means that as teachers, we must adapt nearly everything that we find to best suit our students’ needs. For example, with a science lesson, we cannot just go headfirst into a unit on the life cycle of a frog, we need to first create our own lessons prior to the unit to teach vocabulary and build their language skills to be able to be successful. This makes for a lot of additional planning for us to meet the state requirements, but when you love teaching and especially immersion, it is fun to come up with new ways to do things. “
And, while we all know that learning a second language is easier when you’re young, there are, of course, still challenges. “The biggest challenge for everyone is really committing yourself to not using English. It is a mental choice. It is hard to explain to a six year old why it is important that they are in Spanish immersion and to motivate them to take the more difficult path of using Spanish all the time rather than giving up when it gets hard and quick using English to say what they need to say.” And if you think these first graders are only using simple Spanish to get by during the day, think again! “I have seen my students reading and oral language take off just from hearing me speak and read. In their speech, I hear them using difficult phrases and using them properly! One thing that is quite difficult so early on in their language learning is managing past tense verbs and I am hearing them use these correctly. It is very exciting!”
Parents who have children in Spanish Immersion have a global mindset and outward perspective that young children don’t have yet, but Spanish immersion is extremely beneficial to students. “By six and seven years old, they can already speak, read and write in Spanish! They have such an incredible opportunity here that will not only benefit themselves in the future, but, others. As teachers, our hope is that they will use these skills when they are older to benefit others and to make the world a better place. With a second language, they will be able to interact with more people, learn more about other cultures and be able to relate to and understand other types of people easily and with compassion.”
Spanish Immersion students are learning in a second language but they are also learning their grade-level benchmarks. Sometimes, it is believed or assumed that Spanish Immersion students fall behind in their English skills, but this is not the case. “There are many studies to show and I see the evidence in my own classes every year that students learning in a second language unconsciously transfer their understanding from their second language to their native language. I like to ask people this question: If a student can explain a math concept, an author’s purpose, or a scientific proof in Spanish, how much more capable is that student to explain it in English? They are learning many skills in Spanish and they are able to use those skills in English. In first grade, the most growth that I see is in reading.
Every year parents are amazed by their child’s progress in English reading at home, they are seeing their child read in English even though no one has ever formally taught them how. This is because they learn strategies to read in Spanish at school and they turn around and use those strategies to read in English at home. As our program has grown, we have been able to see and compare state test scores from students in Spanish immersion and students in English classrooms and our students do remarkably well in comparison to their peers who have had English training throughout their education. Jenison has a very strong program and the teachers and staff within this program make it even better.”
¡Gracias, Maestra Evans por la increíble educación que le brinda a algunos de nuestros alumnos más pequeños! ¡Estamos agradecidos por usted y su pasión y dedicación!*
*Thank you Ms Evans for the amazing education you are providing some of our youngest learners! We are thankful for you and your passion and dedication!