Davis School District is working on a plan to make foreign language immersion programs permanent in at least five elementary schools, citing recent research that says immersion is the best way to become fluent in any language.
Two schools -- Syracuse Elementary and Stewart Elementary in Centerville -- began teaching Chinese immersion to half of their kindergartners. A French immersion class is being taught to half the kindergartners at Morgan Elementary in Kaysville.
Spanish immersion is in its fourth year at Sand Springs Elementary in Layton and Eagle Bay Elementary in Farmington.
Bonnie Flint, world languages curriculum supervisor for the district, said students in the programs are expected to become fluent in the language they are studying by the time they finish sixth grade.
She said students will learn numbers, colors, the alphabet and other subjects in their respective foreign language.
During another part of the day, the children will also learn the English alphabet and grammar.
"This is where language needs to start in schools -- with immersion," Flint said.
"The younger they start, the better able they are to absorb the language.
"By the time the students in these schools reach sixth grade, half of each school will be fluent in a foreign language," Flint said.
In junior high school, those students will be taking advanced language courses and will be able to take advanced placement tests to gain high school credit in their language.
Zhao Ning, a Chinese immersion teacher at Stewart Elementary, said to qualify to teach the program here in Utah, she spent a week in Bejing being briefed on how to teach the Chinese language in American schools.
Then she and others in her group who were coming to America, attended a 10-day orientation at Stanford University.
Those in the group that came to Utah attended another orientation at the University of Utah.
"We are so excited to be here," Ning said. "I want to learn more about American culture and to learn about American schools to improve teaching in China."
Flint said each year as one kindergarten group advances to the next grade level, new kindergarten students will start the immersion program for the Chinese, French and Spanish languages. Flint also hopes to start a Japanese immersion program.
Teacher salaries are currently paid by foreign government programs and federal and state grants.
Flint said a six-year state grant is assisting in program startup by enabling programs to purchase supplies, like foreign language library books and classroom materials.
She said when the grants are depleted in six years, schools will be well-stocked with needed materials in the respective languages and full-time language teachers will be hired in each school as teachers resign or retire.
Flint said U.S. and international programs are supporting language immersion programs because of the high demand in the job market for people who can speak those languages.
In 2008, teachers from China began teaching that language in several junior high and high schools in the district through government grant programs.
"Chinese and French are critical-needs languages as determined by the federal government," Flint said.
"Universities aren't graduating enough teachers in those languages to fill the job needs of governments and communities."
She said prior to being accepted for the language immersion classes, a student's parents must commit to allowing the child to remain in the program through sixth grade.
She said if a student drops out of the program in third grade, there wouldn't be another child able to take that slot.
"It is a big commitment on the part of the parents," Flint said. "It takes quite a leap of faith because they can't help with homework."