FARMINGTON -- The first round of Davis School District students who graduated from Spanish immersion programs at Eagle Bay Elementary School in Farmington and Sands Springs Elementary in Layton is now leading the way into junior high with a new immersion curriculum at Farmington Junior High and Legacy Junior High in Layton.
Moving the program into junior high school has been a huge undertaking for the district, given that the school day is set up entirely differently in seventh grade.
"We've gone from a 50/50 model in elementary school with a language-speaking teacher half-day to now just two classes that are immersion," said Bonnie Flint, Davis School District world languages supervisor.
Seventh-grade students take physical education, English, keyboarding, band and different levels of math, most of which are not conducive to being taught in a foreign language. The district decided to set up the curriculum for social studies to go along with the language class, which is set up similarly to an English language arts class to prepare them for Advanced Placement Spanish in ninth grade.
Currently, 80 immersion students are in the two junior highs. One big change for them is going from being in the majority with half the population at their elementary schools being immersion students, to being in the minority in junior high.
"It's a totally different ball game, where they are now these tiny little numbers in a huge school," Flint said.
Eventually though, seven junior highs and six high schools in the district will have immersion programs as the students currently enrolled in the district's nine elementary immersion programs move along.
Fairfield Junior High in Kaysville, will be the next to incorporate immersion into its curriculum in 2015, when the French-speaking students at Morgan Elementary, in Kaysville, complete sixth grade.
As the first district in the state to implement an immersion program eight years ago, Davis is now the first to pave the way for junior high immersion programs. The junior highs have been working for several years to get ready, knowing it was coming down the line.
Legacy Junior High Principal Ken Hadlock said preparation began three years ago, when the schools started looking for candidates who met the requirements. He was excited that his school would be involved in the program so early on.
"It's another type of education we don't commonly see in Utah, so it's exciting to forge the way a little bit -- but it's also quite a responsibility to take the baton and keep running the program," Hadlock said.
Some have asked Hadlock if the immersion program is taking money away from regular programs at the school, and he said that is not the case.
"We're funded for these students just like the rest of the school, so we haven't taken money away from other education programs, and it does not affect our student-teacher ratio."
Because it is piloting a new program, Davis School District was allowed to put electronic language labs in the immersion junior highs at no charge for a year, Flint said.
Each student gets a headset with a microphone to practice speaking with classmates. This is controlled by the teacher, who sits at the laptop listening to them, and switching the classmates the students talk to. The system also allows the teacher to record students, which significantly reduces testing time.
"Because we are a flagship state (with the immersion program), we have the benefit of having these for our schools, and model how to use them in an immersion junior high," Flint said. "We are also being watched by many other states, so they can implement it in their own schools."
Jo Carmiol, the seventh-grade Spanish-immersion teacher at Farmington Junior High, said her students will receive huge benefits from the new language lab.
"With the lab, they don't have to move around to different groups, because I can pair them up from different corners of the room," Carmiol said. "And they are focused on the task, with no outside noises, and maximizing the time they are actually speaking instead of transitioning."